Instead of taking a patent medicine to ‘manage’ your diabetes, you can get rid of the disease completely (and more safely).
And it’s all thanks to a herbal discovery made by an ancient Chinese emperor thousands of years ago.
Among the ‘treasure trove’ that is Chinese herbs – which Western medicine has only just recently begun to explore – perhaps the most widely studied one comes from the plants Coptis chinensis (Chinese goldthread) and Hydrastis canadensis (golden seal).
You may have heard me refer to golden thread as ‘Coptic salt’ or even ‘Emperor’s salt’. That’s because it was used by a legendary emperor who taught the Chinese about medicinal herbs over 3,000 years ago.
The compound extracted from these herbs is called Berberine, and it has an impressive amount of evidence supporting its use to control diabetes mellitus type 2.
For all of its positive effects and strong safety record (including zero toxicity), you might even say that Berberine is the perfect broad-spectrum treatment for those with type 2 diabetes – or anyone who struggles with too much glucose in the blood (hyperglycaemia) or shifting a few extra pounds.
For one, Berberine has been shown to modulate multiple aspects of your metabolism… and even act as a natural carbohydrate blocker!
One pony, lots of tricks
Berberine’s ability to lower blood sugar was first noticed in 1986, when it was found to decrease glucose levels in laboratory animals.
This was documented in humans two years later in China, where diabetes is a big problem. In China, diabetes is called ‘Xiao-Ke,’, which means emaciation and thirst.
- But how does Berberine work in beating back diabetes?
- Over the years, dozens of studies and several meta-analyses have identified a number of different mechanisms, including:
- Lowering how much your cells resist insulin by increasing the activity of the insulin receptors in your
- Directly increasing how much insulin your body secretes.
- Blocking an enzyme responsible for breaking down carbohydrates into small pieces (monosaccharides), thereby lessening how much glucose your intestines absorb.
- Slowing down your liver’s production of glucose (gluconeogenesis).
- Lowering lipid levels, including triglycerides.
- Helping muscle and adipose cells burn fatty acids into energy.
- Reducing inflammation.
- Acting as a potent antioxidant.
- Enhancing immune system function and combating infections.
That’s a lot to dive into… and I don’t want to overwhelm you with all the scientific mumbo-jumbo… so I’ll just spend a bit of time unpacking and breaking down some of the latest and greatest findings that you absolutely need to know.
Put out the fire inside
Now, we know that Berberine helps beat back diabetes by making your body – right down to the cellular level – more sensitive to insulin.
That should come as no surprise. As you know, type 2 diabetes is associated with ‘insulin resistance,’ or when your cells don’t respond to insulin as well as you need them to.
But here’s something you may not have heard yet:
The scientific community has begun thinking of type 2 diabetes as less and less of a blood-sugar disease and more and more of a disease of inflammation.
The newest area of research into the Berberine and the type 2 diabetes connection is based on the role of
If you’ve been reading Nutrition & Healing for a while now, you know that oxidative stress produces inflammatory molecules (‘free radicals’) called reactive oxygen species (ROS). In the case of diabetes, when oxidative stress happens, those ROS poison cells inside the pancreas, called islet cells, lead to low insulin secretion and diabetes.
Not only that, but these products of oxidative stress are involved in the long-term complications of diabetes including diabetic neuropathy, nephropathy, and retinopathy.
But Berberine can help that, too – and, as a number of studies have exhibited in the past few years, its effects are twofold.
For one, Berberine lowers levels of oxidative stress markers called malondialdehyde (MDA) and lipid peroxide – the build-up of which can make for a highly dangerous situation.
Secondly, Berberine helps increase the ‘master antioxidant’ glutathione, which is a key ingredient in something called glutathione peroxidase. This antioxidant enzyme is all-important because it counteracts the damaging effects of lipid peroxides (called lipid peroxidation).
It may have a tongue-twisting name, but all you really need to know is that along with another antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase literally ‘scavenges’ free radicals.
Fewer free radicals means less inflammation… and less inflammation means a less severe case of diabetes.
Gut bacteria and your blood sugar
Another common culprit of inflammation is in your gut glutathione – specifically, the low-level inflammation that can result from an imbalance of bacteria, fungi, parasites, or other organisms containing lipopolysaccharides in their walls that elicit an immune response.
Berberine acts as a natural antibiotic, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, and even anti-worm and has a regulatory effect on the gut flora (the microbiome), where much of your body’s immune activity is actually located.
