Exercise in a Pill? Here’s the Latest Science.
Mere mention of the word exercise puts many women on the defense, with “I’m too tired” and “I don’t have time” topping the list of excuses. On the other hand many women who do make exercise part of their daily routine do so because it not only helps manage weight, but it lifts your spirits, improves muscle and bone strength, and helps with energy during the day and sleep at night. No matter what your psyche throws at you, it is a well-known fact that exercise is good for you and is one of the best defenses against aging!
I’ve always believed that if something sounds too good to be true, then most likely it is. This old adage certainly rings true when considering the idea of exercise in a pill. But ponder this, exercise can boost autophagy– your body’s natural recycling process to remove toxins and repair damage left behind-possibly adding years to your life. You know what else can? Berberine, a compound found in plants.
What does the Science Say?
The Internet is abuzz with recent studies suggesting a prospective “exercise pill.” Researchers are looking at a new drug that may indeed give you some benefits of exercise without breaking a sweat. While this might be music to the ears of couch potatoes, or those with limited ability to exercise, don’t get too excited because unless you are a mouse there is no evidence supporting it will work for you. What thousands of studies on humans have shown us is that ‘real’ physical activity has widespread benefits, which are highly unlikely to ever be able to be supplied in a pill.
Which brings me back to berberine…. Unfortunately, there is no scientific database of herbal medicine that would give you results for a search of “exercise in a pill.” But if you did a search for berberine you would get thousands of hits. Berberine is no magic pill, but it is a natural alkaloid found in plants such as Oregon grape, goldenseal, barberry and goldthread. Although some of these plants grow in North America, the medicinal uses of berberine stem from traditional use in Ayurvedic medicines, mostly in China and India, where it is commonly used as an anti-bacterial. Berberine also has a long history of being used as a dye, in fact it is known as “natural yellow 18.”
Modern science has explored the use of berberine for a wide range of conditions including infections, heart disease, diarrhea and respiratory problems. On a cellular level, berberine has the ability to mimic some of the physiological effects you get from exercising. While no drug or plant can deliver the same benefits to your body as a good sweat, the following are some of the reasons why I’ve dubbed Berberine “exercise in a pill”:
- Weight loss: Berberine has been studied for its ability to inhibit fat storage and improve function of hormones such as insulin, leptin and adiponectin – which are all involved in the way our bodies metabolize and store glucose and fats. Berberine plays a role in enhancing activity of “brown” fat— which helps us burn, not store, calories, and this may have important implications when it comes to weight loss. Additionally, studies have suggested that berberine is one of the few compounds that can activate autophagy, through a protein called AMPK, which boosts fat burning on a cellular level. A 12-week study published in Phytomedicine showed that 500 milligrams of berberine three times per day caused an average loss of 5 pounds and 3.6% of body fat.
- Supports normal blood glucose: Studies on both animals and humans have suggested a role for berberine in controlling blood sugar and lipid metabolism. A very significant study in Metabolism suggested berberine is equally effective as some of the oral drugs used to control blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Boost Gut Health: As mentioned one of the most common traditional uses of berberine is for infections, particularly of the gastrointestinal origin. Modern science supports a positive effect of berberine on the flora in your gut. We know that more than 70% of your body’s immune cells naturally reside in your digestive tract; by promoting a healthy balance of digestive microflora we then promote overall health.
- Cholesterol: An overview of the research on berberine and blood lipids in Planta Medica suggests it lowers “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and supports a rise in HDL “good” cholesterol. Could it potentially help lower the risk of heart disease?\
- Lung health: Another traditional use mentioned for berberine is for support of respiratory health. A study published in Inflammation, revealed that pre-treatment with berberine reduced the effect of cigarette smoke-induced lung inflammation and injury through its anti-inflammatory activity.
My guess is that by now you are probably wondering how to get your hands on some berberine? There is no known concentrated source in our food supply so I recommend a supplement. Since berberine has a short half-life, which is the length of time it takes your body to break down, retain, and excrete nutrients – I suggest taking 500 milligrams, three times per day to keep stable levels in your blood. Overall, supplemental berberine has an outstanding safety profile. However, because of potential side effects related to digestion it should be taken with a meal, or shortly after, which will also help your body to take advantage of the blood glucose and lipid spike that comes with eating a meal.
Exercise or Berberine?
Realistically, I hope that you all know that when it comes to the question of “exercise or berberine” it is not a matter of one or the other. What science has told us is that, like exercise, berberine CAN help with fat loss, blood glucose regulation, balance of gut health and blood lipids, and supporting respiratory health. Bottom-line is that although berberine can mimic the cellular effects of exercise and boost your autophagy, you still need to make exercise a part of your healthy routine.
Want more exciting evidenced based natural health information? Please check out my book Glow15 where you can find excuse-proof strategies –and I’ll help you change your exercise psyche from a defensive response to an offensive one. I’ll also show you how to incorporate berberine, and other “Powerphenols” into your plan for maximizing your autophagy potential so you can feel like a better, healthier version of you.