One in three Americans has high blood sugar. Your doctor will tell you to be concerned if your fasting glucose levels are above 100-125 mg/dL. Although 100 mg/dL is often considered the cutoff for normal, studies have shown that fasting blood sugar levels in the mid-90s were predictive of future diabetes a decade later. Ideal fasting blood glucose is 85 mg/dL, so always request a copy of your lab work so you can spot potential problems before they become actual health issues. You can lower your blood sugar naturally, without drugs, by addressing diet and lifestyle!
If you have high blood sugar, between 100-125 mg/dL, you are considered prediabetic. You are diabetic if consistent fasting blood glucose readings are over 130mg/dL and your hemoglobin A1C is 6.5 or above (A1C is an average of your blood glucose levels over 3 months). You’ll likely be prescribed Metformin (and you likely won’t be asked about your diet or stress levels). Common Metformin side effects include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, weakness, and hypoglycemia. But did you know there is a natural compound that has been tested and proven to lower blood glucose levels just as effectively as Metformin? And it has a list of benefits rather than side effects?
Enter berberine, a natural alkaloid found in several different herbs/plants such as barberry, goldenseal, Oregon grape root, phellodendron, and tree turmeric. It has long been used in Chinese medicine and has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-enhancing properties. I often use berberine as part of my anti-candida and anti-parasite protocols.
Berberine has been pretty widely studied for its blood sugar lowering properties, unlike most herbs or natural compounds (the pharmaceutical industry cannot profit off plants, alas), and has been shown to reduce both fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics. In fact, it’s been shown to work as well at Metformin for diabetes and pre-diabetes.
This is significant for 2 reasons:
- anti-diabetic drugs cannot be used in patients with hepatic dysfunction, renal disease, and heart disease, which makes pharmacological therapy of type 2 diabetes complicated
- berberine doesn’t have a mile-long list of potential side effects like most pharmaceutical drugs
- berberine actually has a list of positive effects on the body. That’s right: Rather than potentially causing harm, berberine can make you healthier.
So how does it work? Berberine has been shown to activate an enzyme inside the cell that regulates metabolism and boost fat burning, affecting body weight, triglyceride levels, blood cholesterol, insulin, and blood glucose.
- lowers blood glucose levels, both before and after meals
- improves cholesterol and insulin levels (making it useful also for PCOS)
- slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in the gut
- may promote weight loss: Boosts fat burning in the mitochondria
- may improve outcome for heart disease by lowering blood pressure and increasing blood flow
- may inhibit growth of cancer cells
- anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, making it great for SIBO, candida, parasites
High blood sugar and diabetes increase oxidative damage in the body, raising one’s risk for cancer and heart disease. Many people with diabetes also struggle with obesity, and berberine has been shown effective for fat burning and against cancer, heart disease, high blood sugar and insulin levels. This is a major win; a natural compound that works on a cellular level to improve metabolic syndrome and overall wellness. Does any prescribed drug do the same?
How to take Berberine
First off, quality matters. Herbs and plant compounds are not regulated as supplements, so it’s very important to buy them from a reputable and trusted source. The labels can be misleading, and contents can vary from batch to batch. For lowering blood sugar, I recommend Berberine Synergy (you can read more about its benefits by clicking the link), which is combined with alpha lipoic acid to help support optimal blood sugar and insulin levels, cardiovascular health, and liver health. It’s also effective for lowering insulin levels associated with PCOS. The dose is 1 per meal (3 daily). The company from which I source it has rigorous testing standards. For parasites and pathogens I use this product that combines berberine with other effective anti-microbial herbs.
This brand is also good for berberine-only (not combined with anything else).
Does Berberine have any potential risks?
Berberine has few if any significant side effects. It does have the potential to cause GI upset, and in my experience, this can be due to die-off of harmful bacteria in the gut (Herxheimer reaction). These symptoms typically pass after a week or two, but you can lower the dosage if this occurs. If you are taking any other pharmaceuticals, you’ll need to research or check with your doctor to see if there are interactions with berberine since it could lower blood sugar to harmful levels when combined with other drugs, like Metformin. It may also decrease effectiveness of certain drugs.
I recommend using herbs and plants instead of drugs in most cases because they work with your body chemistry on a molecular level rather than relieving symptoms and potentially creating further imbalance. Berberine is actually as effective, if not more, than blood sugar lowering drugs and has so many positive benefits. If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you absolutely can control your hyperglycemia with diet and lifestyle changes, and berberine is an herb to add to your protocol. If you have pre-diabetes, start now by making the diet changes I outline here. Berberine can help lower blood sugar, control bad bacteria in the gut, and reverse chronic disease and oxidative damage (making it great for anti-aging)!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.