If you struggle with insulin resistance, diabetes, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, you may have been prescribed the medication metformin. Did you know there are natural alternatives to metformin?
Insulin resistance can affect as many as one in three people. It is a stepping stone to metabolic syndrome which includes obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Metformin is usually prescribed for insulin resistance and is approved by the FDA to treat diabetes. It also has an orphan approval for the treatment of insulin resistance connected with PCOS.
What Exactly Does Metformin Do?
Metformin can lower blood glucose. It can also decrease the liver’s production of glucose, lessen the gut’s absorption of glucose, and increase cell insulin sensitivity.
Metformin has been shown to affect adenosine monophosphate protein kinase (AMPK). Our bodies produce AMP or adenosine monophosphate while it creates adenosine triphosphate (ATP). You might remember ATP from chemistry classes as a major source of cell energy.
AMPK acts as an energy sensor that regulates all aspects of cell function. The outpouring of AMPK can also regulate food intake and how much energy you expend at the whole-body level. This is all done by the meditating effects of hormones such as leptin, adiponectin, and ghrelin.
While AMPK is activated by energy depletion, energy excess inhibits it. High glucose and glycogen levels, as well as high fat intake, slow down AMPK. Exercise and calorie restrictions turn on AMPK.
Metformin is used jointly with weight loss measures that include diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes to improve glycemic or blood sugar control. It should be taken with meals to provide the best glycemic control.
How Does Metformin Help PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrinological disorder in women. PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility worldwide which affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. It is considered a metabolic disorder caused by hormonal imbalances. Women with PCOS have too much male hormone (hyperandrogenemia), too much insulin (hyperinsulinemia), and extreme secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH).
Your ovaries have three different types: oocytes, granulosa cells, and theca cells. Oocytes divide within follicles to become an ovum or potentially fertilizable egg. Granulosa cells provide the physical support and atmosphere required for the developing oocyte. Theca cells help create ovarian follicles in a process called folliculogenesis.
Theca cells play an important role in fertility and help follicles mature enough to become fertilized. Once ovulation occurs, theca cells change to form the corpus luteum. In the little cave left by the egg that ovulated, the corpus luteum produces progesterone to keep a pregnancy.
Theca cells provide all the androgens (male hormones) that are transformed into estrogens by the granulosa cells. Each month a complicated vascular system is laid down to provide communication between the ovary and the hypothalamus through the reproductive cycle. These blood vessels deliver necessary nutrients to these highly active follicles.
Most research on PCOS has focused on the role of theca cells. When theca cells become insulin resistant, they produce too much testosterone. Too much testosterone leads to the hyperandrogenism of PCOS. This causes hirsutism, or male-like body and facial hair, loss of scalp hair, acne, and midline weight gain. It also causes the elevation of cholesterol and blood pressure.
Metformin was originally used in PCOS women to find out how much insulin resistance affects polycystic ovarian syndrome.
In PCOS, insulin resistance is caused by hyperinsulinemia or too much insulin production by your pancreas. Too much insulin may cause too much testosterone production which interferes with the communication between your hypothalamus, pituitary, and ovary. A lot of insulin also decreases levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG helps bind testosterone to prevent hirsutism. Women with PCOS are often infertile. Metformin is also an effective ovulation induction agent for non-obese women with PCOS.
Metformin is a downstream medical treatment. Downstream medicine focuses on the treatment of symptoms, not the root cause. The problem with ignoring the root cause is that you never really heal the issue.
The hormonal irregularities of PCOS are centrally controlled by your hypothalamus. When you support your hypothalamus it can help reverse insulin resistance and improve fertility in women with PCOS. Fortunately, there are natural alternatives to metformin.
Side Effects of Metformin
The most serious side effect of metformin is lactic acidosis.
Signs of lactic acidosis are feeling extremely tired, weakness, a decrease in appetite, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, and dizziness or lightheadedness. Other signs are a fast or slow heart rate, feeling cold, muscle pain, flushing, or sudden reddening and warmth in your skin. Stomach pain can go along with any of these other symptoms. Lactic acidosis is a medical emergency that must be treated immediately in the hospital.
