Posted on 27 October 2020
Berberine is a compound extracted from several different plants, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Scientific research has now found berberine to have a variety of rather impressive health benefits, the most significant being a reduction in blood sugar, which it achieves through many different targets.
Berberine is one of the few supplements with effectiveness comparable to that of pharmaceutical antidiabetic drugs like metformin and glibenclamide. Here are 5 ways in which this compound can protect against high blood sugar and diabetes.
Insulin is the hormone that instructs cells to absorb glucose from the blood. It is secreted by beta cells in the pancreas in response to an increase in blood sugar. In type II diabetes, cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, meaning that more insulin is required to achieve a given reduction in blood sugar. Dysfunction and death of pancreatic beta cells is also seen in both type I and type II diabetes (though more relevant in the former), meaning that the body becomes less capable of producing insulin in response to a rise in blood sugar.
Research has shown berberine to be effective in both increasing cells’ sensitivity to the effects of insulin, and increasing insulin secretion in the pancreas. Berberine was found to increase the expression and sensitivity of the insulin receptor, and also appears to directly boost glucose uptake by upregulating GLUT1, one of the proteins responsible for transporting glucose into cells. In the pancreas, berberine appears to promote insulin secretion while also acting on a number of proteins to encourage the survival of beta cells.
Cells consume glucose in a process called glycolysis, which allows them to produce the cellular fuel called ATP. Glycolysis is controlled by a ‘master regulator’ named AMPK, which responds to ATP levels. Berberine has been found to activate AMPK, which ‘tricks’ cells into responding as though ATP were running low. This causes them to ramp up the breakdown of glucose and blocks the storage of glucose in the form of glycogen.
These effects don’t stop with glucose metabolism: AMPK activation also promotes the breakdown of lipids, and reduces cholesterol and lipid synthesis.
The liver is capable of producing sugars from non-carbohydrate sources including proteins and lipids. This is called gluconeogenesis, and is another process regulated by AMPK and that berberine appears to inhibit. Research also suggests that berberine can inhibit gluconeogenesis by affecting gene expression.
Berberine inhibits α-Glucosidase, an intestinal enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates into their smaller subunits in the gut. The inhibition of this enzyme by berberine reduces the ability of the gut to absorb sugars.
The composition of our gut flora has a significant impact on how nutrients are absorbed, and it seems that changes in the composition of the gut microbiome can contribute to the development of type II diabetes by driving low-grade inflammation. Berberine has been found to increase the population of Bacteroidetes while reducing the population of Firmicutes in rats that were fed a high fat diet, and previous research in humans suggests that this is associated with a lower risk of obesity and diabetes.
Berberine also has antimicrobial activity against many bacteria, viruses and fungi that infect the gut, and may protect against diabetes by promoting overall gut health.
Mechanisms of β-Cell Death in Type 2 Diabetes: https://doi.org/10.2337/diabetes.54.suppl_2.S108
Application of berberine on treating type 2 diabetes mellitus: DOI: 10.1155/2015/905749
Berberine, a natural plant product, activates AMP-activated protein kinase with beneficial metabolic effects in diabetic and insulin-resistant states: DOI: 10.2337/db06-0006
Modulation of glucagon-like peptide-1 release by berberine: in vivo and in vitro studies: DOI: 10.1016/j.bcp.2009.11.017
Berberine activates GLUT1-mediated glucose uptake in 3T3-L1 adipocytes: DOI: 10.1248/bpb.30.2120
Berberine inhibits PTP1B activity and mimics insulin action: DOI: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2010.05.153
Berberine reduces insulin resistance through protein kinase C-dependent up-regulation of insulin receptor expression: DOI: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.08.013
Gut microbiota and its possible relationship with obesity: DOI: 10.4065/83.4.460
Effects and action mechanisms of berberine and Rhizoma coptidis on gut microbes and obesity in high-fat diet-fed C57BL/6J mice: DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024520
Traditional chinese medicine in treatment of metabolic syndrome: DOI: 10.2174/187153008784534330
Facilitating effects of berberine on rat pancreatic islets through modulating hepatic nuclear factor 4 alpha expression and glucokinase activity: DOI: 10.3748/wjg.14.6004