By Shellie Rosen, Ph.D., Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)®, DOM, L.Ac.
Weight loss enthusiasts tout berberine as a “miracle supplement.” However, few sources explain the intricate effects of berberine in the gut that lead to countless positive biochemical benefits. These include blood sugar regulation, improvement in insulin resistance, reduced LDL and triglyceride cholesterols, and lower blood pressure. Berberine is also helpful for inflammatory conditions, infections, and liver diseases.
Berberine (berberine hydrochloride) is an alkaloid from plants that has been used in Western, Ayurvedic, and Chinese herbal formulas for centuries to regulate blood sugar and clear toxins from the gastrointestinal system and the skin. The 2021 journal “Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology” outlines this antimicrobial activity. The authors review berberine’s effect on the gastrointestinal microbiota, saying, “The mechanism underlying the role of berberine in lipid-lowering and insulin resistance is incompletely understood, but one of the possible mechanisms is related to its effect on the gastrointestinal microbiota.”
In short, the review outlines several ways the alkaloids in berberine alter gut bacteria. By decreasing harmful gut bacteria, beneficial bacteria can proliferate, allowing countless positive metabolic actions. Modern research has discovered what herbalists have understood for centuries: Berberine kills the bad bacteria in the gut.
When metabolized in the gut, berberine becomes a new form (dihydroberberine) that activates an enzyme responsible for energy inside a cell called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK helps individuals with insulin resistance by transferring glucose from the blood to the cell, lowering blood sugar.
Individuals with insulin resistance may also have an abnormal increase in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) from poor diet. BCAAs produce unhealthy bacteria in the gut, so the higher the number, the worse the gut microbiome. Berberine helps combat the harmful bacteria that the BCAAs produce.
Berberine also creates healthy intestinal bacterial environments through an increase in short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that produce butyrate. Butyrate then travels to the blood, reducing serum cholesterol and glucose.
Oral berberine increases the number of Akkermansia muciniphila, a commensal bacterium lacking in individuals with obesity, diabetes, inflammation, metabolic, and liver disorders. Folks with alcoholic liver disease often present with excess Enterobacteriaceae bacteria (which produces endotoxins) lacking sufficient Akkermansia muciniphila and other SCFA-producing bacteria. Berberine can be an effective antibacterial agent against pathogenic bacteria and a promoter of positive bacteria such as Lactobacillus.
Berberine can also help with gastrointestinal illnesses, but it has a short half-life and must be taken (500 mg) three times daily before meals to remain effective. A healthy diet and exercise are the ultimate supplements to implement in the new year.
For optimal results with a supplement like berberine, learn how it works, when to take it, and if it fits your needs. Berberine interacts with some medications and can impact blood sugar, so check with your pharmacist and doctor to determine if it is the correct choice for you.
Abundant blessings this new year!