Berberine: Research studies, Absorption, and Genetics

Berberine is a natural supplement with some amazing research on it for reducing high blood glucose levels and reducing high cholesterol. The drawback, though, is poor absorption in the intestines, decreasing its effectiveness. In this article, I'll go in-depth on the research studies on berberine, including:
  • how berberine works
  • who might benefit from it
  • how it is metabolized
  • ways to increase absorption

What is berberine?

Berberine, a natural compound, is found in plants such as Oregon grape, barberry, and goldenseal. Plants containing berberine have traditionally been used for gastrointestinal infections. For thousands of years it has been used as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and different plants containing berberine have been used by various cultures around the world. When isolated as a supplement, berberine is a very bitter, yellow powder.

What do research studies show about berberine?

There are thousands of studies on berberine, covering various impacts on health and disease prevention. I'm just going to hit the highlights here...

Decreased blood glucose and increased insulin sensitivity with berberine supplementation

One way that berberine improves blood glucose levels is through activating AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase). AMPK is an enzyme involved in regulating energy production in the body.  When energy is low, AMPK causes glucose or fatty acids to be brought into the cell and used for energy. Activating AMPK also decreases the production of cholesterol and triglycerides. AMPK activation also modulates insulin release from the pancreas and causes lipolysis (using fat for energy). Berberine activates AMPK in a dose-dependent manner (meaning that more berberine causes more AMPK).[ref]  In addition to moderating the release of insulin, berberine also up-regulates the expression of the insulin receptors. This should increase insulin sensitivity.[ref] A clinical trial found berberine to lower fasting blood glucose levels, postprandial blood glucose levels, and decrease insulin resistance after a month. There was also a decrease in IL-6 and TNF-alpha (inflammatory cytokines). This trial included a comparison group using standard drug therapy (blood pressure medicine and diabetes drugs). Both groups were told to exercise for a half-hour a day. Both groups had about the same reduction in treatment parameters - in other words, berberine was as effective as diabetes drugs plus blood pressure meds.[ref] A meta-analysis combining the data from 14 trials of berberine found that berberine to be about as effective as prescription diabetes medications (metformin, glipizide, or rosiglitazone). No serious adverse effects were reported.[ref] Check your genetic variants related to high blood glucose levels.

Clinical trials on improving cholesterol levels with berberine supplement:

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