Berberine: The Super Supplement?

As many of you now know,  I have developed an online course for perimenopausal women and one the enrollees in my course asked if Berberine supplement was safe to use for weight loss and does it really help.

In answering her questions, I thought, I’ll bet that my listeners would like to know all of this information as well!

What the heck IS Berberine? It is a compound that is found in many plants. There has been a very long history of Berberine use in Chinese medicine and it is used for a variety of ailments. 

Berberine is one of our most studied supplements. It has been tested in hundreds of studies which have shown some impressive benefits of using this plant based supplement. 

How does it work to provide these benefits? One of its main actions is the activation of an enzyme within the cell call AMP-activated protein kinase, or AMPK which plays a key role in regulating metabolism and energy levels in cells throughout your body. 

One in five healthy adults may carry disease related gene mutations. Berberine may affect whether those gene mutations are turned on or off. By turning the gene mutation switch off it could help protect against many chronic health conditions. 

We have lots of studies on berberine that show that it can significantly lower blood sugar in those with Type 2 Diabetes. 

  • It does this by decreasing insulin resistance, which makes insulin, the blood sugar lowering hormone, more effective
  • It helps your body break down sugars within cells
  • It decreases production of sugar in the liver. The RX Metformin also works by decreasing the amount of sugar produced in the liver. 
  • It slows the breakdown of carbs in the gut. By doing this, it helps prevent blood sugar spikes after eating carbs
  • It also increases the good bacteria in your gut. A healthy gut is a key factor in maintaining a healthy body

There was a small study of 116 people with diabetes in 2008 during which the participants took 1000 mg of berberine daily and lowered their fasting blood sugar by 20%!  It also lowered, by 12%, the A1C which tells us what the average blood sugar levels have been over a 3 month period. 

A review of 14 studies, revealed that berberine may be as effective as certain oral drugs for diabetes, including metformin, glipizide and rosiglitazone. Incredible. 

So how does this supplement help with weight loss, which is what most people are interested in?! 

In addition to lowering blood sugar and improving insulin regulation, which will aid weight loss, it has also been shown to provide reduction of weight and belly fat. 

It also appears to inhibit the growth of white fat cells (the bad kind of fat). A 2018 study showed that not only did it reduce white fat cells, it activated brown fat in the body which is the fat that helps the body turn food into body heat. It can increase how much energy the whole body expends by 20% without any changes in physical activity.

What else may this amazing compound do for you?

  • Some animal studies have suggested that it can help reduce depression symptoms
  • In another study review, it was found that berberine inhibits the growth and spread of various cancer types including, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer and cervical cancer. It is thought to do so by interfering with the cancer cell’s typical life cycle and may play a role in killing cancer cells. 
  • Delays the onset of high blood pressure, or in someone who already has high blood pressure, it can help lower the BP
  • PCOS is a prediabetes syndrome. Because Berberine lowers blood sugar and decreases insulin resistance, it can help address PCOS 
  • It has antimicrobial properties. It’s been shown to inhibit the growth of a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, better known to most people as Staph, which can cause sepsis, meningitis, pneumonia and various skin infections
  • It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is at the root of most if not all chronic disease. 
  • It lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol. In a 2021 study Berberine was noted to have similar cholesterol lowering benefits as RX drugs to lower cholesterol, without the side effects that the RX drugs can cause. 
  • It improves the good bacteria in the gut and its antimicrobial effects seem to remove harmful bacteria in the gut. Some of the way Berberine can provide benefit against cancer, inflammation, diabetes and other chronic conditions is due to the beneficial effect it has on the microbiota of the gut. 
  • Berberine may help reduce fatty liver, when fat is built up in the liver

Possible side effects are GI symptoms like bloating, gas and diarrhea. These side effects can be avoided by starting with a lower dose and increasing the dose every week to two weeks.

Typical dosing is 500 mg three times daily. There are 1200 mg and 1500 mg caps available but it would be wise to start with the lower dose of 500mg and gradually increase to 500 mg three times daily and if you do well, then you can change to one 1500 mg cap daily. Of course, talk to your provider to make sure this is right for you. Also, if you are on cholesterol, diabetes and/or high blood pressure meds, do not stop them if you start berberine. Always talk to your provider before stopping a medication.

What brand of berberine supplement should you buy? A 2018 study checked the potency of 15 different OTC Berberine supplements. An independent lab checked the number of mg in the caps of each brand and compared it to the number of mg listed on the label. Pharmaceutical companies are required to prepare their medications so that they contain 90 to 110% of the content they claim on the label. In this study, 6 of 15 of the Berberine brands met this pharmaceutical grade requirement of containing 90-110% of labeled content. Those brands are:

  1. Vital Nutrients Berberine 500 mg 
  2. Thorne Research  Berberine 500 mg
  3. Integrative Therapeutics Berberine Metabolic Support 500 mg
  4. Nutritional Concepts Activated Berberine 400 mg (I could not find this product online)
  5. Natural Factors WellBetX Berberine 500 mg 
  6. Healthy Directions Dr. Whitaker Clinical Grade Berberine 500 mg

Overall, Berberine has an outstanding safety profile. In a 2021 study published in Front Pharmacology, it was stated that, “Berberine is clinically safe and well-tolerated by the human body. Few adverse reactions are reported.”

So, if you’re looking for a weight loss option that has an impressive safety profile and provides some risk reduction benefits to boot….Berberine may be something to consider!

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