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Weight challenges are especially prevalent in people with Hashimoto's disease and hypothyroidism. One of the most frustrating parts of trying to lose weight with an underactive thyroid is doing everything right, but still, the scale stops moving in either direction. People often hit weight plateaus in their weight loss journey, forcing them to seek out other weight-loss strategies like supplements. Berberine is one such supplement with quite a bit of promising research backing its effectiveness in supporting weight loss and blood sugar control. Ahead, weinvestigate if this supplement is safe to use if you have a thyroid condition and struggle with weight management.
Berberine is a type of organic compound known as an alkaloid. These compounds have physiological effects on humans and usually come from plants. More well-known examples of alkaloids include drugs like morphine, quinine, and poisons.
Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from different species of Chinese herbs. It comes in either a liquid or capsule preparation. People have used berberine for centuries to treat conditions like:
- High cholesterol
- Skin breakouts
- Liver disease
Several studies show that berberine can help treat many of the above conditions. Most notable is its role in improving insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that helps our cells pull glucose from our blood into our organs like the liver and skeletal muscles.
Berberine may improve insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is a growing problem in developing countries, mainly because of standard diets high in simple sugars and carbohydrates. Without dietary and lifestyle changes (and even with those changes), many people develop type 2 diabetes and struggle with additional problems like high blood pressure, weight gain, obesity, or kidney problems.
Berberine has been well-studied in women with PCOS, where they are more likely to develop insulin resistance. Compared to metformin, a medication commonly prescribed to treat metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, women with PCOS taking berberine had more insulin and glucose control and even saw more significant drops in body fat. Because metformin can have side effects like diarrhea and nausea and may affect the absorption of B12 over time, berberine may be preferable for some patients and their providers.
Berberine may alter the gut microbiota
The gut microbiome plays an incredible role in disease formation and also prevention. Studies show that an unhealthy gut may increase one's risk for metabolic problems and certainly plays a role in obesity. Berberine may alter the gut microbiome, meaning it:
- Has beneficial effects on the immune cells in the intestinal tract
- Improves drug metabolism
- Decreases lipids and glucose in the blood.
Berberine may lower blood pressure
High blood pressure and weight gain often go hand in hand. Intriguingly, studies looking at people with diabetes taking berberine found that this supplement improved blood glucose levels and reduced blood pressure. High blood sugar and high blood pressure are the leading causes of vascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes. Thus, berberine may help reduce your risk for complications like kidney failure, poor blood flow to your extremities, and loss of eyesight.
People with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) often struggle with weight gain. One of the biggest reasons hypothyroidism can cause weight gain is that too little thyroid hormone slows down your metabolism. Consequently, it takes your body longer to burn fat for energy, and all body systems generally slow down.
Regrettably, insulin resistance and hypothyroidism often show up together, meaning that a person with both is at an even higher risk for weight gain. Not only that, the symptoms that accompany hypothyroidism like fatigue, joint pain, and low mood can make it hard to get physically active every day. As such, many people with an underactive thyroid struggle to control their weight.
One of the first things you want to do if you have hypothyroidism and struggle with weight gain is to ensure you are on the correct dose of thyroid hormone medication. Start by checking your thyroid labs to see if you are within a normal range. Thyroid medication can help you lose on average 5-8 pounds (most of which is excess fluid).
Of course, the following steps are to make lifestyle changes, such as getting into an exercise routine that excites you and eating thyroid and gut-friendly foods. If you struggle with weight loss, you will want to connect with your thyroid doctor before adding a supplement like berberine. While the effects of berberine may be helpful for weight loss in many people, you will want to be sure it is safe for you to take.
Berberine can help regulate high blood sugar problems, which is an essential component to supporting weight loss. However, there are some precautions with using berberine:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use berberine, as it can cross the placenta and is transferred through breastmilk.
- People taking diabetes medication, or those intended to lower or stabilize blood sugar levels.
- It may interact with other medications aside from those that target blood sugar, which may cause adverse reactions.
- Some research shows berberine lowers blood pressure, which may cause people taking blood sugar medication to have a blood pressure that is too low.
Most importantly, it is necessary to check with your healthcare provider before adding berberine to your health regimen. Many people believe that it is generally safe if a product is available over-the-counter. However, the FDA does not regulate supplements, and they can certainly interact with other medications and health problems.
If you are taking thyroid medication or have thyroid disease, contact your thyroid doctor if you struggle with weight gain and are considering using a supplement like berberine to help with weight loss.