Uncontrolled diabetes increases risk for severe illness with COVID-19. If you are diabetic, or pre-diabetic, your doctor may have recommended taking metformin to lower your blood sugar.
There is almost always a better natural alternative to pharmaceutical medications, and metformin is no exception. According to renowned alternative doctor Jonathan W. Wright, MD, berberine, a botanical found in plants like goldenseal, barberry and Oregon grape, can do everything metformin can do with far fewer side effects.
Like many pharmaceuticals, metformin has its origins in botanical medicine; it is derived from goat’s rue, also known as French lilac. Like berberine, metformin activates AMPk (5' adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase), an extremely powerful enzyme in every cell in the body that’s been called the “youthinizing enzyme.”
AMPk is a “master regulating switch” for energy metabolism. Want more energy? Boost your AMPk! Want to reduce body fat, especially belly fat? Boost your AMPk! Want more brown fat (the energy-burning kind). Boost your AMPk! AMPk activity normalizes energy, weight, inflammation, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and insulin metabolism, and reduces risk of diabetes, depression, NAFLD, cancer and neurodegeneration.
Although AMPk activity tends to diminish with age (as well as with eating too much and exercising too little), both berberine and metformin can boost AMPk activity and in many cases make a significant impact on reversing the above conditions. Caloric restriction and vigorous exercise, as well as other botanicals, like curcumin and resveratrol, also boost AMPk, but berberine outshines the others and takes up where healthy lifestyle leaves off.
Numerous clinical trials have shown that berberine increases insulin sensitivity, inhibits sugar production by the liver, and lowers high blood sugar as effectively as metformin, and is usually better at lowering high triglycerides and cholesterol.
Yet compared with metformin, berberine has far fewer side effects. According to Dr. Wright, metformin’s common side effects—headaches, dizziness, fatigue, taste disturbances, cardiovascular reactions, trouble breathing, flulike symptoms and acute infections of the nose, throat and sinuses—have not been found with berberine.
Wright reports that digestive disturbances affect 20-30% of those taking metformin, including gas, diarrhea, stomach cramps, abdominal swelling, indigestion, and incomplete bowel movements. Diarrhea can start after taking metformin for many years. Berberine, he says, has a low incidence of digestive problems, unless taken together with pharmaceutical drugs.
Metformin can cause hypoglycemia; berberine only normalizes high blood sugar.
Some studies report that metformin lowers testosterone in men and lowers thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in women. Although rarely, metformin can produce lactic acidosis, which is fatal 50% of the time. Metformin decreases vitamin B12 absorption by suppressing intrinsic factor in the stomach. Using metformin in patients with vascular conditions may increase the risk of heart attack or heart failure.
Berberine has none of these side effects, while it has a number of additional benefits.
Berberine does inhibit certain liver enzymes responsible for breaking down drugs and other toxins. Check with your doctor if you are on meds before taking berberine. We also recommend alternating two months on berberine with one month off.
- Wright JW. Avoid the metformin bandwagon—from diabetes to cancer, berberine matches—or beats—this patent medicine every time. Nutrition & Healing. March 2014;20(12):1-8.
- Dong H. Berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine. Published online October 15, 2012.