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Berberine vs. Metformin

As more people search for natural and alternative treatment options for chronic diseases, the need for accurate information becomes critical. In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of berberine versus metformin and review the potential uses for each.

What is Metformin?

Metformin is a widely prescribed medication known for its effectiveness in managing various health conditions, particularly type 2 diabetes. It is also used to treat insulin resistance and certain symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

There are three main functions of metformin. First of all, metformin reduces the amount of glucose (i.e. sugar) produced by the liver. In individuals with type 2 diabetes, the liver often produces excess glucose, contributing to elevated blood sugar levels. 

Next, metformin enhances the body's response to insulin, the hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar. By improving insulin sensitivity, metformin helps your cells absorb glucose more efficiently, lowering overall blood glucose levels. 

Finally, metformin works to decrease the absorption of glucose from the intestines, further contributing to its blood sugar-lowering effects.

Benefits of Metformin

Metformin is a first-line medication for managing type 2 diabetes. It is often prescribed in combination with lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, and can significantly lower hemoglobin A1c (1).

For women with PCOS, metformin can help to treat insulin resistance and lower cholesterol levels (2). As a result, metformin may increase ovulation rates and reduce testosterone levels in women with this condition. Finally, metformin may be used to manage gestational diabetes during pregnancy, under close medical supervision.

Metformin Side Effects

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort are among the most commonly reported side effects of metformin. While some people experience these symptoms long term, others may reduce their digestive discomfort by taking the medication with meals. 

Prolonged use of metformin has also been associated with a decrease in vitamin B12 absorption, potentially leading to a vitamin deficiency. Regular monitoring and supplementation may be recommended if you are taking this medication. 

Finally, although rare, lactic acidosis is a serious side effect that can occur while taking metformin, particularly in individuals with kidney dysfunction. Symptoms include muscle pain, weakness, and difficulty breathing and require immediate medical attention.

What is Berberine?

Berberine is a compound derived from various plants, including the barberry shrub and Chinese goldthread. While traditionally used in herbal medicine, more research has revealed berberine's potential in addressing various health concerns, like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Benefits of Berberine

Berberine has shown significant promise in managing blood sugar levels, making it a valuable option for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Like metformin, berberine may enhance insulin sensitivity and reduce glucose production in the liver. As a result, many studies have found berberine to significantly improve blood sugar levels and lower hemoglobin A1c, a lab marker commonly monitored in people with diabetes (3).

Berberine can also lower cholesterol levels. A large review study found that berberine alone can significantly lower triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and increase HDL “good” cholesterol (4). This is particularly helpful for individuals who do not tolerate statin medications.

For individuals with PCOS and a root cause of insulin resistance, berberine may help regulate menstrual cycles and address hormonal imbalances associated with this condition. In fact, one PCOS study found berberine more effective in improving waist circumference, testosterone levels, and cholesterol levels than metformin (5).

Finally, berberine may support weight loss efforts. Known in the media as “nature’s Ozempic”, berberine may encourage weight loss by suppressing appetite, lowering inflammation, and enhancing fat loss. As a result, various large studies have found berberine to significantly reduce body weight, waist circumference, and body mass index (BMI) (6, 7). Learn more about GLP-1 medications, like Ozempic.

Berberine Dosing

A large study evaluating berberine dosing found the optimal dose of this supplement was 1 gram (or 1,000 milligrams) per day if using it for lowering triglycerides, total cholesterol, and weight loss. If using berberine for type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, the optimal dose is closer to 1.8 grams (or 1,800 mg) per day (3). Berberine works gradually and most benefits occur after at least three months of taking this supplement (4).

Berberine Side Effects

Berberine is safe and well-tolerated by most individuals. Some individuals may experience mild gastrointestinal side effects, such as diarrhea or stomach cramps. Starting with a lower dose and gradually increasing it can help mitigate these effects. Before adding berberine to your regimen, it's important to consult with your healthcare provider, especially if you are already taking blood-sugar lowering medications.

Metabolism Support

At Root, we developed a supplement to support your metabolism and maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Metabolism support provides 1 gram (1000 mg) of berberine PLUS alpha-lipoic acid and vitamin C to support energy and curb cravings. 

“...During the first 2 weeks, I definitely felt a boost of energy but in week 3 everything changed... my food cravings were literally GONE and I haven't had the urge to snack. I'm down about 4 pounds without changing anything else about my diet or routine…” - Stacia 8/18/23

Purchase or learn more about Metabolism Support in our Root store.
metabolism support supplement

Metabolism Support with Berberine

AKA "nature's GLP-1"

Metformin vs Berberine: Key Takeaways

Both metformin and berberine have health benefits. Metformin is backed by research and a well-established track record in conventional medicine. This medication may benefit individuals with type 2 diabetes or PCOS due to its ability to lower blood sugar levels. However, side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and a vitamin b12 deficiency are fairly common when taking metformin. On the other hand, berberine shows similar benefits in a growing number of large, reputable studies. Plus, newer research suggests this supplement may also support weight loss and significantly improve cholesterol levels. Berberine is well-tolerated and most individuals do not experience any negative side effects, especially if this supplement is introduced gradually. 

Ultimately, the choice between the two should be based on individual health needs, goals, and clinical history. In our functional medicine membership program, our doctors work with many members who are also taking conventional medicines. It is completely possible, and reasonable, to continue a conventional treatment plan while concurrently working towards treating the root cause of your health issues with functional medicine interventions. 

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