It’s important, before starting metformin, to have a blood test to make sure your kidneys and liver are working normally. You will have to take the blood test again while you take metformin.
Up to 30% of patients who use metformin experience gastrointestinal side effects.
Those side effects include heartburn, nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Metformin can also cause headaches and a metallic taste in your mouth.
About thirty percent of people who take metformin for a long time experience a lack of vitamin B12. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can include weakness, shortness of breath, and nerve damage. Chronic vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anemia.
Metformin can cause hypoglycemia which means your blood sugar is too low. The symptoms of hypoglycemia include weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, chills, feeling cold, and brain fog. You can pass out from hypoglycemia and even have a seizure.
Metformin-induced hypoglycemia is more likely if you have a poor diet or consume excessive amounts of alcohol. It’s also more likely if you take other diabetes medications, or take part in very difficult exercise.
Why Should You Consider Natural Alternatives to Metformin?
While metformin is effective at lowering blood sugar, it does have significant side effects. Metformin cannot be taken if you have liver disease, kidney dysfunction, or acute heart failure.
Without lifestyle modifications, none of the drugs including metformin or natural supplements are effective enough to reverse insulin resistance. They also won’t improve diabetes and metabolic syndrome, or heal PCOS.
Important lifestyle changes include diet improvements, exercise, enough sleep, and the practice of stress reduction techniques.
The best way to reverse insulin resistance is to combine natural supplements with diet and exercise.
The most effective diet is the insulin-resistant diet (IRD). And the most effective exercise is HIT or high-intensity training.
In my practice, I asked a dozen overweight insulin-resistant women to participate in an eight-week trial. All of them did a 20 minute HIT workout three times per week. Half of them also followed my insulin-resistant diet. They all lost weight. But the women who did both HIT and IRD lost the most body fat and had greater reductions in HBGA1C.
My PCOS patients who continued HIT three times per week, used my IRD, and also took Genesis Gold® (to balance their hypothalamus) had regular menstrual cycles. They also saw less acne. The women who wanted to conceive did so within six months.
A low glycemic nutritious diet and regular exercise are the main ways to reverse insulin resistance. Metformin can reduce the effect of exercise by exciting your insulin receptors.
Fortunately, there are safe and effective natural alternatives. Natural alternatives to metformin include supplements that imitate metformin effects. Supplements that address the central cause of insulin resistance and diabetes are also great alternatives.
Natural Alternatives to Metformin
Take Chromium with Each Meal
Studies have shown that when you take this simple mineral while you eat, it is as effective as metformin. Chromium is an important mineral that appears to have a helpful role in insulin action regulation. It also benefits the effects on carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism.
Chromium is important to the enhancement of insulin activity. Studies show that people with type 2 diabetes have lower blood levels of chromium than those without the disease. Yes, chromium can help reverse insulin resistance associated with PCOS. It activates your insulin receptors and allows blood glucose to get into your cells.
Research findings in diabetics are consistent: chromium has a positive effect on fasting insulin values and on hemoglobin A1C. Plus, chromium can be added to conventional anti-diabetes medications to improve results. Chromium \ can improve coronary disease risks in diabetic and nondiabetic people.
In women with PCOS, studies show that 1000mcg/day of chromium can lower fasting blood sugar and insulin levels.
Studies also show it can increase insulin sensitivity comparably to metformin and the women were able to tolerate chromium better than metformin. However, ovulation and pregnancy rates didn’t change significantly between groups.
Since dietary chromium absorption is poor, the best form of chromium is chromium picolinate. Take 200-400 mcg with each meal and up to 1000 mcg per day to reverse insulin resistance. Reversing insulin resistance can help lower testosterone levels, and increase your chance to conceive.
Botanicals are herbal extracts that have wonderful healing effects. A combination of Ayurvedic botanicals can help reverse insulin resistance. Ayurvedic is one of the oldest systems of medicine which comes from India.
Studies have shown that these Ayurvedic herbs improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. Taking these herbs in combination can help you lose body fat if you’re insulin resistant or diabetic. When you reverse insulin resistance, it helps to lower the high testosterone levels that are related to PCOS.
* Kino tree (Pterocarpus marsupium) has potent flavonoids in its bark. It’s been used to treat diabetes for centuries.
