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Berberine has been touted as a natural treatment for diabetes that is powerful as Metformin in controlling blood sugar but without the side effects, and at the same time, dramatically lowering cholesterol and blood sugar.
What is Berberine?
Berberine or Huang Lian Su in Chinese (黄连素) is a yellow-colored alkaloid extracted from various herbs and plants, many of which are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The berberine alkaloid is found in the bark, roots, and rhizomes of plants and herbs such as goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, barberry and tree turmeric.
Berberine Health Benefits
Berberine is purported to have blood glucose lowering, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and immune-enhancing properties because it affects an enzyme known as AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase). This enzyme controls and regulates the body’s ability to metabolize lipids, glucose, and energy. If AMPK isn’t activated properly or its levels get unbalanced, this will negatively impact cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. (1)
1. Treats Diabetes by Lowering Blood Glucose Dramatically
Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease characterized by insulin resistance and elevated blood glucose levels.
Research on berberine shows that it lowers blood sugar significantly in people with Type 2 diabetes. (2)
According to researchers in China who conducted this study, berberine is able to reduce blood glucose by (3)
- Decreasing insulin resistance i.e. enabling insulin to do its job by lowering blood sugar more efficiently.
- Increasing the breaking down of sugar by enzymes in the cell.
- Stopping the liver from producing glucose from non-carbohydrate sources.
- Increasing good bacteria in the intestines.
- Reducing the absorption of blood sugar in the intestines.
This was confirmed in a 3-month study in Shanghai, China where 116 patients with Type 2 diabetes were divided into 2 groups. One group was given 1 gram of berberine daily while the other group was given a placebo.
At the end of the study, the results showed that the patients in the berberine group had a 20% drop in blood glucose levels, from an average of 7 to 5.6 mmol/L or 126 to 101 mg/dL; it also reduced hemoglobin A1c by 12%. All these meant that the spiked blood glucose levels returned to normal after treatment with berberine. (4)
2 studies done in Shanghai, China confirms that berberine is just as effective as metformin in reducing blood sugar levels. (5)
In the 1st study, 36 patients newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes were divided into groups. The 1st group was given 0.5 grams of berberine to be taken 3 times a day. The 2nd group was given metformin, a blood sugar-lowering drug.
At the end of the 3-month trial study, the results showed that both groups had similar significant reductions in hemoglobin A1c
- From 9.5% to 7.5%, fasting blood glucose
- From 10.6 mmol/L to 6.9 mmol/L and postprandial blood glucose
- From 19.8 mmol/L to 11.1 mmol/L. Postprandial blood glucose levels are those that are taken after a meal.
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In the 2nd study, 48 patients with poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes were given berberine. At the end of the 3-month study, the results showed dramatic drops in hemoglobin A1c, from 8.1% to 7.3%. Fasting plasma insulin and insulin resistance index were reduced by 28.1% and 44.7% respectively.
Another team of researchers from China combed through 27 in-depth studies of berberine in treating Type 2 diabetes, abnormally high lipid levels and hypertension where 2,569 patients were involved. The researchers’ concluded that berberine was able to treat Type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels with no serious side effects and at a much lower cost than conventional drugs because berberine was much more cost effective. (6)
2. Protects the Heart by Lowering Cholesterol
The conventional way of lowering cholesterol for patients with elevated cholesterol levels has always been with using statins. While statins are effective in reducing cholesterol levels their side effects like muscle pain, increased blood sugar, memory loss or confusion and potential liver damage leaves a lot to be desired.
There is surmounting evidence to show that berberine is just as effective as statins in lowering cholesterol but with no serious side effects. (7)
Researchers in Wuhan, China looked through 11 studies on berberine involving 874 patients with elevated cholesterol levels. The results of these studies show that berberine can, on average:
- Lower total cholesterol by 0.61 mmol/L or 24 mg/dL.
- Lower triglycerides by 0.50 mmol/L or 44 mg/dL.
- Decrease LDL levels by 0.65 mmol/L or 25 mg/dL.
- Increase HDL levels by 0.05 mmol/L or 2 mg/dL.
The researchers concluded, “No serious adverse effects of berberine have been reported. In conclusion, berberine may have beneficial effects in the control of blood lipid levels.” (8)
Other researchers from China and the United States collaborated to research on the effectiveness of berberine on lowering elevated lipid levels.