That, in turn, can lower your blood sugar and help prevent type 2 diabetes.
In fact, scientists have been aware of a relationship between blood sugar, body fat, and the intestinal flora for several years now. For instance, studies have shown that having too much of a certain strain of bacteria in your gut (called Firmicutes) is linked to obesity, while having an abundant amount of another strain (Bacteroidetes) is associated with being lean.
The type of bacteria that you’ve got in your own gut can determine not only how impervious to infection you are… but also how fast or how slow your metabolism is.
Which brings us back to diabetes.
Help for those who need it the most
Understanding much more about the scientific bases of Berberine’s actions in theory is one thing. But what does all of this mean for you – a living, breathing human being? After all, you’re not a bunch of cells in a lab dish.
Well, the good news is that a number of in vivo studies now show positive responses to Berberine, too. In fact, at least 20 studies have demonstrated similar effects of Berberine on blood sugar and blood lipids over the last few years.
In one study, Chinese researchers gave Berberine to 72 obese and non-obese patients. After two months, both groups showed improved insulin resistance and body mass index (P<0.01, which is highly significant). That’s good.
Here’s what’s even better:
The obese group had a greater (and also highly significant) reduction in both insulin resistance and body mass index.
In another study, Berberine improved fasting blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides, and body weight in 116
patients with hyperlipidaemia.
Still another clinical study demonstrated a lowering of fasting blood sugar, HbA1c (a measure of blood sugar over a three-month period), and triglycerides in 35 Berberine-treated patients.
Even more interesting is the fact that the patients in the study had already been diagnosed with either hepatitis B or C insulin resistance and a high body mass index – and still Berberine was able to lower their liver enzymes, no doubt due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Is there anything this humble herb can’t do?
Add this to your arsenal
Clearly, Berberine has shown to work miracles on its own… but it turns out that it’s also effective when combined with other interventions.
For one, as shown by a systemic review of 14 randomised trials, making lifestyle modifications (diet, exercise) while also taking Berberine supplements will lower blood sugar and lipids significantly more than just modifying lifestyle factors.
Berberine works better in combination with other nutrients, too. In a 2011 randomised study, the combination significantly improved insulin resistance, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol in more than 100 older patients
But believe it or not, it gets even more interesting.
In a randomised study from 2010, one group took a mixture of two anti-diabetic drugs (metformin and glipizide), and another group took those same two drugs plus Berberine. Members of the second group – the one with the Berberine added – saw their insulin resistance, fasting blood sugar, and inflammatory markers all significantly reduced (P<0.05), compared to the group with just the drugs.
Remarkably, there were very few side effects. The main one – which was still relatively rare – was gastrointestinal irritation.
It even appears as though Berberine may help those drugs work even better. In 2015, a study on rats found that Berberine slowed down the elimination of metformin.
Just last year, another animal study demonstrated that Berberine could actually protect rats from a dangerous complication of diabetes, when both metformin and lactic acid build up in the kidneys, and contribute to the potentially life-threatening condition called metformin-associated lactic acidosis (MALA).
Since some patients absolutely must take a patent medication to keep their blood sugar in a ‘sweet spot’ between those dangerously high spikes and alarmingly low crashes, anything that might mitigate the side effects of those drugs – or the complications of type 2 diabetes in general – is a very good thing.
A clean sweep
If you’re struggling with high blood sugar… high blood lipids… and/or extra weight… I urge you to consider taking Berberine.
It’s like the ultimate purifier – purging your blood of impurities that can wreak havoc on your health!
Not only sugar… but also cholesterol, triglycerides, infectious agents, and more!
Now is the perfect time to try it, when you may have already started losing your grip on your New Year’s resolutions – because when added to a weight loss programme, Berberine can add an extra ‘boost’ to your metabolism.
From study to study, the doses of Berberine varied but generally added up to about 1,000mg per day (either in one daily dose or in divided doses throughout the day). Some studies, however, went as high as 2,000mg daily.
I recommend taking 500mg capsules, which you can get at health food stores and compounding pharmacies. Take one to two capsules two times daily or as recommended by your health care practitioner.
Berberine also works well in combination with other nutrients – and since your spiking blood sugar may be a symptom of oxidative stress and inflammation, you’ll want to do whatever you can to clear out those ROS and cool things off in your metabolism.
In addition to Berberine, I recommend also taking glutathione, quercetin, curcumin, resveratrol, and astaxanthin, just to name
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.