Supplements

Berberine: A Promising Plant Extract to Lower Your Blood Sugar

Posted on 15 June 2020

Berberine is a compound extracted from various plants including barberries and Rhizoma Coptidis, an Asian herb used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Plant of Rhizoma Coptidis (A), chemical structure of berberine (B ...
Dual-functional Brij-S20-modified nanocrystal formulation enhances the intestinal transport and oral bioavailability of berberine. International Journal of Nanomedicine. Volume 13. 3781-3793. 10.2147/IJN.S163763.

Why Might Berberine Be Beneficial?

Berberine activates a molecule called AMP kinase (AMPK), which appears to play an important role in the control of ageing. AMPK regulates multiple longevity pathways in response to nutrient availability, and plays a central role in the pro-longevity effects of fasting. Berberine appears to extend lifespan in experimental animals, but there is no guarantee that this effect extends to humans.

Salminen, A., & Kaarniranta, K. (2012). AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) controls the aging process via an integrated signaling network. Ageing Research Reviews11(2), 230-241. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2011.12.005

While more research is needed to fully elucidate its effects, there is a relatively strong body of evidence suggesting that berberine can reduce biomarkers of type II diabetes, with potency rivalling that of some pharmaceuticals like metformin.

Berberine may also lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), both of which would be protective against heart disease.

What Is The Evidence Behind Berberine Supplementation?

In isolated human cells, berberine was able to reduce markers of senescence, a state in which cells are no longer able to divide and may instead contribute to tissue ageing by producing harmful inflammatory mediators and signalling molecules. The same study also found that berberine could extend the lifespan of naturally aged mice by 16%. Another study found that berberine extended lifespan in fruit flies.

Survival with berberine treatment compared with controls in mice treated with chemotherapy (left) and naturally aged mice (right)
Dang, Y., An, Y., He, J., Huang, B., Zhu, J., & Gao, M. et al. (2019). Berberine ameliorates cellular senescence and extends the lifespan of mice via regulating p16 and cyclin protein expression. Aging Cell19(1). doi: 10.1111/acel.13060

Multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the effects of berberine have been conducted. In 2012, an analysis of fourteen randomised trials (1068 participants) found that berberine increased insulin sensitivity in diabetics with similar efficacy to oral drugs such as metformin. Berberine also reduced overall cholesterol. However, said trials were generally of poor quality and of insufficient duration to assess the longer term effects of berberine.

More recently in 2018, a larger systematic review and meta-analysis of 28 studies (2313 participants), while suffering from some of the same limitations as the 2012 study, concluded that the existing evidence was consistent enough to support the glucose-lowering effects of berberine. It also suggested that the effects of berberine might lessen in older age.

Reduction in fasting plasma glucose achieved by berberine or berberine in conjunction with oral hypoglycemic agents across multiple studies.
Liang, Y., Xu, X., Yin, M., Zhang, Y., Huang, L., Chen, R., & Ni, J. (2019). Effects of berberine on blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic literature review and a meta-analysis. Endocrine Journal66(1), 51-63. doi: 10.1507/endocrj.ej18-0109

In addition to its effects on lipid and glucose levels, there is also evidence that berberine may improve cardiac health and reduce blood pressure, though these effects are less well documented.

Safety

Berberine appears to have potency similar to many pharmaceuticals, but its long term safety compared with these has not been rigorously evaluated, particularly in terms of long-term consumption. While no serious side effects have been documented, it does have harmful interactions with some drugs such as warfrin and possibly macrolide antibiotics, and so a doctor’s guidance should be sought before taking berberine.

European Barberry 'Berberis Uulgaris' – edible Corsican berries
European barberry

References

AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) controls the aging process via an integrated signaling network: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2011.12.005

Berberine ameliorates cellular senescence and extends the lifespan of mice via regulating p16 and cyclin protein expression: https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.13060

Berberine Prolongs Life Span and Stimulates Locomotor Activity of Drosophila melanogaster: doi: 10.4236/ajps.2012.327123

Berberine in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis: https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/591654

Effect of Berberine Administration on Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Sensitivity, and Insulin Secretion: DOI: 10.1089/met.2012.0183

Effects of Berberine on Blood Glucose in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Literature Review and a Meta-Analysis: DOI: 10.1507/endocrj.EJ18-0109

Efficacy and Safety of Berberine for Congestive Heart Failure Secondary to Ischemic or Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy: DOI: 10.1016/s0002-9149(03)00533-2

Examine.com: Berberine: https://examine.com/supplements/berberine/

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