My path as a registered dietitian has evolved over the years, and one of the biggest revolutions has been my growing respect for herbs and plants and their role in assisting the body.
Two of the most important factors for a healthy life are maintaining optimal blood sugar levels and ensuring your body can properly make and utilize insulin. Both factors impact the health of the gut microbiome, heart health, inflammatory levels, and risk of autoimmune disease and other chronic diseases. Which herb does this? You guessed it -- Berberine!
What Is Berberine?
Berberine is a powerful natural compound found in several different plants including European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, philodendron, and tree turmeric. Berberine is one of just a few plants with a strong influence on insulin, blood sugar levels, hemoglobin A1c, and triglycerides.
Berberine Health Benefits
Berberine is an herb with a handful of very important health benefits. These include:
Supports glucose uptake by the cells.
Assists the body with normal clearance of glucose.
Assists the body to maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels.
Supports cardiovascular health, particularly by supporting healthy triglycerides (blood fats) and HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). Fasting triglyceride readings are a marker for fat in the blood but it is more to do with sugar, high-glycemic foods, and alcohol in the diet.
Supports a healthy intestinal microbiome.
Assists in the maintenance of a healthy immune system.
Berberine and Blood Sugar Support
Berberine is one of the few compounds known to activate an enzyme called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), known as your “metabolic master switch” (1, 2). The biological mechanisms are complicated and diverse but understand that activating AMPK is a great thing because it controls glucose and lipid metabolism. It stimulates glucose and fats to move from the bloodstream into the cells to produce energy.
AMPK controls whole-body glucose balance in multiple peripheral tissues, such as skeletal muscle, liver, adipose tissues, and pancreatic beta cells – key tissues in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes.
Berberine and Insulin
Berberine is special because it maintains healthy insulin levels by activating insulin receptors (3). It’s possible to have “normal” glucose levels, but high insulin levels, which is still damaging. Too much insulin is pro-inflammatory and negatively affects your heart – it increases your risk of heart failure.
Berberine and Heart Health
There are a couple of ways berberine helps the heart. First, sugar mismanagement increases cardiovascular risk, and since berberine is able to improve blood glucose levels and insulin uptake, this helps the heart. When blood sugar levels are high and the body over-releases insulin, this causes triglycerides and LDL cholesterol to increase, and HDL cholesterol to decrease, which is the opposite of what you want. You want high HDL and low LDL and triglycerides.
Another way berberine is thought to affect heart health is by inhibiting an enzyme called PCSK9 (4). This leads to more LDL (bad cholesterol) being removed from the bloodstream.
Berberine and a Healthy Intestinal Microbiome
Berberine helps to eliminate negative pathogens and microbes in the gut. It’s comparable to an antibiotic and helps to maintain a healthy microbiome by minimizing bad bugs.
Berberine also targets pathogenic yeast overgrowth, such as candida. An overgrowth of candida albicans disrupts the delicate balance of microorganisms in the gut. Proper balance in the gut is critical for immune health, brain health, and digestive system health.
Berberine and Your Immune System
Berberine’s anti-viral and anti-bacterial abilities are not only in the gut but systemically too.
Dosage of Berberine
Work with a functional doctor or holistic practitioner to determine the proper dose, especially if you’re taking blood sugar-lowering medications. Because of berberine’s short half-life (about 3 hours), you generally want to spread the dosage to several times a day to keep blood levels stable. Many studies use dosages of 900 to 1,500 mg per day, which might be broken down into 300 to 500 mg three times a day before meals (7).
Berberine may just be one of those supplements that is good for almost everything!
If you're interested in changing your life and improving your nutrition and health, let's set up a free discovery call.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
1. Yun Chau Long and Juleen R. Zierath. AMP-activated protein kinase signaling in metabolic regulation. J Clin Invest. 2006 Jul 3; 116(7): 1776-1783.
2. Winder WW and Hardie DG. AMP-activated protein kinase, a metabolic master switch: possible roles in type 2 diabetes. Am J Physiol. 1999 Jul;277(1).
3. Cicero, A. F., et al. “Antidiabetic properties of berberine: from cellular pharmacology to clinical effects.” Hospital Practice (1995) 40, no. 2 (2012): 56-63.
4. Cameron J et al. Berberine decreases PcSK9 expression in HepG2 cells. Atherosclerosis. 2008 Dec;201(2):266-73.
5. Dong, H., et al. “The effects of berberine on blood lipids: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Planta Med 79, no. 6 (2013): 437-446.
6. Healthline: Berberine – A powerful supplement with many benefits.
7. Jing Yang et al. Berberine Improves Insulin Sensitivity by Inhibiting Fat Store and Adjusting Adipokines Profile in Human Preadipocytes and Metabolic Syndrome Patients. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012: 363845.