Berberine: Nature's Metformin
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
I'd like to delve into the natural world's means of handling the symptoms of diabetes. In the world of Ayurveda, shamanism and anything else deemed "alternative medicine", it's intriguing to see the wide variety of diabetic-symptoms managed. Things like blood sugar control, digestion, and circulation, all accounted for in more than one herb, spice or food combination.
So why had I never heard of any of it? And when I brought it up, why was it so easily dismissed? It seemed to me like a bit of gatekeeping from modern medicine. So I looked deeper.
In this series, I'm going to cover the all-stars of alternative diabetes supplements, ingredients and food stuffs. Things that seem too simple, accessible and inexpensive to really be effective, and yet are.
My first feature is berberine. A yellow colored substance derived from the roots, stems and bark of a series of plants:
- Barberry (Berberis vulgarus)
- Free turmeric (Berberis aristata)
- Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
- Chinese goldthread (Coptis chinensis)
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
- Californian poppy (Eschschoizia californica)
Berberine has potent disinfectant properties in that it's antibacterial and antifungal. In the supplement world, it's marketed most frequently for it's positive effect on gut health and mucus membranes. However it also has a strong diabetic application in it's ability as a GLP-1 agonist/AMPK activator.
For those unfamiliar, GLP-1, which stands for glucagon like protein, is a glucagon-mimicking protein that effectively prevents the release/absorption of glucagon. This is beneficial for diabetics looking to prevent unnecessary blood sugar spikes. It's also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. One study found that in Type II diabetics, taking 600+mg daily lowered fasting blood sugar levels by up to 20%.
In being an AMP-kinase, it has an insulin-independent means of lowering blood sugar by inhibiting mitochondrial function, stimulating the breakdown of sugar and activating the AMPK signaling pathway. The AMPK pathway is an alternative means for cellular sugar uptake that does not need insulin.
More research has emerged in the past 10 years on berberine because of it's multi-pathway efficacy. Yin, Xing and Ye (2009) found that compared to metformin, berberine had identical effects on lowering HbA1c, fasting blood glucose, as well as lowering LDL cholesterol.
Ko et al. (2005) was able to identify some of the means berberine is able to improve blood glucose levels. By having type II diabetics take berberine and insulin together, the effectiveness of the insulin and the body's natural ability to create insulin were both enhanced. Berberine was postulated to improve the survival and growth of Min6 cells, which are a type of utility-cell in the pancreas that is able to excrete insulin just like beta cells. It was also found that berberine treated cells contained more GLUT4 transporter proteins in their cell membranes, opening more channels for glucose to be brought into the cell. On top of that, IGF-1, AKA insulin like growth factor, was shown to be activated. This pathway is responsible for the growth of beta cell mass and function.
It has been suggested that berberine may even be the better option than metformin because of its ancillary effects on hyperlipidemia.
For a T1D looking at this, insulin sensitivity will always be important. And remember, just because you're Type 1 doesn't mean you produce zero insulin, it just means you don't produce enough. So any support you can give your existing beta cells is welcome. Add in that it may have an effect on proliferation? That's a no-brainer for me.
Pretty cool, and you can get it just about anywhere health supplements are sold. I get mine from Thorne. I take 3 500mg capsules per day, 1 before or after each meal. It has been noted that it may cause some GI distress, so take with food and don't be afraid to start slow with maybe 1 or 2 pills per day.
Have you ever heard of berberine? Look in to it and let me know what you think!