What is Berberine?
Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from the roots, stems, or bark of various plants, including goldenseal, Oregon grape, and barberry.
Two other berberine-containing plants that are familiar to practitioners of Chinese medicine are and Phellodendron amurense.
It has a long history of therapeutic use in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, and recently Western research validates it’s unique actions in the human body, making it the go-to metabolic support for integrative medicine therapies.
Berberine has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and current research is focusing on its potential for use with diabetes, obesity, PCOS, and fertility, to name a few (1).
What Does Berberine Do?
Many of berberine’s more exciting benefits stem from its ability to activate an enzyme called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase, or AMPK.
AMPK acts as your energy control switch, regulating how energy is produced in the body.
The more AMPK is active in your body, it controls how your body uses glucose (carbohydrates), burns fat for energy, and it impacts mitochondria function.
AMPK is “The Guardian” of Metabolism
Mitochondria are responsible for producing the energy within our cells, and their health is critical to our wellbeing and longevity. Because of AMPK’s impact on mitochondria and metabolism, some researchers consider it the ultimate “guardian” of your metabolism (2).
This could make it a valuable complementary therapy for chronic metabolic disease like obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
As one researcher shares in the Natural Medicine Journal, “activating AMPK can produce the same benefits as exercise, dieting, and weight loss—the lifestyle modifications considered beneficial for a range of maladies.” (1)
Berberine is one of only a handful of compounds that activate AMPK (another is resveratrol), making it a valuable tool in treating an array of modern day diseases.
Benefits of Berberine
Berberine has an impressive list of benefits, such that it’s hard to understate the role it can play in chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, and metabolic conditions.
Fertility, liver health, hormone balance, and heart health also depend on healthy, robust metabolic function.
Berberine has also been shown to help with weight loss by supporting healthy blood sugar levels, and providing benefits similar to that of exercise (3).
Berberine May Benefit:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Weight loss
- Metabolic health
- Cardiovascular health
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Excessive androgens (testosterone)
- Pregnancy and fertility
- Healthy cholesterol levels
- Lower triglycerides
Metabolic syndrome is the name given to a cluster of problems that raise your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, including: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and high or abnormal cholesterol levels.
Having one of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome, but it does mean you could be on the path to developing it later.
The most effective treatment? Lifestyle changes like exercise and a healthy diet.
Berberine has been shown to impact all but one of the signs of metabolic syndrome, including promoting a healthy blood sugar balance, weight loss, and healthy triglyceride levels (3).
A significant portion of berberine’s research looks to investigate its role in blood sugar balance, and the findings are nothing short of impressive.
Berberine has been shown to lower fasting glucose and insulin levels, post-prandial (after eating) glucose levels, HbA1c, and triglycerides (1).
Studies also show berberine improves insulin resistance, and inhibits glucose production in the liver, which helps keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range (4).
Through berberine’s activation of AMPK, it’s been shown to support weight loss goals by keeping blood sugar within a healthy range, and supporting the use of body fat for fuel.
Berberine inhibits gluconeogenesis in the liver, can modulate bacteria in the gut associated with obesity, and has been shown to decrease lipid (cholesterol) levels (5).
Berberine has also been shown to assist weight and body fat loss by inhibiting the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which increases fat storage (6).
For all these reasons, it’s an effective helping hand if you’re trying to lose weight or improve metabolic health.
Cardiovascular disease is still the number one cause of death in the U.S. Along with its other benefits, berberine has also been shown a positive impact on several other markers of cardiovascular health, including improving the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol, reducing triglycerides, and suppressing inflammatory cytokines (1).
Benefits of Berberine for PCOS
One hallmark of PCOS is ovulatory dysfunction suspected to be driven by insulin dysregulation. Berberine has been shown to support insulin sensitivity and normal ovulatory function, as well as the common diabetes drug, metformin (1).
In 2019, a meta-analysis showed that berberine was effective in reducing insulin resistance, and androgen levels, in addition to LH/FSH ratio in women with PCOS when compared with metformin (7).
Another study reported that berberine reduces insulin resistance in ovarian cells and decreases excessive testosterone production (8).
Infertility in Women
While berberine does show benefits in improving metabolic problems associated with PCOS, it may also improve fertility.
Ovulatory dysfunction, or the lack of ovulation (anovulation) is a common cause of infertility, and a hallmark symptom of PCOS. Without healthy ovulation, pregnancy cannot occur.
In a small study, 98 women with PCOS who were not ovulating were given berberine daily. Ovulation improved by an average of 25 percent after 4 months of taking berberine (9).
Fatty Liver and Berberine
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is closely linked with metabolic dysfunction and type-2 diabetes. They often occur together, or may be a precursor to each other.
Berberine is uniquely beneficial in addressing the cluster of metabolic symptoms that accompany NAFLD, including insulin resistance, imbalanced blood sugar, and high cholesterol.
Studies have found that berberine “bio-accumulates” in the liver, such that it can target fat deposits that harm liver health and disrupt whole-body homeostasis (10).
Research has consistently shown that berberine reduces triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar, improves insulin resistance, and reduces fat accumulation in the liver, while also improving liver function, even in NAFLD patients (11).
Berberine Supplements and Safety
Berberine can be found in capsule, powder, or tincture form, and is readily available in most health food stores.
Most studies examined effects at dosages between 200 mg and 1,500 mg, in divided doses throughout the day, not consumed all at one time.
Since berberine can lower blood sugar, it’s important to let your integrative medicine doctor know so he or she can provide you with the support you need.
Beware of some drugstore supplements brands that aren’t transparent with their quality control and sourcing practices. Your integrative medicine doctor can provide you effective supplements that have been GMP-verified.
Integrative Medicine Protects Your Health
Berberine has been called “the guardian” of metabolism, with its demonstrated ability to support weight loss, blood sugar balance, and healthy lipid profiles.
With its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and AMPK-activating benefits, berberine is proving to be a valuable complementary intervention with multifaceted functions in the body.
Berberine can help you lose weight, improve metabolic health, and provide benefits for natural PCOS management and fertility.