Berberine Works As Well As Drugs To Reduce Blood Sugar

| April 4, 2013

In my last blog post on The Real Diabetes Truth, I reported on the latest in a string of studies that have revealed the dangers of prescription drugs for diabetes. With awareness of such potentially lethal drug side effects has come an increasingly urgent search for safe, natural alternatives. Researchers are steadily expanding the range of herbs, like berberine, with demonstrated effectiveness and safety for this condition.

You may have noticed that some natural, anti-diabetic products hit the headlines for a while and then fade into the background as research on other herbs or nutrients takes centre stage. It doesn’t mean that the products have become any less effective, just that the news media have chosen to focus their attention elsewhere. I was reminded of this recently when reading the February 2013 issue of Dr Jonathan Wright’s Nutrition and Healing newsletter, in which he describes the many benefits of berberine.

Berberine is a natural plant chemical (an isoquinoline alkaloid, to be precise) that is present in shrubs such as barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), as well as in herbs like goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). In 2007 and 2008, a slew of research studies was published on berberine, with one clinical trial finding that it was as effective as the standard drug metformin at reducing blood sugar levels, while reversing insulin resistance and cutting levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), too1. For a while, berberine was the supplement that everybody wanted.

Since then, we haven’t heard a great deal about berberine, but research has carried on behind the scenes, making steady progress in verifying this compound’s anti-diabetic properties, clarifying the way that it works in the body and revealing more and more of its beneficial effects on our health. A review of 14 randomised clinical trials, involving 1068 participants, was published last autumn and confirmed the earlier findings that berberine very effectively reduces blood sugar, blood fat and cholesterol levels.

In one study, carried out in Milan, a combination of berberine with the herb milk thistle, given to patients with type 2 diabetes for 90 days, brought about significant reductions in their glycosylated haemoglobin (HgA1c), fasting insulin, triglyceride, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol readings3. All of these patients were already taking a variety of prescription diabetes drugs, which were failing to control their diabetes adequately.

Not just for diabetes: berberine improves blood pressure and cholesterol levels and aids weight loss, too

Findings that berberine reduced the severity of insulin resistance in diabetes patients prompted researchers to investigate whether it would do the same for people with metabolic syndrome that had not yet progressed to type 2 diabetes. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 64 participants took either a capsule of berberine combined with policosanol and red yeast rice, or placebo, daily for 18 weeks. The results showed that, while there was no change in the placebo group, those taking the berberine formulation had significant improvements in their blood sugar control, insulin levels, blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

Other studies have investigated berberine’s effects on fat cells. It appears to block fat storage by preventing young fat cells (pre-adipocytes) from maturing into adipocytes, which collect and store fatty acids. Berberine also switches off the production of inflammatory substances called adipokines, high levels of which are thought to be a factor in insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Patients taking berberine for three months had on average a drop of 4 points in their body mass index, from 31.5 to 27.4, demonstrating that effects seen at the cellular level actually translate into significant weight loss for obese patients.

If you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome, or if you just want to lose weight or reduce your risk factors for heart disease, I would urge you to take a supplement of berberine (500mg to 1500mg a day, or as advised by your practitioner). If you have been newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, give berberine a try before metformin, since both have been shown to be equally effective in reducing the biomarkers of this condition.

Because herbs can be so powerful and, in many cases, just as successful as prescription drugs in controlling blood sugar, my next blog post will review the latest scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the top ranking anti-diabetic herbs.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Yin J, Xing H, Ye J. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008; 57(5):712-717.

2. Dong H, Wang N, Zhao L, Lu F. Berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012:591654.

3. Di Pierro F, Villanova N, Agostini F, Marzocchi R, Soverini V, Marchesini G. Pilot study on the additive effects of berberine and oral type 2 diabetes agents for patients with suboptimal glycemic control. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2012; 5:213-217.

4. Affuso F, Mercurio V, Ruvolo A, Pirozzi C, Micillo F, Carlomagno G, Grieco F, Fazio S. A nutraceutical combination improves insulin sensitivity in patients with metabolic syndrome. World J Cardiol. 2012 Mar 26;4(3):77-83.

5. Yang J, Yin J, Gao H, Xu L, Wang Y, Xu L, Li M. Berberine improves insulin sensitivity by inhibiting fat store and adjusting adipokines profile in human preadipocytes and metabolic syndrome patients. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012:363845.

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Category: Natural Diabetes Alternatives

Comments (6)

Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.

  1. Nathaniel says:

    Berberine? Never heard of it. Thanks for the info. I’m going to try it.

  2. Anna says:

    Does Berberine need to be combined with milk thistle? I have ordered Glycosolve 500 mg from Leaner Living that many recommend, but it does not contain milk thistle. Would you recommend getting a product containing both?

    Thanks for an interesting article; I have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrom, and my doctor wants me on Metformin 500 x 3…I think I will give Berberine a try first.

  3. Judith Papenhuijzen says:

    I have had type2 diabetes for 8 years & am trying to control bloodsugar with medication (metformin)from GP which is not working very well. Also I eat a very healthy vegetarian diet & take herbal supplements too. I cannot tolerate gliclizide,tried januvia,which gave me problems with my eye sight, so I stopped taking it. Also this spring I had a partial thyroidectomy,as there were some lumps( benign) growing on thyroid. Since reading your news updates I’m glad that I stopped taking Januvia. I would like to try berberine,but don’t know where to access it,apart from America. Is there a reputable supplier in the UK? I already take milk thistle. Judith Papenhuijzen

  4. Sonia Radia says:

    Where can I buy this herb from?

  5. Martin Hum says:

    I am sorry to hear of the problems you have been having. Unfortunately, I am unable to offer advice on an individual basis. Lactic acidosis has very many possible causes and you need to ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist in order to find what is going wrong in your case. My very best wishes.

  6. Eroll Munro says:

    Can you help, I have had lactic asodosis 4 times in the last 7 years. the last couple of times i lost a lot of weight and was very sick. the problem is i can not put weight back on. is there any thing i can do??? kind regards Eroll Munro.