Americans are awash in a sea of refined sugar. Nearly every top selling food product is loaded with sugar, often times containing more than three times the recommended daily intake.
Our bodies are genetically designed to like certain flavors, and sweet is one of the most desirable. The reason we love sweet foods is because when we eat them, they trigger endorphins in our brains, making them highly pleasurable. The center of the brain that is triggered by these flavors is part of the opioid circuitry.
Much like drugs we can become addicted to food. Sweet, salty, and fatty foods are highly addictive. Just like with drug addiction, some people have a higher probability of becoming addicted than others, and the makers of the world’s most unhealthy foods are counting on that. Manufacturers spend countless hours engineering food products that are designed to make their consumers addicted, boosting sales while affecting the health of the nation.
Consuming too much sugar can cause a range of illnesses like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes to name a few.
Diabetes affects more than 37 million Americans, comprising over 10% of our entire population, with non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaskan Native adults about twice as likely to contract this disease as non-Hispanic whites.
Studies have repeatedly shown that high glycemic foods –those that quickly raise blood sugar- leads to poor insulin sensitivity and causes diabetes as well as obesity, leading to heart disease, which makes sugar more of a national safety threat than most people would think.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that affects the way the body processes glucose in the blood. As we eat food, the carbohydrates are converted inside the body into sugars. Some complex carbohydrates, like found in vegetables, take longer to convert to sugar, and are considered to be low on the glycemic index. The body then produces insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that allows the body to use glucose for energy or store it for later use as fat. Insulin regulates the body’s blood sugar levels, keeping them from getting too high or too low.
When you consume a lot of processed sugar, it is already broken down to a very simple form, so the body converts it to glucose very quickly. This leads to unnatural glucose spikes, which in turn prompts the body to produce insulin rapidly, leading to insulin spikes.
Repeated sugar and insulin spikes over many years is what eventually causes diabetes. Eventually, either the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body can no longer effectively use the insulin it creates. This allows glucose to build up in the blood instead of being used for energy, which creates the symptoms associated with diabetes, including fatigue, constant infections, blurred eye sight, numbness, tingling in the hands or legs, increased thirst, and slowed healing of bruises or cuts.
The most popular treatment for type 2 diabetes is insulin injections. These prescription hormones were first developed by purifying the insulin from a dog’s pancreas. These days, scientists use genetic engineering to produce insulin, using bacteria to produce it. There are also oral medications available which can help insulin receptors become more sensitive to insulin.
If you’re not fond of perpetually sticking yourself with needles or taking oral medications with potential side effects, there are alternative treatment options for diabetics. One such treatment that is showing promise is called Berberine, a quaternary ammonium salt from the protoberberine group of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids.
Berberine is a plant alkaloid used in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for ages, but now it is making the rounds alternative western treatments for diabetes and digestive problems. Berberine can be naturally found in herbs including Oregon grape, tree turmeric, goldenseal, barberry, goldthread, and phellodendron. The benefits traditionally ascribed to berberine are treatment for high cholesterol, gastrointestinal infections, heart disease, joint ailments, hypertension, high cholesterol and many more.
There are a few exciting benefits of berberine. The herb is safe for long term consumption, is inexpensive, and is easily produced. It represents a wonderful alternative option to harvesting synthetic insulin from bacteria.
In a brand new study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology this past December, researchers tested the anti-diabetic activities of this ancient herb. Scientists have determined that type 2 diabetes (T2D) may be treated with molecules called non-coding RNAs, which are thought to play in important role in regulating the course of insulin resistance. Berberine helps to regulate non-coding RNAs.
Another promising study found that berberine is as effective at treating type 2 diabetes as one of the most popular prescription drugs, metformin. Researchers studies its effect on 36 adults, each newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. For three months, half of the study group was given 500mg of berberine 3 times daily, the other half was given a normally prescribed dose of metformin. At the close of the study, researchers found that “The hypoglycemic effect of berberine was similar to that of metformin”, reducing fasting glucose levels, showing significant decreases in hemoglobin A1c, reduction in postprandial blood glucose, and reduction in plasma triglycerides.
In addition, researchers tested berberine on 48 adults with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes mellitus in another 3 month trial, discovering that “Berberine acted by lowering fasting blood glucose and postprandial blood glucose from 1 week to the end of the trial” reducing hemoglobin A1c from 8.1 percent to 7.3 percent, fasting plasma insulin and homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance index were reduced by 28.1% and 44.7%, and total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol were also significantly decreased.
Perhaps the most promising findings though are the utter lack of adverse side-effects, while medications like metformin have mild to serious side-effects like lactic acidosis, which causes symptoms of unusual tiredness, dizziness, severe drowsiness, muscle pain, difficult breathing, irregular heartbeat, stomach pain with nausea, and much worse. The list of possible side-effects of metformin is extensive.
As berberine continues its path to common use in western medicine, the law of probability suggests that it too will have side-effects for some people, as no compound is a great fit for every single person on Earth. Some people will inevitably have an allergic reaction to berberine, but it will undoubtedly end up being much safer for a larger swath of people suffering with type 2 diabetes than other medications like metformin.
Berberine also couples well and works synergistically with two other herbal extracts in the treatment of diabetes: turmeric and piperine.
Berberine has been used for many centuries in traditional medicines with great results, but as always, check with a doctor to determine whether or not this powerful herb can help you manage your diabetes.