Berberine is not an herb, but an alkaloid compound found in many botanical sources, including goldenseal, Indian barberry, and Oregon grape, among others, making it a component of Ayurvedic and Chinese medical practice for generations.
While berberine has many health applications, including arthritis relief, fatty liver disease treatment, and preserving cognitive strength, research shows that it has great potential to address the conditions collectively known as metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome affects at least 20 percent of the world’s population and is a cluster of disease factors: high blood sugar, imbalanced cholesterol levels, elevated triglycerides, high blood pressure, and unhealthy weight.
Regarding blood sugar, berberine stimulates glycolysis—the process of releasing energy from sugars. Having sugars used up by the mitochondria for fuel is far better than overloading the bloodstream with glucose or the sugar being converted into triglycerides.
Berberine also inhibits alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme involved in releasing sugar from carbohydrates in the digestive system. As a result, the body has less blood sugar it has to deal with in the first place.
In a three-month clinical study, berberine reduced HbA1c levels (the amount of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells) from 8.1 percent to 7.3 percent, and lowered triglycerides, along with fasting and postprandial glucose levels. It also reduced fasting plasma insulin by 28 percent, and the insulin resistance index—a measure of how well the body uses or disposes of glucose—by 44 percent. These results were similar to the group assigned to using metformin, a prescription drug for type 2 diabetes.
Scientific research shows that berberine also reduces blood pressure and acts as a vasodilator, opening up blood vessels due to its effects on calcium channel pathways. Additionally, berberine appears to work better than lifestyle changes alone for reducing blood pressure levels for individuals with type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
In other clinical research, berberine showed a positive effect on weight loss and cut the levels of enzymes associated with fatty liver disease almost in half.
Berberine may also alleviate muscle and bone disorders, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, because it moderates inflammation and immune responses. And there is research indicating that berberine could calibrate inflammatory reactions in the lungs in those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. Plus, new research in the journal Pharmaceuticals (Basel) suggests that combining berberine with andrographis may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
But because berberine can be difficult for the body to absorb, it can benefit from being paired with a plant-based ingredient called gamma-cyclodextrin. Gamma-cyclodextrin molecules have a water-soluble exterior but a fat-soluble interior that envelops the compound and escorts it through the intestinal wall for better absorption.
Berberine may not be a nutrient “superstar” yet, but if you want an assist with blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, or any condition associated with metabolic syndrome, it is definitely including in your own regimen.