With a name that sounds like the next big name in luxury fashion, berberine has really made a name for itself in the natural health world. This medicinal compound is a bitter-tasting yellow alkaloid found in the roots and stem bark of various plants, including goldenseal, barberry, Chinese goldenthread and Oregon grape.
Berberine has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, making it a powerful treatment for problems like intestinal parasites and other gastrointestinal complaints, as well as E. coli and chlamydia infections. It’s also an anti-inflammatory agent that protects against cardiovascular disease, arrhythmias and sudden death after heart attack.1 And if that weren’t impressive enough, berberine’s up-and-coming claim to fame revolves around its truly remarkable effects on blood sugar and diabetes control.
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Studies Find Berberine May Help Control Diabetes
In a pilot study involving 36 patients with type 2 diabetes, researchers found that three months of treatment with berberine had a similar hypoglycemic effect as the popular diabetes drug metformin. In addition, significant decreases in hemoglobin A1c, fasting blood glucose, postprandial (post-meal) blood glucose and triglycerides were observed in the berberine group.
In another arm of the study, 48 adults with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes received berberine for three months. After only one week, berberine lowered both fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels. Fasting plasma insulin, insulin resistance, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol decreased significantly as well.2
The potent effect of berberine on diabetes was highlighted even further in a meta-analysis of 14 trials that involved a total of 1,068 participants. The researchers found that berberine performed as well as three well-known diabetes drugs — metformin, glipizide and rosiglitazone — and also helped to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The researchers also noted no serious side effects.3
How Berberine Works in the Body
With berberine’s positive influence on blood sugar well noted, another team of researchers recently aimed to find out exactly how berberine works in the body.4
Berberine is insoluble and not easily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. For that reason, researchers in this current study hypothesized that it may act locally by fixing intestinal barrier abnormalities and alleviating endotoxemia — the presence of certain toxic microbes in the blood that are highly associated with increased diabetes risk.5
To find out if their hypothesis held true, the researchers administered either 100 mg/kg of berberine or saline (control) to diabetic rats. They observed an improvement in hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance in the berberine group. In addition, the berberine restored glucagon-like peptide 2 (GLP2) secretion, which decreased as a result of the diabetes. GLP2 is an amino acid peptide responsible for many things, including the stimulation of mucosal growth in the intestines, nutrient absorption, reduced intestinal permeability and more. Many factors pertaining to diabetes are correlated with GLP2, such as fasting insulin and insulin resistance index.
At the conclusion of this study, researchers stated that berberine did appear to work by repairing intestinal issues: “Berberine treatment not only augments GLP2 secretion and improves diabetes, but is also effective in repairing the damaged intestinal mucosa, restoring intestinal permeability and improving endotoxemia.”
The Ideal Dosage of Berberine
Berberine can be hard to find in stores, but is readily available through a variety of online retailers. The recommended amount is 1,000 mg of highly purified berberine per day in divided doses.
1. Birdsall T and Kelly G. Alt Med Rev. 1997;2(2):94-103.
2. Yin J, et al. Metabolism. 2008 May;57(5):712-7.
3. Dong H, et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:591654.
4. Shan CY, et al. J Endocrinol. 2013 Jul 29;218(3):255-62.
5. Pussinen PJ, et al. Diabetes Care. 2011 Feb;34(2):392-7.