India currently holds the not-so-coveted title of being the Diabetes capital of the world. The number of diabetics in the country is expected to cross a 100 million by the year 2030. With numbers like these, it isn’t surprising that WHO has declared Diabetes a global epidemic. Type 2 diabetes is a gift of modernisation worldwide which has rampantly emerged as health threat globally, treatment of which is limited by the availability of effective medications. 1
Among the effective methods to combat diabetes, Rhizoma Coptidis, a natural herb and its major constituent Berberine an organic alkaloid by composition have garnered much attention for their powerful glucose-lowering activities. 2
Berberine has long been used as an anti-hyperglycemic agent by many physicians in China. One can find a substantial number of clinical reports backing the hypoglycemic action of berberine in Chinese literature. 3
In an experimental study in alloxan-induced diabetic mice, berberine showed an anti-hyperglycemic effect and also blunted blood glucose increase induced by intraperitoneal glucose or adrenaline administration in normal mice. The exact mechanism of action is still under investigation but it is believed that Berberine acts by reducing insulin resistance, while in hepatocytes the liver cells, adipocytes fat cells and myotubes, berberine increased glucose consumption and peripheral glucose uptake. 4
Another chemical pathway of interest is the aldose reductase pathway for conversion of glucose into energy. In a healthy individual, only 3% moves through this pathway, however in diabetics as much as 30% of glucose will enter this path leading to an ultimate by-product to sorbitol. This sorbitol accumulation plays a major role in the pathology of diabetes causing diabetic neuropathy, retinopathy and nephropathy. Berberine helps in modifying many co-enzymes of this pathway and thus helps in subsiding the effects of diabetes. 5
Apart from its primary effect on diabetes, Berberine is also proposed to have potential as a therapeutic agent for lipid lowering. In many pilot studies conducted on human and animal models, berberine reduced serum cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL-C.4 Further studies prove Berberine to be effective in conditions like diarrhoea, digestive disorders and gastroenteritis. 6
What we can say about Berberine, is that we have just explored the tip of the iceberg while the depth of the ocean remains untouched. With more and more clinical research proving the efficacy of this wonder drug, Berberine can be well become an alternative to conventional diabetic drugs in the future.