Taking a low-cost natural product like berberine to manage roller-coaster blood sugar sounds great, but does it work?
The answer is a qualified yes.
Pilot studies find that taking 500 mg of berberine three times daily reduces insulin resistance and fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes just as well as taking the prescription drug metformin.
“Berberine appears to stimulate glucose transporters, allowing cells to take up blood sugar from the bloodstream without the need for insulin,” says leading authority on herbal medicine Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
While these findings are very exciting, it’s important to remember that the large studies required to confirm these early results have not yet been performed.
Additionally, there is early evidence that berberine (found in plants such as goldenseal, barberry, goldthread and Oregon grape root) may interact with some prescription drugs. So make sure you speak with your physician or pharmacist before taking this supplement, especially if you have been prescribed tamoxifen, codeine, or antiarrhythmic drugs for your heart, says Dr. Low Dog. And finally, berberine is not considered safe for pregnant women.
More on berberine and health
Scientists are also testing the herbal product’s ability to:
Trim Triglycerides: Preliminary studies show that taking berberine (500 mg three times daily) reduces triglycerides, a lipid or fat that is often elevated in people with diabetes. Researchers suspect the herb targets carbohydrate metabolism in the intestine, preventing uptake.
Fight Germs: Traditionally used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for treating infections, modern research now confirms berberine’s significant antimicrobial activity. In China, berberine hydrochloride is available as an over-the-counter drug for treatment of gastrointestinal infection. Interest in the herb’s hypoglycemic effects surfaced in the 1980s when doctors noted diabetic patients taking berberine to relieve diarrhea experienced a drop in blood sugar.
Tieraona Low Dog, MD, is author of National Geographic’s Life is Your Best Medicine (2012).
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