In functional medicine one of the most common causes we see for many health disorders is imbalanced blood sugar. The good news is it is also one of the easiest things to remedy. A powerful tool in this process is a botanical compound called berberine.
An epidemic of blood sugar imbalances
According to the CDC, nearly 84 million American adults — more than one out of three — have prediabetes, or metabolic syndrome, a serious health condition in which blood sugar levels are too high but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
Ninety percent of people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, autoimmunity, infertility, dementia, and other disorders.
In fact, high blood sugar is so clearly linked to Alzheimer’s that researchers refer to the disease as “Type 3 diabetes.”
Berberine for high blood sugar and diabetes
A natural plant compound, berberine is found within the stems, bark, roots, and rhizomes (root-like subterranean stems) of numerous plants such as barberry, goldenseal, Oregon grape, tree turmeric, and Chinese goldthread.
Berberine is generally well tolerated and has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat digestive issues and infections. The extract has a deep yellow color and is also commonly used as a dye.
Recently, berberine has become known for its ability to reduce high blood glucose. By working at a cellular level, it helps move glucose (sugar) from your blood into your cells where it’s most needed.
Berberine also promotes healthy blood sugar levels that are already in normal range.
Berberine works by activating AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase), an enzyme that that regulates how the body produces and uses energy.
AMPK senses and responds to changes in energy metabolism on both the cellular and whole-body level. It regulates biological activities that normalize lipid, glucose, and energy imbalances.
Metabolic syndrome happens when AMPK-regulated pathways are turned off. This triggers fat storage and burning abnormalities, high blood sugar, diabetes, and energy imbalances.
Depleted energy activates AMPK while excess energy inhibits it. In other words, high blood sugar inhibits AMPK while exercise and calorie restriction activates it.
Berberine’s effect is similar to what you’d see in someone who increased exercise while restricting calorie intake because it activates AMPK, making it a useful tool in the management of type 2 diabetes.
Berberine as effective as metformin
Other known AMPK activators include resveratrol and the diabetes drug metformin. Berberine is so effective at balancing blood sugar that both animal and human studies compare it to metformin in its effectiveness.
Berberine has also been shown to be as effective in treating other conditions that respond positively to metformin, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the reduction of weight gain triggered by antipsychotics, and potentially cancer.
Berberine’s many qualities
While berberine is most commonly considered for metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and cancer, its potentially helpful for a long list of other disorders, including high cholesterol, obesity, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), leaky gut, lung inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease due to these actions.
Below are additional functions of berberine:
- Supports healthy blood cholesterol levels.
- Has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.
- Has a moderate weight-loss effect.
- Exhibits antibacterial qualities.
- Reduces the effects of tobacco smoke-induced lung inflammation.
- Inhibits growth and proliferation of cancer cells.
- Enhances neuro-protective factors.
- Stimulates the release of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that relaxes arteries, increases blood flow, and protects against atherosclerosis.
- Stimulates bile secretion and bilirubin discharge.
- Reduces dysfunction of the intestinal mucosal barrier.
How much berberine should I take?
For diabetes and blood sugar support, the recommended dose is 500 mg two or three times a day. It’s important to spread your dose out throughout the day because berberine has a short half-life in the body and taking it all at once might rob you of the full benefits. Make sure to take berberine prior to or with a meal.
Studies show that gut bacteria play an important role in transforming berberine into its usable form. Therefore, supporting microbiome diversity and abundance is a smart way to increase its effectiveness. Make sure to eat varied and plentiful produce (go easy on the sugary fruits) and consider supplementing short chain fatty acid supplementation (SCFA) to help your gut bacteria thrive.
How long should I take berberine?
Continual use of berberine can impact cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes in the liver which may affect drug-to-drug interactions. Therefore, it’s recommended to use it in a pulsed 8-week cycle with two to four weeks off, then starting again if symptoms have not resolved.
Research has shown that combining berberine with cinnamon may increase its bioavailability. What’s more, cinnamon has also been shown to support insulin sensitivity.
While berberine is highly recommended for high blood sugar issues, it does come with some cautions:
- Berberine is considered UNSAFE for pregnant women and nursing mothers. It may cross the placenta during pregnancy, and some newborns exposed to berberine developed a type of brain damage. It also can be transferred to babies through breast milk.
- Berberine can interact with a number of medications, increasing the risk of adverse reactions.
- Taking berberine when you are on medications that reduce blood sugar can push your blood glucose levels too low.
- Berberine can lower blood pressure, so it should be used with caution by anyone who already has low blood pressure.
If you are concerned about your blood sugar status and want to discuss non-medical methods for helping regulate your blood sugar, contact my office.