The power of naturopathic medicine is in the philosophy: remove obstacles to cure and give the body the building blocks it needs to heal itself, and within reason, healing will follow. I prefer not to give supplements to treat symptoms, because that approach doesn’t get to the root cause… but in the short term, sometimes symptom management is necessary, while you’re cleaning up root causes. And in most cases for pure symptom management, medications tend to work better than natural remedies—even though they usually come with side effects.
There are a few exceptions to this, though. For most of the major symptoms of metabolic syndrome, berberine is one of those exceptions.
Berberine Lowers Glucose and Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Berberine is an excellent natural hypoglycemic—according to this study, it’s just as effective as metformin when taken 2-3 times daily at 500 mg doses.
This study also shows that it improves the body’s ability to break down sugar, decreases gluconeogenesis (production of sugar) in the liver, and slows down digestion, allowing glucose to hit the bloodstream a little at a time.
This study also shows that it improves insulin sensitivity.
Berberine Treats Diabetic Complications
One of the major complications of diabetes over time is cardiovascular damage due to prolonged elevated blood sugar. This can lead to cardiovascular disease, as well as to nerve damage. This study shows that berberine can offer relief for these symptoms, perhaps due in part to its anti-inflammatory effects.
Berberine Lowers Cholesterol (nearly as well as statins!)
High cholesterol and high blood sugar go hand-in-hand. Perhaps due to its ability to reduce blood sugar, berberine is also very effective at reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels— in fact, it lowers LDL by 26.8%, while simvastatin lowers it by 28.3%!
Berberine Can Help With Weight Loss
You would expect that if glucose is under control, weight control would improve also. In this study, over a period of three months, thirty seven participants lowered their average BMI from obese to overweight with no other changes.
Berberine Reduces Fatty Liver
Fatty liver (or NAFLD) and insulin resistance go together.
This is because when your body stores sugar, it turns it in to triglycerides, which get packaged into LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol in the liver. In cases of metabolic syndrome, though, this process gets overtaxed. There’s too much sugar all trying to get into storage at once, and so it backs up in the liver. It’s sort of like a bottleneck: LDL is trying to shuttle the triglycerides out to the peripheral tissues to get stored as fat, but it just can’t keep up—so some of those triglycerides get stuck in the liver, leading to, literally, a “fatty liver.”
As you might expect, since berberine lowers glucose and cholesterol production, it also improves fatty liver.
How to Take Berberine
Berberine is best taken with meals, and three times daily to maintain constant blood levels. Most studies seem to pick 500 mg three times daily. Common side effects usually involve the gut (cramping and diarrhea); this worsens when you take large amounts all at once, but frequent small doses minimize the chances of this.
It’s also contraindicated in pregnancy and while breastfeeding.