What Can’t It Do???
Berberine has been used for years for fighting infections and boosting intestinal health. In fact, most times you just find it in berberine-rich herbs such as goldenseal or goldthread, aimed at curbing bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast, and parasitic infections.
However, studies are finding it to be one of the more powerful natural therapies for preventing and treating diabetes – as well as cardiovascular disease, weight loss, cancer and dementia. Berberine is one of the few supplements with human evidence that establishes it to be as effective as pharmaceuticals.
In fact, in a clinical trial published in Metabolism, people with type 2 diabetes were divided into groups that took either the diabetes drug, metformin, or berberine. The average blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c levels decreased in both groups. Remarkably, berberine was every bit as effective as Metformin. Both had “identical effect(s) in the regulation of glucose metabolism.” 1
In another study, two groups were instructed to take either berberine or a placebo capsule twice a day. Like the previous study, three months of berberine supplementation resulted in blood sugar improvements that were “fully comparable with that of existing pharmacologic products used in treatment of type 2 diabetes.”
What shocked the researchers was that berberine also lowered triglycerides 35.9%, LDL cholesterol 21% and total cholesterol 18%! 2,3
Just for good measure, the group taking berberine also had lower blood pressure (average drop of 7/5 mm Hg systolic/diastolic) and modest weight and abdominal fat loss. 4
How Does Berberine Do All That?
How can one plant extract have all these benefits? It sounds too good to be true. Well, it doesn’t actually do all those things. What it does do is activate a very basic and ancient regulator of metabolism.
It activates an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) – and it is the AMPK that does all the work. (AMPK) is a nutrient sensor protein that is central to the actions of various anti-diabetic drugs like Metformin5, and the actions of Berberine, activating AMPK in a dose and time-dependent manner.6
We’ve known that reducing excessive food intake helps prevents disease and extends life span. One reason is that less food revs up AMPK activity which turns on protective metabolic pathways to ensure survival in times of lack or stress! AMPK then…
- Stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells,
- Improves insulin sensitivity,
- Reduces glucose production in the liver,
- Slows the release of free fatty acids, lowering lipid levels,
- Lowers harmful fat deposits and boosts fat burning in the mitochondria.
- Increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, protecting against atherosclerosis,
- It stimulates the release of nitric oxide (NO) that relaxes the arteries.
Because it mimics the effects of calorie restriction, berberine has a good chance of becoming the next big thing in anti-aging.
Overall, bioavailability of Berberine is quite low at less than 5% absorption.7 The studies using 1,000-1,500 mg. of Berberine by itself still appear to exert benefits but, obviously, enhancing absorption could reduce the dose of Berberine required to reach these effects.
Fortunately, P-Glycoprotein appears to be responsible for approximately 90% of the reduced absorption of Berberine.8 So, if we add a P-Glycoprotein inhibitor, such as silymarin (80%) from milk thistle, we can greatly increase the absorption and enhance the biological activity of Berberine.9
Drugs or Berberine?
Berberine is a safe, inexpensive, herbal supplement that mirrors the effects of the top-selling diabetes drug and lowers lipids, blood pressure, and weight and fights cancer. Yet hardly anyone knows about it!
You will be hearing much, much more about AMPK activation in the future—most likely in the promotion of drugs such as metformin, which also targets AMPK and is being studied as a treatment for a wide range of conditions. Metformin may be the safest diabetes drug, but it still has a long list of side effects.
(Note: Berberine, taken in normal therapeutic dosages of 500 mg 2–3 times a day, is generally safe – but does have the potential to interfere with body functions (ex: constipation) and with medications. Fortunately, with all the other supporting nutrients in our Diabetes Protocol, we can use a much lower amount than the normal therapeutic dosage.)
- Yin J, et al. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008 May;57(5):712–717.
- Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase–Dependent Stabilization of Hepatic Low-Density Lipoprotein Receptor mRNA by Herbal Medicine Berberine
- Hu Y, et al Lipid-lowering effect of berberine in human subjects and rats . Phytomedicine. (2012)
- Zhang Y, et al. Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jul;93(7):2559–2565.
- Viollet B, et al. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of metformin: an overview. Clin Sci (Lond). (2012)
- Cheng Z, et al. Berberine-stimulated glucose uptake in L6 myotubes involves both AMPK and p38 MAPK. Biochim Biophys Acta. (2006)
- Maeng HJ, et al. P-glycoprotein-mediated transport of berberine across Caco-2 cell monolayers. J Pharm Sci. (2002).
- Chae HW, et al. Effect of ion-pair formation with bile salts on the in vitro cellular transport of berberine. Arch Pharm Res. (2008).
- Di Pierro F, et al. Pilot study on the additive effects of berberine and oral type 2 diabetes agents for patients with suboptimal glycemic control. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. (2012).