* Gurmar or Cowplant (Gymnema sylvestre) is a woody vine whose leaves regenerate and repair the beta cells of the pancreas. This is where insulin production happens, which helps control blood sugar levels.
* Bitter melon (Momardica charantia) helps to control blood glucose levels as well as fat storage in your liver.
* Linn seed (Syzygium cumini) can improve insulin sensitivity in the body’s cells.
Berberine is a Safe Effective Alternative to Metformin
Another botanical that is well researched in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and PCOS is berberine. Berberine is a yellow-colored alkaloid that can be extracted from several different plants, including a group of shrubs called Berberis.
Like metformin, berberine affects adenosine monophosphate kinase (AMPK) – the enzyme that controls cell energy production. Berberine has the same effect on insulin resistance and fat loss as metformin which is enhanced by increasing exercise and calorie restriction.
Berberine has shown to decrease insulin resistance, which makes insulin more useful. It’s also known to increase glycolysis, which can help the body break down sugars inside cells. Berberine can also decrease sugar production in the liver and slow the breakdown of carbohydrates in the gut. Plus, Berberine helps increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Studies in diabetics show that one gram of Berberine per day lowers fasting blood sugar by 20% and HGBA1C by 12%.
Hemoglobin A1C is a marker of long-term blood sugar levels. Berberine also improves blood lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides. This is great for those with metabolic syndrome.
Most importantly, berberine can make lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise much more powerful. In head-to-head studies, berberine was better than metformin in reducing waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio. The ratio of fat/hunger hormones (leptin and adiponectin) also improves.
For women with PCOS, the glucose uptake and unnecessary testosterone production of insulin-resistant theca cells can be blocked by berberine. Berberine helps reduce acne and lower testosterone levels that contribute to hirsutism. Berberine has also been shown to improve fertility in women with PCOS.
A dose of berberine is 500mg with each meal. But go slowly to avoid gastric upset.
The most common side effects of berberine are GI upset, rash, and headache.
When you combine lifestyle changes with berberine in patients with metabolic syndrome, it can alleviate insulin resistance effectively. It can also regulate blood glucose, blood lipids, and reduce the level of inflammatory response in the body. Yet berberine is not intended for long-term use. This is why I focus on supporting your hypothalamus.
Support your Hypothalamus
Your hypothalamus controls glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and metabolism. It also controls hormones and fertility. I use berberine to assist with weight loss, improve insulin sensitivity and balance the gut bacteria for a short period of time. Three months of berberine use is enough to correct these variations if you also support your hypothalamus to keep your hormones, weight, and glucose metabolism in balance.
When you support your hypothalamus you can reverse insulin resistance, heal metabolic syndrome and PCOS.
Your hypothalamus can affect your sensitivity or resistance to insulin through a hormone called proopiomelanocortin (POMC).
POMC is a pre-hormone that gets broken into four other hormones which help control glucose metabolism:
- Cortisol Release Factor – controls adrenal function which controls your stress response and cortisol production.
- Thyroid Release Factor – controls thyroid function which controls your energy production.
- Glucose Release Factor – controls your glucose metabolism by your liver and cells.
- Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone – controls your metabolism.
POMC controls so many aspects of how glucose is used in the body that it makes sense to support the function of your hypothalamus.
When your body has too much sugar that it cannot use for energy, insulin resistance is its natural protective reaction. When you become resistant to insulin, it prevents cells from growing too big if they can’t use it for energy and have no way to store the sugar.
Your heart cannot store glucose, it can only use glucose for energy.
If your heart allows more glucose in than it needs to pump, your heart will grow too big to be functional. Insulin resistance protects organs like your heart.
When your hypothalamus recognizes that you’ve eaten more sugar than you use for energy, it will slow your metabolism down. Which in turn will create a protective insulin resistance.
When you support your hypothalamus it can help to reprogram the way your body uses glucose. Whether you have type two diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, or pre-diabetes supporting your hypothalamus will help to resensitize your cells to insulin.
Genesis Gold® provides complete hypothalamus support.
