For the better part of the last two years, I have been experimenting with the Ketogenic diet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketogenic_diet). Some people know this as the Atkins diet, but there are many flavors of the Ketogenic diet. Particularly, I have been experimenting with the Bulletproof Diet for the past year. This means:
1) Bulletproof Coffee in the morning
2) Fat, protein, and veggies for lunch
3) Fat, protein, and veggies for dinner with an occasional portion of carbs
It is generally understood that insulin levels are low on a Ketogenic diet, as blood glucose levels are low (due to lack of carbs). Well, I’m not a trustworthy guy – I wanted to check for myself, so I bought one of these:
Let the finger-pricking fun begin! I started to check my fasting glucose levels (either in the morning or 3-4 hours after a meal) and I started to notice something weird. Most of my readings were between 85-110 mg/dL which seem high because the healthy average fasting blood glucose is generally understood to be between 70-99 mg/dL. So technically I am in the healthy average most of the time, but my blood glucose levels should be lower while on a Ketogenic diet. This caused a lot of confusion for me, but I wasn’t super worried about it because my Hb A1c test, which is a proxy for a 3-month average blood glucose, was normal.
Still, I didn’t like the elevated state of my blood glucose. Higher average blood glucose measurements point to: faster aging, less insulin sensitivity, weight gain, and other health risks and complications.
So, I did what any biohacker would do – started taking pills!
Just kidding. Well, not really. I had recently read about a supplement called Berberine, which is a plant extract with interesting properties. In particular, Berberine has been shown in studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2410097) to work as well as Metformin, the wonder-drug taken by diabetics for blood sugar control. Metformin works by decreasing the liver’s production of glucose (called Gluconeogenesis) and increasing the usage of blood glucose by bodily tissues. Wow. And Berberine works as well as that?
Here’s the kicker: Metformin needs a prescription. Berberine can be purchased on Amazon :).
I decided to give it a shot – you know. For Science.
Testing methodology: I wanted to check to see if my fasting blood sugar levels were improving, so I chose to check my blood sugar daily at the same time every day when I know I would be fasting – immediately in the morning. I ran the experiment for 30 days and checked my blood sugar first thing in the morning.
Brand: I used Good State Glycox Capsule with Berberine HCL – http://www.amazon.com/Good-State-Glycox-Capsule-Berberine/dp/B00DL1N2FA. It had hundreds of reviews with a 4 star rating at the time of purchase.
Dosing: I used 500mg (1 pill), 3 times a day, for a total of 1500mg/day. I took 500mg before every meal. I used this dosage because this was the dosage from its efficacy study against Metformin. Also, several of the reviews at Amazon used the same dose and achieved some level of results.
Equipment: I used the Accuchek Nano blood glucose monitor. The lancet device can barely be felt when on setting 3.
What happened after 30 days? Drum roll please!
This is a graph showing my morning blood glucose measurement for the 30 days while on 1500mg of Berberine daily (missed 1 day unfortunately). Certainly doesn’t look like it’s improving! The numbers look similar to all of the fasting blood glucose measurements I had while on a ketogenic diet before taking Berberine. Also, the measurements seem to be going up towards the end, but I don’t think I have enough measurements to tell for sure.
This was pretty confusing. What could be going on? Did Berberine just not work for me? And why were my fasting blood glucose values so much higher than the “healthy average”?
Interpreting the results
While completing this test, I came across some interesting findings:
-A Type 1 diabetic friend of mine introduced me to the dawn effect, (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/expert-answers/dawn-effect/faq-20057937) which is a phenomenon where an increase in blood glucose occurs in the morning hours, typically between 2am and 8am. This might explain my high readings in the mornings. I wasn’t totally convinced of this, because the other random times I would test my fasting blood glucose, I would see a result in the same 85-110 mg/dL range. Also, this phenomenon seems to be largely attributed to diabetics only. Still, this was an interesting finding and might be part of the explanation.
-I found out that ketogenic dieters often have slightly higher fasting blood glucose levels, but that it is not considered a problem as it is due to muscles needing less glucose, therefore reducing their uptake of it (still, not sure if this is a good thing).
Critiques on experimental setup
Here are some potential criticisms on how I ran this experiment:
- “1 reading per day is not enough to see a real trend.” This is a fair statement. C’mon – glucose test strips are expensive :). A better test would be to get a Hb A1c test after 90 days of usage.
- “The morning tests are tainted by the dawn effect.” Maybe.
- “30 days is not enough to see an appreciable change.” This is likely true as well, but I am not sure. I have seen drastic differences in blood work within weeks with some other experiments I have done.
This experiment did not have the greatest method, but within a month I did not see any changes in my morning blood glucose readings with Berberine. Maybe I will revisit Berberine for a longer period (~3 months) but at this time I have no desire to do so.