Berberine is a powerful natural plant compound that improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood sugar, and may assist in weight loss.
Altering body processes on a molecular level, this supplement rivals the effects of pharmaceutical drugs for controlling blood sugar.
Bioactive substances are present in the berberis shrub and other plants from which berberine is extracted. (1) An alkaloid imbued with bright yellow coloring, the compound has been used in the past as a dye, as well as in traditional Chinese medicine.
Berberine has been shown to drop total cholesterol levels in clinical trials; it can improve LDL cholesterol profiles (the bad kind), and aid in the management of type 2 diabetes. (2)
Recent evidence indicates berberine may even act as an anti-cancer agent. (3)
Let’s take a look at how berberine supplements work to normalize body processes and contribute to better overall health.
Berberine Exerts Powerful Effects on Metabolism
When berberine is ingested, it reaches cells via the bloodstream; on a cellular level, berberine seeks “molecular targets” and then binds to these, altering function. It may also play a role in determining gene expression through affecting the switching process. (4)
This is the same way pharmaceutical drugs affect the system.
Berberine has shown great promise in treating symptoms of type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disorder that has become disturbingly common in the modern world.
Globally, nearly 10% of adults suffered from diabetes in 2012, and fatalities directly attributed to the disease in the same year were estimated at a staggering million and a half. (9)
Diabetic patients experience high blood glucose (blood sugar) levels that result from one of these physical disorders: not enough insulin produced in the body; or cell resistance to insulin. Both circumstances can inflict physical damage on organs and tissues over long periods of time.
Berberine is effective in reducing blood sugar levels for patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. (10) Over a three-month clinical trial, the natural substance performed comparably to metformin, a pharmaceutical drug used to treat hypoglycemia. (11)
This natural substance appears to affect blood sugar through several different mechanisms. (12)
- Decreases the speed at which carbohydrates are broken down in the gut
- Drops the production of sugar in the liver
- Bumps up glycolysis, which helps the body break down cell sugars more effectively
- Amps up the effectiveness of insulin, which lowers blood sugar
- Increases friendly bacteria in the gut
Berberine can also affect other aspects of bodily processes integral to the regulation of blood sugar, including gene expression and the function of molecules and enzymes.
Diabetic patients taking a gram of berberine daily dropped blood sugar levels into normal ranges during a three-month study. Triglycerides and cholesterol also improved, as well as measurements of hemoglobin A1c, which is a long-term indicator of high blood sugar levels. (13)
When analysts reviewed data from 14 studies, they found berberine as effective in lowering blood sugar levels as three separate oral medications used to treat diabetes: glipizide, rosiglitizone, and as mentioned above, metformin. (14)
Weight Loss Performance
Two separate studies recently examined the impact of berberine supplements on weight loss in humans.
In a 12-week trial with obese participants, average weight loss amounted to about 5 pounds, with a 3.6% loss of body fat. Berberine was administered at 500 mg three times daily. (15)
Another 3-month study focused on the effects of berberine with 37 subjects diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. This group took even less berberine: 900 mg split into three daily doses. (16)
The average body mass index (BMI) measurements of test participants dropped from 31.5 to 27.4 during the trial, shifting them from obese to overweight. Belly fat decreased significantly, and other health markers also improved.
Changes appear to result from alterations to hormones that regulate fat storage, including insulin, leptin and adiponectin. Berberine is believed to suppress the formation of fat cells at the molecular level. (17, 18)
Cholesterol-Lowering Properties Can Improve Heart Health
The most common cause of premature death worldwide is heart disease, and berberine has a positive effect on several blood markers associated with a greater risk of developing this deadly disorder.
A meta-analysis reviewing 11 studies of how berberine affected risk factors presented these conclusions: (19)
- Total cholesterol drops of up to 0.061 mmol/L
- Increase in HDL cholesterol (the good kind) by as much as 0.05 mmol/L
- Decrease in LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) by 0.65 mmol/L
- Blood triglyceride levels decreased by 0.50 mmol/L
Diabetics and others with high blood sugar levels are more likely to develop heart disease, so the positive effects of berberine on these factors should also reduce risks.
Other Potential Health Benefits
Lab studies show berberine helps rats fight depression, and may prove to be beneficial for humans as well. (24)
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of berberine may also prove to be effective in delivering valuable health benefits. (27)
Berberine has been shown to kill viruses, fungi, bacteria, parasites and other pathogens. (28)
For patients with heart failure, berberine can improve symptoms and decrease mortality rates. (29)
Because berberine’s half-life is several hours, spreading dosages over the day is most effective; amounts used in studies ranged from a total of 900 to 1500 mg daily, usually taken 30 minutes before meals.
Berberine is considered very safe, although some experience digestive distress, including diarrhea, flatulence, stomach pain or cramping, and constipation. (30)
Since this powerful substance is fairly new to the supplement scene, you may not find it in health food stores, but it’s available online. Talk to your doctor before taking berberine, especially if you’re currently on medications to lower blood sugar.
Summary: Berberine is as effective as oral blood sugar lowering medications, and may prove to be extremely beneficial for patients with type 2 diabetes, as well as people who have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.