Berberine: Research and Benefits

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Filed Under: Nutritional Support, Nutrient Guide
Last Reviewed 02/21/2014

What is Berberine: Research and Benefits

Berberine, a plant alkaloid revered in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine but largely ignored elsewhere, is poised to become one of our most powerful natural therapies for preventing and treating a wide range of conditions—particularly insulin resistance and diabetes.

What Conditions Is Berberine Good For?

  • Anti-aging
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Immune challenges
  • Intestinal infections
  • Joint problems
  • Low bone density
  • Weight control

How Does Berberine Work?

Berberine targets a very basic and ancient regulator of metabolism present in all animals and plants called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). Increased AMPK activity explains why berberine has so many diverse benefits.

For people with diabetes, AMPK activation: 

  • Stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Reduces glucose production in the liver

For people with heart-related problems, AMPK activation:

  • Slows the release of free fatty acids, which lowers lipid levels and prevents harmful fat deposition
  • Boosts fat burning in the mitochondria
  • Stimulates the release of nitric oxide (NO), a signaling molecule that relaxes the arteries, increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, and protects against atherosclerosis

What Does the Research Say About Berberine?

Diabetes. In a clinical trial published in Metabolism, people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes were randomly divided into groups and assigned to take metformin (Glucophage) or berberine. Improvements were noted the very first week, and at the study’s conclusion, the average blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c levels significantly decreased in both groups. Remarkably, berberine helped fight diabetes every bit as effectively as metformin. The researchers concluded that the two had “identical effect[s] in the regulation of glucose metabolism.”

Lipids, blood pressure, and weight. In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, patients recently diagnosed with diabetes and cholesterol/triglyceride abnormalities but hadn’t yet started on medication took either 500 mg of berberine or a placebo capsule twice a day.

After three months, berberine supplementation not only significantly lowered blood sugar but also triglycerides (35.9 percent), LDL cholesterol (21 percent), and total cholesterol (18 percent)—compared to minimal declines in cholesterol and an increase in triglycerides in the control group. Furthermore, the group taking berberine had lower blood pressure (average drop of 7/5 mm Hg systolic/diastolic) and modest weight and abdominal fat loss.

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