Type 2 Diabetes (and its root cause: insulin resistance) is truly an epidemic in our society. Thus it’s only a matter of time before every practitioner has at least a handful of clients with blood sugar control issues. The good news is that Type 2 diabetes is absolutely reversible! Long-term healing requires a client to change their diet and lifestyle substantially. And, as you know, some of them just aren’t ready emotionally for that change. It takes time. But in the interim, these clients absolutely need help alleviating the toxic effects of elevated sugar on their organs and glands.
As a scientist at heart, I am inherently skeptical of claims of seemingly “magical” effects of herbal remedies. Some are absolutely true, but many are overblown (just as we see with pharmaceutical remedies, marketing claims can be predatory and irresponsible). I want to introduce you, however, to an herbal solution that holds up very well to scrutiny: berberine. Like another herbal powerhouse curcumin, berberine is a plant phytonutrient, specfically an alkaloid. It’s been used for eons as a natural antibiotic. I’ve used it successfully in my practice to help people who choose natural treatment (as opposed to prescription antibiotics) for all sorts of unwelcome microbial infections…bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites. Berberine is extracted from a number of medicinal herbs, most commonly oregon grape root, barberry, and goldenseal (what you see in the picture above).
But that’s only the beginning of berberine’s power. A couple of ground-breaking 2008 clinical studies found that berberine regulates blood sugar in Type 2 diabetes just as well as the blockbuster drug Metformin (and with no measured side effects). No, I am not exaggerating. In peer-reviewed studies in the medical journals Metabolism and the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, berberine was found to lower both fasting and post-prandial (after a meal) blood sugar and insulin EQUALLY as well as Metformin (the generic form of the popular drug brand glucophage used in diabetic patient treatment). And beyond blood sugar, berberine also reduced those participants’ triglycerides by 35% and their LDL cholesterol by 21% and their blood pressure by 7/5 mm Hg (three things Metformin can’t and doesn’t claim to do)! These further effects are critical benefits for our clients with not just advanced insulin resistance but full-blown metabolic syndrome.
Berberine works because it activates a primal metabolism-regulating enzyme in the body called AMPK. When we are producing less ATP (energy) in our cells, the body secretes AMPK to ensure our survival in times of crisis. This is the same enzyme that gets triggered with severe calorie restriction (which has been shown to prolong life in animals, but is practically sustainable by very few). AMPK stimulates our cells to take in more blood sugar, thus improving insulin sensitivity. But it also slows our liver’s own production of extra blood sugar (a key issue for most Type 2 diabetics). By supporting our liver, berberine also slows the release of free fatty acids into the blood (which is what creates triglycerides) and boosts natural fat-burning in the mitochondria (the little energy factories in all our cells that turn fuel into energy).
For the typical adult, berberine is effective for blood-sugar management taken 400-500mg at once, twice or thrice a day, ideally about 30 minutes prior to each meal. To ensure your client gets an effective dose each time, I suggest choosing a product with a standardized berberine extract (as opposed to a whole-herb product like goldenseal). I recommend Thorne’s Berberine-500 product or (if your client is struggling with GI issues as well, like gas and bloating) try the multi-herbal formula Metagenics CandiBactin-BR. On a side note, if your client is indeed taking Metformin, make sure they take a daily Vitamin B12 supplement with a meal (e.g. 1000mcg methylcobalamin to ensure cellular absorption, not cyanocobalamin). An easy-to-find, high-quality brand is Jarrow Methyl-B12, available on-line from many outlets or at Whole Foods Market. A significant, documented side effect of Metformin is Vitamin B12 depletion, making neuropathy an even larger risk than it already is for diabetics.
If your client is an insulin-dependent diabetic (i.e. taking insulin shots), be sure to encourage them to monitor their blood sugar regularly as they start to use berberine or any new therapy (and have them consult their doctor if they’re uncomfortable doing so). Encourage them to start with just one dose/day and increase slowly to ensure they can stay in control. They may need to cut back on their insulin dramatically to avoid dangerous lows. Almost all of my clients eventually end up able to stop both Metformin and supplemental insulin. You should strive for the same goal! Ultimately all Type 2 diabetics should work on sustainable lifestyle and diet change to be able to stop supplemental insulin in particular. While life-saving as a short-term, triage therapy, long-term insulin use makes Type 2 diabetics even less healthy. Surplus insulin promotes more inflammation in the body, imbalances hormones, and increases body fat storage, especially in the abdominal area (again, a source of inflammation and estrogen!).
Perhaps like you, I still find it amazing that this type of solution (and its clinical study results) doesn’t typically make media headlines. And this one is from 2008 – several years ago. Of course, I understand you cannot patent an herb. And so no single corporation stands to corner the market on berberine. But this is BIG news for the millions of people struggling with diabetes! Actually, it’s not the only natural remedy I’ve seen successfully stabilize and then help to reverse Type II diabetes, but it is definitely the most potent one.
Help your clients and patients to believe that they are neither “doomed” or “destined” to live their entire lives with Type 2 diabetes. With your help and their commitment to change, they can find true healing! Type 2 Diabetes is absolutely reversible! I offer a course to teach healthcare practitioners exactly how to do that clinically.
Obesity and overweight are often key factors in Type 2 Diabetes. If you’d like to learn more about the wide array of physiological contributors/barriers to weight loss, you may appreciate this webinar on Weight Loss Myths and Tips:
Please note that this Clinical Tip post is closed to further Q&A. We hope you review and take advantage of additional learning from the the Q&A posts that are already available.