Berberine: The World’s Most Powerful Supplement
A compound called berberine is one of the most powerful natural supplements on earth.
It has very 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 is Berberine?
Berberine is a bioactive compound that can be extracted from several different plants, including a group of shrubs called Berberis (1).
Technically, berberine 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, where it was used to treat various ailments.
Now, modern science has confirmed that berberine has impressive benefits for several different health problems (2).
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 (3).
After you ingest berberine, it gets taken in by the body and transported into the bloodstream. Then it travels into the body’s cells.
Inside the cells, berberine binds to several different “molecular targets” and changes their function (4). This is similar to how pharmaceutical drugs work.
I am not going to get into much detail here, because the biological mechanisms of berberine are complicated and diverse.
However, one of the main actions of berberine is to activate an enzyme inside cells called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) (5).
This enzyme is sometimes referred to as a “metabolic master switch” (6).
It is found in the cells of various organs, including the brain, muscle, kidney, heart and liver. This enzyme plays a major role in regulating metabolism (7, 8).
Berberine also affects various other molecules inside cells, and may even affect which genes are turned on or off (4).
Bottom Line: Berberine affects the body at the molecular level, and has a variety of functions inside cells. One of the main functions is activating an important enzyme called AMPK, which regulates metabolism.
Berberine Causes a Major Reduction in Blood Sugar Levels, Comparable to Drugs
Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease that has become incredibly common in recent decades, causing millions of deaths every year.
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 (9).
In fact, its effectiveness is comparable to the popular diabetes drug metformin(Glucophage) (2, 10).
Berberine seems to work via multiple different mechanisms (11):
- 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.
- This is just the tip of the iceberg. Berberine may also affect various other enzymes, molecules and genes related to blood sugar control.
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), from diabetic to normal levels (12).
It also lowered hemoglobin A1c by 12% (a marker for long-term blood sugar levels), and also improved blood lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides (12).
According to a big review of 14 studies, berberine is as effective as oral diabetes drugs, including metformin, glipizide and rosiglitazone (13).
It works very well with lifestyle modifications, and also has additive effects when administered with other blood sugar lowering drugs (2).
If you look at discussions online, you often see people with sky-high blood sugars literally normalizing them just by taking berberine.
This stuff really works, both in the studies and the real world.
Bottom Line: 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 of berberine on body weight.
In a 12-week study in obese individuals, 500 mg of berberine three times per day caused about 5 pounds of weight loss, on average. The participants also lost 3.6% of their body fat (14).
Another more impressive study was conducted in 37 men and women with metabolic syndrome. This study went on for 3 months, and the participants took 300 mg of berberine, 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 3 months. They also lost belly fat and improved many health markers (15).
The researchers believe that the weight loss is caused by improved function of fat-regulating hormones, such as insulin, adiponectin and leptin.
Berberine also appears to inhibit the growth of fat cells at the molecular level (16, 17)
Bottom Line: Two studies have shown that berberine can cause significant weight loss, while improving all sorts of other health markers at the same time.
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.
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