Berberine: The Surprise Supplement

I’ve become pretty skeptical when it comes to claims made by various health products that aren’t clinically proven. Hell, I’ve limited my own supplementation to things I know help me, and those that my doctor tells me I need based on blood panels. I took vitamin D for a while because it was low, but now that it’s high normal, I’ve backed off from it. I take a sublingual B12 as I’ve found it helps, and specifically use a sublingual version of it because I’ve found the plain ol swallowed pills don’t do much for me.

I also take something called berberine.

Berberine kinda got its start as a natural yellow pigment. It’s found in various plants and, as implied, is yellow in color. However, it’s been found to have some health benefits when consumed.

It’s also not entirely safe. It’s considered to be particularly unsafe for use in children. It also has known drug interactions, particularly with some statins (cholesterol medications). Being on rosuvastatin, this was a concern for me. Primarily, though, it reduces the efficacy of these drugs, among others.

I was able to find lists of specific drugs which it might interact with it, and noticed none of my medications were listed, including rosuvastatin.

Most importantly, berberine is not clinically proven to be effective for its claims of health benefits. Those benefits include improved diabetic management, reduced appetite, improvements in cholesterol, and the rest mostly comes from additional claims attached to it by the various makers of these products, such as improved heart health, improved immunity, etc. I was most interested in the diabetic health aspect of it.

There are two forms of berberine that are sold: berberine HCL and dihydroberberine, also known as GlucoVantage by trademark. Dihydroberberine tended to come in lower doses, and, likely because of the trademark, tended to cost more.

I talked to my doctor prior to trying it. He hadn’t heard about it and advised caution. I promised to keep him up to date how it goes. So I went for it. I expected it to not do much to help, but it was worth trying. I bought 2 bottles (2 months supply) to give it as much of a chance as possible.

In the decades I’d been a T2 diabetic, I’d never heard of this supplement. I assumed it was making promises it couldn’t keep. I’m assuming at this point you’re seeing foreshadowing here based on the title and what I’m saying here.

After a couple of days, my appetite started taking a dive. I got hungry when appropriate, and I felt full after a small meal, and for longer. It’s like my fullness signal was being amplified. Also, despite the fact I didn’t really change what I was eating (which wasn’t great), my glucose numbers started smoothing out quite a lot and were averaging on a downward trend.

Diabetes can behave in cycles. Our bodies can do weird things, also on cycles. I wasn’t ready to accept that this new supplement was to explain this. But I kept going.

I’ve been on this supplement for many months, now. I’m having to switch brands because the one I was buying is no longer making it. I decided to try a cheaper berberine HCL based supplement during this change. I haven’t started it yet. But let me tell you, I’m pretty surprised at how well this supplement works for me. It helped enable improvements in my diet by not allowing me to feel hungry all the damn time. My average glucose is still slowly trending down. My hba1c is due to be the lowest it’s ever been at my next check.

I wanted to check my bias towards placebo effect. Is it the berberine or is it something else? I stopped taking it for a couple of weeks. I actually forgot that I hadn’t been dosing it and got confused when my diabetic management started declining. Until I remembered that I had removed it from my regimen. It’s back in and things are back under control. Again, no dietary changes in this process.

For me, berberine is a great addition to my diabetic management. And yeah, that surprises me tremendously, that it has such a great therapeutic effect much like a prescription drug would.

I want to reiterate that these effects are not clinically proven and my anecdote is just that: an anecdote. It works for me. It works with my medication regimen. Multiple blood panels show that my health continues to show various improvements without concerns of ill effects. But I am a sample of 1.

I would love to see some real clinical research go into this. However, given the concerns about being unsafe for children, and there being known drug interactions, I cannot recommend it to everyone with T2 diabetes. It might be worth talking to your doctor about it, but be prepared that he or she may not know anything about it. Don’t try taking it without discussing potential dangers. Don’t try taking it without having a strong line of communication with your doctor. Be prepared that at best, it may not work for you, and at worst, may be harmful. Don’t give it to your T2D children.

If you are T1 diabetic, I can’t say whether this will be useful to you. My suspicion is it helps with insulin resistance, similar to metformin. T1.5D and T2D can likely benefit from it, though.