By: Dr. Casey Carr, Naturopathic Medical Doctor
Dear Dr. Casey, I am seeing more advertisements for berberine as a supplement. What is berberine and what is it used for? Should I make it a part of my daily health routine?
– Jared H.
Yes, berberine seems to be on the “hot list” of nutrients and supplements right now. And for good reason! While it has been most popularized for its use in blood sugar control, it has a variety of other benefits including its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, lipid-regulating effecting, among others. As I have been known to say, “plants are powerful,” and berberine-containing herbs are no exception. But researchers aren’t onto anything too novel; these plants have been cornerstone medicine in cultures throughout the world for centuries as potent therapy.
Berberine is an isolated compound that comes from a variety of plants, including ones that are native to the PNW including Oregon grape root (Berberis aquifolium), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and barberry (Berberis vulgaris). It gives the roots of these plants a vibrant yellow color if you scrape away the bark. This bright color signifies its high alkaloid content, and helps to explain why it is such a useful compound for inflammation and as a sort of herbal antibiotic. We are lucky it is in such abundance where we live in the form of Oregon grape and barberry! It is good to know that you can find medicine in your backyard. As an easier option, berberine can also be purchased as an isolated supplement (capsule) or taken in tincture form from its whole plant.
Berberine exploded onto the attention of the conventional and alternative medical communities alike as numerous head-to-head studies were completed with it against the pharmaceutical, metformin. Metformin is the first line drug used for prediabetes and early diabetes in conventional medicine, and berberine has been shown to lower blood glucose levels over time to comparable levels. Recent studies have shown that “normal” blood glucose levels are becoming increasingly less and less normal, as 2021 estimates from the American Diabetes Association state that a staggering 40% of Americans have prediabetes or diabetes, and that number is continuing to rise. Consider having your levels checked by a primary care provider who can order fasting blood glucose labs and an additional measurement, HgA1C, which is an average of blood glucose over the last three months.
As with all new medication, supplements and herbs, they should be implemented with the help of knowledgeable healthcare provider. For example, berberine can lower blood glucose levels to lower than desired amounts, especially in those with type 1 diabetes or others at risk of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. It needs to be implemented at a reasonable dose and with the monitoring of a medical professional or registered herbalist.
As primary care doctors in Idaho, Naturopathic medical doctors love catching folks in the prediabetes stage to try and help reverse the rise of blood glucose. In addition to nutrients like berberine, there are a vast array of things that can be discussed for your metabolic health in regards to nutrition, lifestyle and basic habit changes of even what you eat on your plate first. Think of berberine’s sudden popularity as a general public service announcement to Americans: we are in need of some serious metabolic help. Diabetes is a slippery slope to a slew of other conditions – what are you doing to care for your metabolic health?
You can check out more of Dr. Casey’s writings through the local Natural Wellness magazine publication and sign up for newsletters at her website, https://www.drcaseycarr.com/
Wang H, Zhu C, Ying Y, Luo L, Huang D, Luo Z. Metformin and berberine, two versatile drugs in treatment of common metabolic diseases. Oncotarget. 2017 Sep 11;9(11):10135-10146. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.20807. PMID: 29515798; PMCID: PMC5839379.
Schor, Jacob. Clinical applications for berberine. Natural Medicine Journal. 2014 March 24. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/…