Tip: What You Need to Know About Berberine

Science is getting pretty excited about this stuff for blood sugar management, gut health and fat loss. Here's what you need to know.

A Supplement That "Mimics the Effects of Exercise"

Exercise in a bottle? That's how some marketers are describing berberine. Yes, that's over the top... and potentially criminal. But it's not completely inaccurate either according to clinical trials.

Berberine is a compound found in many different herbs like goldenseal, Chinese goldenthread, and philodendron. In studies, it's proving to be a heavy hitter when it comes to regulating blood sugar and managing weight, among other things like cancer prevention and gut health. So far, 2,800 studies have been done on the compound, many focusing on its effects on Type 2 diabetes. It appears to rival Metformin when it comes to blood glucose and blood lipid levels. How? Good question.

AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) is an enzyme responsible for maintaining energy balance in cells. AMPK helps balance blood sugar levels, fats in your blood, and energy levels.

Turning AMPK off equals catabolism or breakdown mode. This can include the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, like high blood sugar, energy imbalances, bad blood lipid levels, and diabetic symptoms. When you're in catabolism, you aren't building muscle or recovering, which means your gains will suffer.

Turning AMPK on equals anabolism or build-up mode. Turning on AMPK lowers blood glucose levels, normalizes blood lipid levels, improves energy, and reduces diabetic symptoms. It puts cells into gains mode. And berberine appears to turn on AMPK.

  • Test tubes: Berberine was shown to influence certain genes that regulate metabolism. There are certain genes that, when turned on, can cause adaptive thermogenesis (AT) or the slowing down of metabolism. Berberine may put these genes into a headlock and reduce their ability to ruin your waistline.
  • Rats: One part of this study tried turning chubby, couch-potato rats into figure competitors by dosing them with berberine. Rats given berberine lost significant amounts of weight as compared to the control group that gained weight without berberine. Another rat experiment showed that berberine lowered fasting glucose levels and improved glucose tolerance.
  • Humans: One study tested 36 people just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The participants were split into two groups and tested for three months. One group took Metformin, the other took berberine. The effects of berberine rivaled metformin. And berberine improved lipid metabolism at the same time.

Another study took 60 people with type 2 diabetes, dosed them with berberine, and measured free fatty acids (fats that float around in your blood after they're freed from fat cells). Free fatty acids are bad news for your pancreas and have been linked to insulin resistance. Berberine lowered levels of free fatty acids in those given the compound.

Yes, these are both relatively small populations, but there are more studies that agree that berberine is pretty awesome. And while the time periods for some of these studies were relatively short, that makes the effects of berberine even more impressive.

  • Berberine can be found as an isolated supplement, or you can take one of the berberine herbs listed above.
  • 500 mg three times per day (from supplement sources) resulted in an average weight loss of 5 pounds in one study. Other studies have used the same dosage, so it's safe to start there.
  • Herbal dosages from tinctures and capsules will vary, so just follow the labels.
  • In general, a dose of herbal tea is 1-4 tsp steeped for 5-7 minutes, or longer for a more potent effect.
  • Some gastrointestinal side effects have been reported. If this happens, reduce your dose to 300 mg three times per day. For herbs, simply decrease the recommended dose. Some of these GI symptoms could be due to a rebalancing of your gut flora, so that may not be a bad thing and may not last very long.
  1. Schor J. Clinical Applications for Berberine: Potential therapeutic applications in metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and dyslipidemia. Natural Medicine Journal. 2012;4(12).
  2. Lee YS et al. Berberine, a Natural Plant Product, Activates AMP-Activated Protein Kinase With Beneficial Metabolic Effects in Diabetic. Diabetes. 2006 Aug;55(8):2256-64.
  3. Yin J et al. Efficacy of Berberine in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. Metabolism. 2008 May;57(5):712–717.
Tessa Gurley is the owner of Enliven Wellness, and a nerd about all things health and fitness. Tessa is currently working on her Master's in integrative medicine, and strives to empower her clients and readers so they can live their most vital lives. Follow Tessa Gurley on Facebook