What Is Berberine? hint: It’s Used To Support Blood Sugar, Insulin, Heart Health and Immunity

What Is Berberine

My path as a registered dietitian has evolved over the years, and one of the biggest influences has been my growing respect for herbs and plants and their role in assisting the body. Berberine is one of those cool plants. 

What Is Berberine?

Berberine is a yellow-colored alkaloid compound found in several different plants including European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, phellodendron and tree turmeric. Berberine is one of just a few plants with a strong influence on insulin and blood sugar levels, along with many other health benefits.

Berberine Health Benefits

Two of the most important factors for a healthy life are maintaining your blood sugar levels within normal limits and making sure your body releases the correct amount of insulin (not over-releasing it). Berberine is involved in both.

Here are berberine's primary health benefits:

  • Supports glucose uptake by the cells.
  • 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).
  • 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 in order 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 way berberine influences heart health. First, berberine’s ability to impact blood glucose levels and insulin uptake is definitely connected to the health of your heart. Why? Because sugar mismanagement increases cardiovascular risk. When the body over-releases insulin, this causes triglycerides and LDL cholesterol to increase, and HDL cholesterol to decrease.

Another way berberine is thought to effect 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 promotes the digestive system’s innate resistance to pathogens and microbes in the gut. It’s helps to maintain a healthy microbiome by minimizing bad bugs.

This herb targets pathogenic yeast overgrowth. An overgrowth of pathogenic yeast (candida albicans) disrupts the delicate balance of microorganisms in the gut. Proper balance in the gut is critical for immune and digestive system health.

Berberine and Your Immune System

Berberine’s ability to encourage the digestive system’s natural response to resist to pathogens and microbes doesn’t just occur in the gut – systemically too.

Dosage of Berberine

Work with a natural health care 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 500 mg three times a day before meals. 

Berberine may just be one of those supplements that is good for almost everything!

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

References:

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.

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