If I told you there is one nutrient that supports blood sugar balance, helps you when your get-up-and-go has got-up-and-went and supports cardiovascular health to boot, you might be at least a bit skeptical. I regularly stress in my columns that there are no ”magic bullets” that take care of all that ails us – that achieving optimal health is a combination of healthy diet and lifestyle.
One nutrient that can be an important part of our path toward better health is berberine. Most of the current research about this nutrient is focused on its potential use in diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, PCOS, fatty liver and cancer.
Berberine is an alkaloid that is found in the roots, stems, barks and seeds of various plants, including some that you may have heard of, such as Oregon Grape, Barberry, Goldenseal and Coptis. Herbalists have traditionally prized these herbs for their various properties, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial.
Berberine has been used traditionally to stimulate bile production in the liver, which is then stored in our gallbladders to support fat digestion and fight microbes such as bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. Berberine has been shown to effectively treat the gastric inflammation we have with H. Pylori.
Let’s explore how we can all benefit from regular use of this constituent from these herbal allies.
One of the benefits we get from berberine is the activation of an enzyme called AMPK. AMPK is referred to as our metabolic ”master switch,” regulating how energy is produced and used in our body. Activation of this enzyme supports glucose uptake, fat burning for energy (have I got your attention yet?) and the creation of healthy mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy production factories in each of our cells.
Research tells us that healthy mitochondria are a key piece to the healthy body puzzle.
The rates of metabolic disorders are soaring, such as Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult onset diabetes, but we now see in children. Mark Hyman, MD from the Cleveland Clinic has coined the term ”Diabesity,” as we are seeing an explosion of diabetes and obesity in our society. Along with this we see higher triglyceride levels, a major marker for the potential of future cardiovascular disease.
Berberine lowers fasting glucose and insulin levels, postprandial glucose (glucose levels after eating) and improves insulin resistance. Research has found that berberine is as effective as the diabetes drug Metformin at lowering fasting blood sugar and HbA1c, and has shown to be more effective than the drug for lowering triglyceride levels. While the bulk of the blood sugar regulation support we get from berberine is due to the activation of AMPK, berberine modulates the gut microbiome to a healthier balance of the microbes that support our general health and positively impact our metabolism, such as the Bacteroides and Firmicutes.
But wait, there’s more! Cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke, hypertension) is the number-one cause of death in the U.S. Along with supporting our bodies’ sugar-handling abilities, berberine can support cardiovascular health in a number of ways, such as an improved ratio of LDL:HDL, lower triglyceride levels and lower levels of inflammatory cytokines that damage the endothelial tissue inside our arteries and blood vessels.
Finally, we know that there is an intricate connection between metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). These diseases are often in a ”which came first” scenario such as the chicken and the egg, but are common comorbidities, meaning many are diagnosed with them all. Along with lifestyle and diet change, we have seen in studies much improvement when berberine was regularly added.
As always, I suggest consulting with a doctor when making dietary and supplement changes and additions. Herbalists and healthcare practitioners from many traditions have long prized berberine and modern researchers are shedding additional light on the remarkable benefits available from its use.
If your health needs a helping hand, you are sugar-shocked or your get-up-and-go got-up-and-went, then try berberine.