Ask the Pharmacist: Berberine helps with brain-related disorders

Suzy Cohen
Hands with a glucose monitor

Everyone understands that insulin levels play a role in blood sugar metabolism and that insufficient levels lead to hyperglycemia and then diabetes. Insulin is a taxi for blood sugar, it shuttles the sugar into the cell, and therefore it lowers levels in the bloodstream. 

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It is also accepted that normal levels of insulin can play a role in diabetes if the insulin is not allowed into the cell. We call this insulin resistance and it is also part of diabetes.

What if the insulin is high? You might think that blood sugar would be low, but that’s not so. You can have hyperinsulinemia and still have high blood sugar! Weird but true, because hyperinsulinemia means there is more insulin circulating in the blood stream compared to glucose. 

No one really talks about brain changes associated with hyperinsulinemia and diabetes. High insulin causes you to retain more dangerous beta amyloid plaques, instead of clearing those out like normal.

One can develop very serious dementia and problems with memory and even Alzheimer’s if insulin levels remain high. Depression too! Levels vary so refer to the reference range on your own lab test. Just FYI, you can test your blood levels at any laboratory, or through any physician. 

One point I’d like to make is that you cannot leave yourself to “wait and see” if you have hyperinsulinemia because it can damage your brain and hasten cognitive decline and mood disorders.

Berberine, a natural herbal extract appears to be helpful with cognitive decline related to diabetes. It helps control some of the free radicals associated with these problems, and we also know it is a rising star in terms of creating more insulin sensitivity. 

Chronically elevated blood sugar or insulin will cause you to form more AGEs, short for Advanced Glycation End products, which are like little misses in your blood stream. What’s so odd is that there are more than likely lower levels of insulin in the spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). But it could be high in your blood vessels. Don’t worry about those details, just know that berberine is useful, and it’s an herb you can buy without prescription nowadays.

Berberine was evaluated recently and I read the article which was published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, September 2019.

The title means that berberine makes learning and memory recall better by acting as a strong anti-inflammatory. More specifically, berberine was found to increase acetylcholine levels in rodents with diabetes. Acetylcholine as you know is one of your memory molecules. It raises the levels of acetylcholine by slowing down the breakdown of this compound, so it stays alive in the synapse longer.  

So amazing that a plant-based chemical has the same mechanism of action that our Alzheimer’s drugs do! Remember high insulin (and high blood sugar) accelerate cognitive decline and there are natural herbal supplements to help with this. Talk to your physician if you plan to combine herbs with medications to avoid interactions and sudden hypoglycemia. 

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Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit