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Berberine Herb as a Type 2 Diabetes Treatment

  • Published: 2013-12-02 (Revised/Updated 2018-01-25) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact:
  • Synopsis: Information regarding type 2 diabetes patients and clinical trials involving the herb Berberine for blood sugar regulation.

A quaternary ammonium salt from the protoberberine group of isoquinoline alkaloids. It is found in such plants as Berberis [e.g. Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape), Berberis vulgaris (barberry), Berberis aristata (tree turmeric)], Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), Xanthorhiza simplicissima (yellowroot), Phellodendron amurense (Amur cork tree), Coptis chinensis (Chinese goldthread), Tinospora cordifolia, Argemone mexicana (prickly poppy), and Eschscholzia californica (Californian poppy). Berberine is usually found in the roots, rhizomes, stems, and bark and is a bitter-tasting, yellow, plant alkaloid with a long history of medicinal use in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Berberine has been shown to be safe in the majority of clinical trials. However, there is a potential for interaction between berberine and many prescription medications, and berberine should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women, due to potential for adverse effects in the newborn.

Main Document

"Berberine has an indirect effect on a person's blood sugar regulation through its effect on gastrointestinal hormones referred to as, incretins."

Berberine hydrochloride, also referred to as, 'berberine HCL,' is a type of dietary supplement containing the natural plant substance berberine.

Berberine is used frequently in non-traditional medical systems such as Chinese and Ayurvedic herbal medicine and has been show to be effective for treating a number of conditions. A safety and efficacy study was published in the July 2003 issue of the, 'American Journal of Cardiology,' and determined the supplement aided with improving the quality of life of people who experienced congestive heart failure while presenting them will no apparent toxicity or side-effects.

It was reported that berberine exhibits anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, sedative, hypotensive, as well as anti-convulsive effects. Some people take berberine HCL to prevent or treat fungal, yeast, parasitic, viral or bacterial infections. While berberine has been used to treat digestive tract infections that cause diarrhea, as early as the year 1980 researchers discovered that berberine lowers a person's blood sugar levels. A study published in the October, 2007 issue of the, American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism notes this effect. Berberine might also lower a person's blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Chart showing infectious organisms berberine fights
About This Image: Chart showing infectious organisms berberine fights
Berberine is best known for its natural antibiotic activity, it fights common infectious organisms. The organisms it fights include ones such as:

As well as many others. Berberine is a component of common herbs like Oregon grape, goldenseal, and a number of other botanicals that are not as well-known. A 0.2% solution of berberine has been found to be effective against trachoma in some nations; trachoma is a major infectious cause visual impairment and blindness. Berberine is also effective against other types of conjunctivitis. The herb has also been found to be more effective than aspirin in relieving fever in animal experiments and has the ability to stimulate some parts of the immune system.

Metformin, or Berberine?

It is not well-known that research published in well-known and respected, peer-reviewed medical journals from the year 2008 found that berberine is equally effective and far safer than metformin. Metformin is a medication commonly prescribed to help regulate blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. A total of 36 adults who were recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to treatment with either berberine or metformin at 500 milligrams 3 times each day during a 3 month trial.

Chart showing the effectiveness of berberine on blood sugar levels
About This Image: Chart showing the effectiveness of berberine on blood sugar levels
At the end of the 3 month trial, average fasting blood sugars in the group who took berberine dropped from 191 to 124 milligrams per deciliter, average blood sugar after eating dropped from 356 to 199 milligrams per deciliter, average hemoglobin A1c dropped from 9.5% to 7.5%, and fasting triglycerides dropped from an average of 99 to 78 milligrams per deciliter. Researchers noted, "Compared with metformin, berberine exhibited an identical effect in the regulation of glucose metabolism, such as HbA1c, FBG [fasting blood glucose], PBG [blood sugar after eating], fasting insulin and postprandial insulin [insulin level after eating]. In the regulation of lipid metabolism, berberine activity is better than metformin. By week 13, triglycerides and total cholesterol in the berberine group had decreased and were significantly lower than in the metformin group (P<0.05)."

Insulin resistance in the group dropped by 45 percent. Berberine is a potent oral blood sugar lowering agent with a modest effect on lipid metabolism. It is safe to use and the cost of using it is very low.

How Berberine Works

The answer to how berberine works involves the effect it has on insulin and insulin regulation. Berberine has an indirect effect on a person's blood sugar regulation through its effect on gastrointestinal hormones referred to as, 'incretins.' The herb improves the action of insulin by activating an enzyme that assists in the regulation of cellular uptake of glucose, the oxidation of fatty acids, as well as the synthesis of glucose transporter 4 or, 'GLUT4,' which is the insulin-regulated glucose carrier found in fat, skeletal, and cardiac muscle and is responsible for moving glucose from a person's bloodstream into their cells. GLUT4 is found only in muscle and fat cells, the major tissues in a person's body that respond to insulin.

Berberine increases the number and activity of insulin receptors. The increase in number and activity enables the same amount of insulin to be more effective than before. Other researchers reported that berberine inhibits an enzyme which then inhibits the insulin receptor. When the insulin receptor is not inhibited as much it may function better and the result is that insulin has the opportunity to work better.

'Incretines,' are hormones secreted in a person's stomach and intestines that simultaneously increase the amount of insulin while inhibiting the amount of glucagon released from the person's pancreatic islet cells after they eat, even before their blood sugar levels increase. Incretins also slow the rate of absorption of nutrients into a person's blood stream by slowing emptying of their stomach, something that might indirectly reduce the person's intake of food. Berberine increases the secretion of one of the major incretins, 'glucagon-like peptide.'

Berberine is a major active component of the herb, 'Coptis chinensis,' or, 'Huang-lian.' According to one research group the herb has been used in China to treat what is now known as type 2 diabetes for thousands of years. Another research group found its blood sugar lowering effect when it was given to people with type 2 diabetes to treat diarrhea.

One of the first publications describing the use of beberine to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes was published in China in the year 1988. Additional research papers found significant reductions in fasting and after-eating blood sugar control; one also found significant reductions in triglycerides and cholesterol. Only one instance of constipation was reported.

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