Berberine and Type II Diabetes

Type II diabetes is exceedingly common in the United States and other “western” countries, and it is estimated that more healthcare resources are spent on diabetes than any other condition.1 Common treatment approaches include dietary, exercise, and if needed - pharmaceutical interventions. However, a growing number of people are interested in natural, safe, evidence-based treatment options to address health concerns – and diabetes treatment is no exception. 2

Although there are numerous options for natural diabetes treatment, one well-studied, natural compound frequently utilized to treat type II diabetes is berberine. This is a yellow-colored alkaloid that can be found in the stems, bark, and roots of several plants, but is most abundant in botanicals such as Oregon grape, goldenseal, and European barberry.3 Berberine is often a good option for patients who are in need of additional support in diabetes management beyond diet and exercise, but who would prefer to avoid pharmaceutical drugs.

One study found that berberine was as effective in regulation of glucose metabolism as metformin (a commonly prescribed drug for diabetes) when taken 2-3 times daily for 2-3 months.4,5 A different study showed that taking berberine could reduce glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) when taken twice daily for 3 months.6 Additional research concluded that taking berberine in combination with diet and lifestyle interventions could reduce HbA1c more compared to lifestyle interventions alone.7

It is critical to note that simply because something is “natural” does not mean that it is not powerful, nor does it necessarily mean that it is right for you. You should always talk with your doctor or other healthcare provider before initiating any new supplements, as there are many supplement–supplement and supplement–drug interactions. If you would like to consult with a naturopathic doctor about berberine or another supplement, visit the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians website to locate a licensed naturopathic doctor near you.

For additional information on critical evaluation on supplement quality, look for my upcoming article in October 2018 discussing some of the confusing issues surrounding supplements and supplement companies.


1. Dieleman JL, Baral R, Birger M, Bui AL, Bulchis A, Chapin A, Hamavid H, Horst C, Johnson EK, Joseph J, Lavado R, Lomsadze L, Reynolds A, Squires E, Campbell M, DeCenso B, Dicker D, Flaxman AD, Gabert R, Highfill T, Naghavi M, Nightingale N, Templin T, Tobias MI, Vos T, Murray CJ. US Spending on Personal Health Care and Public Health, 1996-2013. JAMA. 2016; 316(24): 2627. 
2. NIH. Updated September 24, 2017. Accessed September 10, 2018.
3. Abascal K, Yarnell E. Recent clinical advances with berberine. Altern Complement Ther. 2010; 16(5): 281-7.
4. Yin, J., Xing, H., and Ye, J. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008; 57(5):712-717.
5. Zhang, H., Wei, J., Xue, R., Wu, J. D., Zhao, W., Wang, Z. Z., Wang, S. K., Zhou, Z. X., Song, D. Q., Wang, Y. M., Pan, H. N., Kong, W. J., and Jiang, J. D. Berberine lowers blood glucose in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients through increasing insulin receptor expression. Metabolism. 2010; 59(2): 285-292.
6. Zhang Y, Li X, Zou D, et al. Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2008; 93: 2559-65.
7. Lan J, Zhao Y, Dong F, et al. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015; 161: 69-81.

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