A compound called berberine is one of the most efficacious natural supplements available.
It has impressive health benefits and affects your body at the molecular level.
Berberine has been shown to lower blood sugar, cause weight loss and improve heart health, to name a few.
It is one of the few supplements shown to be as effective as a pharmaceutical drug.
This is a detailed review of berberine and its health effects.
- What it is
- How it works
- Blood sugar levels
- Weight loss
- Other health benefits
- Dosage and side effects
What is berberine?
Berberine is a bioactive compound that can be extracted from several plants, including a group of shrubs called Berberis.
Technically, it belongs to a class of compounds called alkaloids. It has a yellow color and has often been used as a dye.
Berberine has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, which was used to treat various ailments.
Modern science has confirmed its impressive benefits for several health problems.
Summary: Berberine is a compound that can be extracted from several different plants. It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.
How does berberine work?
Berberine has now been tested in hundreds of different studies.
It has been shown to have powerful effects on many different biological systems.
After you ingest berberine, it gets taken in by the body and transported into the bloodstream. Then it travels into the body’s cells.
It binds to several different “molecular targets” inside the cells and changes their function. This is similar to how pharmaceutical drugs work.
One of the berberine’s main actions is activating an enzyme inside cells called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK).
This enzyme is sometimes referred to as a “metabolic master switch”.
It is found in the cells of various organs, including the brain, muscles, kidneys, heart, and liver. This enzyme plays a significant role in regulating metabolism.
Berberine also affects other molecules inside cells and may even affect which genes are turned on or off.
Summary: Berberine affects the body at the molecular level and has a variety of functions inside cells. One of the main functions is activating a critical enzyme called AMPK, which regulates metabolism.
Berberine can cause a significant reduction in blood sugar levels
Type 2 diabetes is a severe disease that has become incredibly common in recent decades, causing millions of deaths yearly.
It is characterized by elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels, either caused by insulin resistance or lack of insulin.
Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the body’s tissues and organs, leading to various health problems and a shortened lifespan.
Many studies show that berberine can significantly reduce blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Its effectiveness is comparable to the popular diabetes drug metformin (Glucophage).
It seems to work via multiple different mechanisms:
- Decreases insulin resistance, making the blood sugar lowering hormone insulin more effective.
- Increases glycolysis, helping the body break down sugars inside cells.
- Decrease sugar production in the liver.
- Slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in the gut.
- Increases the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
In one study of 116 diabetic patients, 1 gram of berberine per day lowered fasting blood sugar by 20%, from 7.0 to 5.6 mmol/L (126 to 101 mg/dL), or from diabetic to normal levels.
It also lowered hemoglobin A1c by 12% (a marker for long-term blood sugar levels) and also improved blood lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides.
According to a big review of 14 studies, berberine is as effective as oral diabetes drugs, including metformin, glipizide, and rosiglitazone.
It works very well with lifestyle modifications and has additive effects when administered with other blood sugar lowering drugs.
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If you look at discussions online, you often see people with sky-high blood sugars normalizing them just by taking this supplement.
Summary: Berberine is very effective at lowering blood sugar and HbA1c, which are elevated in people with diabetes. It works as well as some pharmaceutical drugs.
Berberine may help you lose weight
Berberine may also be effective as a weight loss supplement.
So far, two studies have examined the effects on body weight.
In a 12-week study of obese individuals, 500 mg taken three times per day caused about 5 pounds of weight loss, on average. The participants also lost 3.6% of their body fat.
Another impressive study was conducted on 37 men and women with metabolic syndrome. This study lasted three months; the participants took 300 mg 3 times per day.
The participants dropped their body mass index (BMI) levels from 31.5 to 27.4, or from obese to overweight, in only three months. They also lost belly fat and improved many health markers.
The researchers believe that the improved function of fat-regulating hormones, such as insulin, adiponectin, and leptin causes weight loss.
Berberine also appears to inhibit the growth of fat cells at the molecular level.
However, more research is needed on the weight loss effects of berberine.
Summary: Two studies have shown that berberine can cause significant weight loss while simultaneously improving all sorts of other health markers.
Berberine lowers cholesterol and may reduce your risk of heart disease
Heart disease is currently the world’s most common cause of premature death.
Many factors that can be measured in the blood are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
As it turns out, berberine has been shown to improve many of these factors.
According to a review of 11 studies, it can:
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- Lower total cholesterol by 0.61 mmol/L (24 mg/dL).
- Lower LDL cholesterol by 0.65 mmol/L (25 mg/dL).
- Lower blood triglycerides by 0.50 mmol/L (44 mg/dL).
- Raise HDL cholesterol by 0.05 mmol/L (2 mg/dL).
It has also been shown to lower apolipoprotein B by 13-15%, a very important risk factor.
According to some studies, berberine works by inhibiting an enzyme called PCSK9. This leads to more LDL being removed from the bloodstream.
Keep in mind that diabetes, high blood sugar levels, and obesity are also significant risk factors for heart disease, all of which seem to be improved with this supplement.
Given the beneficial effects on all these risk factors, it seems likely that berberine could drastically reduce the risk of heart disease.
Summary: Studies show that berberine reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels while raising HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. It may lower the risk of heart disease in the long term.
Other health benefits of berberine
Berberine may also have numerous other health benefits:
- Depression: Rat studies show that it may help fight depression.
- Cancer: Test tube and animal studies have shown that it can reduce the growth and spread of various different types of cancer.
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory: It has been shown to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in some studies.
- Infections: It has been shown to fight harmful microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.
- Fatty liver: It can reduce fat build-up in the liver, which should help protect against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
- Heart failure: One study showed that it drastically improved symptoms and reduced the risk of death in heart failure patients.
Many benefits need more research before firm recommendations can be made, but the current evidence is promising.
Summary: Preliminary studies show that berberine may have benefits against depression, cancer, infections, fatty liver, and heart failure. It also has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Dosage and side effects of berberine
Many of the studies cited in the article used dosages in the range of 900 to 1500 mg per day.
It is common to take 500 mg 3 times daily before meals (a total of 1500 mg daily).
Berberine has a half-life of several hours, so it is necessary to spread your dosage several times daily to achieve stable blood levels.
If you have a medical condition or are on any medications, then it is recommended that you speak to your doctor before taking it.
This is especially important if you are currently taking blood sugar lowering medications.
Overall, berberine has an outstanding safety profile. The main side effects are related to digestion and some reports of cramping, diarrhea, flatulence, constipation, and stomach pain.
Summary: A standard dosage recommendation is 500 mg, three times daily, half an hour before meals. Berberine may cause digestive side effects in some people.
Berberine is one of the few supplements that are as effective as a drug.
It has powerful effects on various aspects of health, especially blood sugar control.
If you want to try a berberine supplement, there is a good selection of high-quality supplements available online.
The people who benefit the most are individuals with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
However, it may also be helpful as a general protection against chronic disease and an anti-aging supplement.
If you use supplements, berberine may be one of the top ones to include in your arsenal.