In the study, 32 patients with high cholesterol were given berberine for 3 months at the end of which results showed total cholesterol fell by 29%, triglycerides by 35% and LDL cholesterol by 25%. (9)
In a separate study, researchers from Italy divided 40 patients with moderately high cholesterol into 2 groups. Group 1 was given berberine. Red rice yeast, folic acid, astaxanthin (an antioxidant) and policosanol (a natural cholesterol lowering agent made from oils of the Cuban cane sugar) were given to group 2. (10)
At the end of the 4-week study, results showed total cholesterol fell by 16%, LDL by 20%, ApoB (a marker for very low LDL) by 15%, LDL by 20%, triglycerides by 22% while HDL cholesterol increased 6.6% in group 1 that was given berberine.
For group 2 that was given the other combination cholesterol lowering agents, total cholesterol was reduced by 20%, LDL by 25%, ApoB by 29%, triglycerides by 26% and HDL increased by 5.1 %.
Researchers from Chengdu in China also found that berberine helps patients with heart failure. They discovered that berberine dramatically improved the symptoms of heart failure, reduced the risk of risk of death and improved the quality of life for patients who were given berberine.
3. Has Anti-Tumor Properties
Researchers in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea discovered that berberine inhibits the formation and growth of cancer cells in the colon, esophagus, lung, liver and breast. (12) (13) (14) (15) (16)
Other researchers also confirmed berberine’s anti-tumor properties on prostate cancer cells. (17)
Important: Please Note
Please consult your physician before supplementing with berberine if you are on medications for:
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- Infections and you’re on antibiotics, antivirals or antifungals.
Please also check with your doctor before taking berberine if you are pregnant or on any medication for other chronic illnesses.
Possible side effects of mega doses
- Stomach Cramps
How to Take Berberine
Most of the studies mentioned suggest dosages between 900 mg to 2,000 mg a day. Berberine has a short half-life of only a few hours, so it’s best to spread the dosage into 3 times a day e.g. 500 mg 3 times a day taken with meals.
Berberine pills are available in Chinese medical stores across Chinatown in most developed Western cities. Supplement companies also manufacture berberine extract in capsule form and should be available at your local health food store.
- Natural Medicine Journal, December 2012 Vol. 4 Issue 12: Clinical Applications for Berberine.
- PubMed, Biochem Cell Biol 2015 Oct; 93(5):479-86: Berberine as a therapy for type 2 diabetes and its complications: From mechanism of action to clinical studies.
- PubMed, Int J Endocrinol. 2015; 2015:905749. Application of berberine on treating type 2 diabetes mellitus.
- PubMed, J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jul; 93(7):2559-65. Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine.
- PubMed, Metabolism. 2008 May; 57(5):712-7. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
- PubMed, J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Feb 23; 161:69-81. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension.
- PubMet, J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Feb 23; 161: 69-81 Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension.
- PubMet, Planta Med. 2013 Apr; 79(6):437-46. The effects of berberine on blood lipids: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
- Nature Medicine 10, 1344 – 1351 (2004) Published online: 7 November 2004. Berberine is a novel cholesterol-lowering drug working through a unique mechanism distinct from statins.
- Thieme Arzneimittelforschung 2007; 57(1): 26-30 Eulipidemic Effects of Berberine Administered Alone or in Combination with Other Natural Cholesterol-lowering Agents.
- PubMed, Am J Cardiol. 2003 Jul 15; 92(2):173-6. Efficacy and safety of berberine for congestive heart failure secondary to ischemic or idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.
- ScienceDirect Journal of Ethnopharmacology Volume 66, Issue 2, August 1999, Pages 227–233. Inhibition by berberine of cyclooxygenase-2 transcriptional activity in human colon cancer cells.
- ScienceDirect Cancer Letters Volume 148, Issue 1, 1 January 2000, Pages 19–25. Inhibitory effect of Coptidis Rhizoma and berberine on the proliferation of human esophageal cancer cell lines.
- ScienceDirect Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, Volume 214, Issue 1, 1 July 2006, Pages 8–15. Inhibitory effect of berberine on the invasion of human lung cancer cells via decreased productions of urokinase-plasminogen activator and matrix metalloproteinase-2.
- Wiley Online Library, Journal of Cellular Biochemistry. First published: 29 November 2010. Berberine induces autophagic cell death and mitochondrial apoptosis in liver cancer cells: The cellular mechanism.
- MDIPI, Molecules 2008, 13(12), 2975-2985. Berberine Suppresses TNF-α-induced MMP-9 and Cell Invasion through Inhibition of AP-1 Activity in MDA-MB-231 Human Breast Cancer Cells.
- ScienceDirect, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology Volume 229, Issue 1, 15 May 2008, Pages 33–43. Berberine-induced apoptosis in human prostate cancer cells is initiated by reactive oxygen species generation.
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