The hypothalamic amino acids in Genesis Gold® help optimize POMC production. In addition, the all-natural whole plant foods, sea vegetation, and herbal blend in Genesis Gold® help increase cell receptor site sensitivity, improve hormone metabolism, and decrease inflammation.
Insulin resistance can be corrected through an insulin-resistant diet, along with consistent exercise, specific supplementation, and supporting your hypothalamus with Genesis Gold®
It’s not easy to deal with insulin resistance, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or PCOS. Why don’t you join me in our Hormone Reboot Training where you’ll get access to our Hormone Support Group so I can answer your questions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Metformin
What foods have natural metformin?
Well, no foods contain natural metformin, but there are many foods that contain the minerals chromium. Chromium helps reduce insulin resistance. Chromium is in many foods such as meats, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, brewer’s yeast, beer, and wine. However, the amount of chromium varies widely in food, which depends on local soil and water conditions as well as agricultural and manufacturing processes used to produce them.
What is a good replacement for metformin?
Berberine. A previous review of multiple studies concluded that berberine is as effective as oral diabetes drugs, including metformin. Berberine has extra effects when administered with other blood-sugar-lowering drugs.
Does metformin cause weight loss?
Yes, in some people and only if you’re insulin resistant. Studies show that patients with severe insulin resistance lost significantly more weight on metformin as compared to insulin-sensitive patients.
How long does metformin take to work?
Metformin begins to affect blood glucose within a few weeks. But it can take up to three months to see full effects.
What is the benefit of taking metformin at night?
When you administer metformin at bedtime instead of supper time it may improve diabetes control. It can also reduce morning hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Does metformin cause cancer?
In May 2020, the Food and Drug Administration gave a statement regarding higher-than-acceptable levels of a substance called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in some preparations of extended-release metformin. NDMA is probably carcinogenic in humans.
Does metformin cause weight gain?
One of the benefits of metformin is that even if it does not cause weight loss, it does not cause weight gain. This is not necessarily true for some of the medicines used to treat type 2 diabetes.
How long do metformin side effects last?
For most people, side effects resolve within 2 weeks but may recur if your dose is increased. Some people can have side effects for much longer. About 5% of patients stop taking metformin because of those particular side effects.
Does metformin cause diarrhea?
Yes, metformin can cause gastrointestinal upset which includes diarrhea. Usually GI upset only lasts a couple of weeks but diarrhea that occurs long after the start of metformin therapy is relatively common. Diarrhea may affect half of the people who take metformin.
Does metformin cause dementia?
No. Metformin may lower the risk of dementia as it improves the brain’s use of glucose.
Can you overdose on metformin?
Yes. While metformin overdose is uncommon, high doses of metformin can cause dangerous lactic acidosis which can be lethal.
Is metformin dangerous?
Metformin can cause lactic acidosis which is a medical emergency. If your kidneys don’t work well, you’ll have higher levels of metformin in your system. This can ultimately raise your risk of lactic acidosis.
If you have acute heart failure or have recently had a heart attack, your heart may not send enough blood to your kidneys. This would prevent your kidneys from getting rid of metformin from your body and also raise your risk of lactic acidosis.
If you have severe liver disease, you should not take metformin.
Since your liver clears lactic acid from your body, severe liver problems could lead to a buildup of lactic acid. It can raise your risk of lactic acidosis. Metformin also raises your risk, so if you have liver problems it would be dangerous to take metformin.Metformin may cause hepatotoxicity or liver damage.
Research Reference: Ovarian theca cells in follicular function, Clinical Applications for Berberine, Berberine reduces insulin resistance induced by dexamethasone in theca cells in vitro, Role of metformin in the management of polycystic ovary syndrome, Metformin versus chromium picolinate in clomiphene citrate-resistant patients with PCOs: A double-blind randomized clinical trial, How the nutrition supplement berberine offers hope to women suffering from PCOS, The mechanisms of action of metformin, Metformin use in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, Combining short-term metformin treatment and one bout of exercise does not increase insulin action in insulin-resistant individuals, AMP-activated protein kinase: an energy sensor that regulates all aspects of cell function, Effects of berberine on glucose-lipid metabolism, inflammatory factors and insulin resistance in patients with metabolic syndrome.
*Statements not reviewed by the FDA.