Fact checked by Nick Blackmer
Users on social media advertise a drugstore supplement called berberine as natures Ozempic.
Berberine may be able to help manage blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Berberine has a different mechanism of action than prescription drugs like Ozempic and is not proven to support weight loss.
People who are considering berberine should consult their doctor before trying it.
An over-the-counter dietary supplement called berberine is being labeled a natural duplicate of Ozempic, a prescription drug used to stabilize blood sugar and can help patients with type 2 diabetes lose weight.
Social media users all claim that the supplement can help lower blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, and go as far as helping people shed a few pounds. The search term berberine supplement has over 300 million views and counting on TikTok, and #berberine has about 67 million views.
But as with all social media health hacks and trends, there is the question of whether or not any of these claims can be backed up by science. Here’s what experts have to say about berberine, and whether or not it might be a decent option for patients who can’t get their hands on popular injectable drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, or Mounjaro.
Related: What is the difference between Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro?
What is berberine and what is it used for?
Berberine is a naturally occurring compound called an alkaloid that is extracted from a variety of plants, including goldenseal, European barberry, Oregon grape, phellodendron, and tree turmeric, Lisa Kroon, PharmD, Professor and Chair, Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the School of Pharmacy at the University of California at San Francisco, he told Verywell.
Most people who take berberine consume it as a supplement, which can come in many forms such as capsules, tablets, liquid extracts or powders, Kroon said. It has also been used in eye drops and gels.
While the drugstore supplement has recently soared in popularity thanks to social media, it has been used for centuries, especially in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, Mir B Ali, MD, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center, told Verywell in Orange Coast. In fact, suppliers may recommend berberine for people with diabetes to help lower blood sugar and cholesterol.
It’s also been shown to have some antimicrobial effects, so it can affect normal gut bacteria, Ali said.
Berberine is thought to have these effects because it can target a protein involved in insulin resistance and blood sugar control, which positively impacts how our cells can use blood glucose, Megan Hilbert, MS , RDN, a registered dietitian specializing in gut health nutrition at Top Nutrition Coaching, told Verywell in an email. In turn, these alkaloids may reduce the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
According to the National Library of Medicine, berberine can also be used for burns, canker sores, liver disease, and many other conditions. But there isn’t enough well-researched scientific evidence to support many of these uses.
It is absolutely not Ozempic in nature and does not work like Ozempic, which is a GLP-1 inhibitor, Kroon said. I think people are just getting the hang of it here and the makers of these supplements are just creating a hype to try and be attractive to people looking for a magic potion to help them lose weight.
How to get berberine
Berberine is available over the counter and can be purchased online or in stores, usually in the form of supplement capsules, Hilbert said. Dosages for berberine range from 500 to 1,500 milligrams per day, but it is typically taken in doses of 500 milligrams, three times a day.
Depending on the retailer or online store, most berberine supplements can be purchased for anywhere from $12 to $50, Hilbert added.
Comparatively, GLP-1 agonist drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro require prescriptions and can cost as much as $1,000 out of pocket.
Can berberine be used for weight loss?
While berberine may have similar health benefits to prescription drugs when it comes to lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels, it’s unclear whether the supplement is effective when it comes to weight loss, Ali said. The diabetes drugs Ozempic and Mounjaro can be prescribed off-label for weight loss, while Wegovy is indicated for weight loss.
People say it [berberine] it’s equivalent, but there’s no real evidence to show it’s equivalent to those drugs, Ali said. He’s been shown to have a modest effect on weight loss, but it’s not the same effect as prescribed medications.
The reason berberine doesn’t have the exact same effect as Ozempic is because its mechanism of action is different, Kroon said. Ozempic, which is a GLP-1 inhibitor, helps the pancreas release the right amount of insulin when a patient’s blood sugar is high, which in turn lowers blood glucose levels. Semaglutide medications like Ozempic slow the rate at which the stomach empties food, which can lead to decreased appetite and weight loss.
Semaglutide also helps lower a hormone called glucagon after you eat and this helps lower your blood sugar. AS, [Ozempic] it has many ways of how it works for diabetes, including the effect on weight, Kroon said. Berberine doesn’t work for anything like that; it’s a completely different mechanism.
Instead, berberine activates an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which can help regulate glucose metabolism, improve insulin sensitivity, and affect blood sugar levels.
However, there is some research into the effectiveness of berberines for weight loss and diabetes. A meta-analysis of 27 studies found that the supplement may be just as effective as some oral diabetes medications, such as metformin and glipizide, when it comes to blood sugar control. And a 2012 study found that seven people with obesity who took 500 milligrams of berberine three times a day for 12 weeks lost an average of about 5 pounds of weight. More recently, a 2020 review of 12 studies suggested that berberine supplements can potentially impact body weight, body mass index (BMI), and belly fat.
While there are some studies suggesting that berberine supplements can positively impact people’s health, more research is needed to draw meaningful conclusions about whether or not berberine is effective for weight loss.
Related: These are the supplements you should avoid taking together
Do experts recommend trying berberine?
According to Ali, deciding whether or not to use berberine supplements for weight loss should be a decision you make with your doctor. While not Ozempic in nature, it Candies be a more accessible option for some patients, especially since it does not require a prescription.
I don’t think berberine would be harmful to most patients, but it’s still unclear how effective it is for weight loss, Ali said. I think it’s reasonable to try it as a supplement to healthy lifestyle and dietary changes, but I don’t want people to think it’s the equivalent of prescription medication.
Hilbert added that while there aren’t many studies showing that berberine has harmful reactions or outcomes, some people who use the supplement may experience minor side effects, including diarrhea, constipation, nausea, bloating, and other gastrointestinal issues.
Berberine appears to be safe for adults to use in the short term, Hilbert said. But long-term use hasn’t been studied, and some animal studies report some serious side effects with long-term use of berberine such as enlarged liver/kidneys, muscle tremors, and stomach ulcers.
Before you decide to use berberine, it’s important to note that these supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and haven’t been studied extensively, Kroon noted.
Drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy are FDA-regulated and well-studied for indications like diabetes or weight loss, while dietary supplements like berberine aren’t FDA-regulated, she said. I would really recommend not jumping on the bandwagon here and thinking that berberine will work like a prescription medicine, because it won’t. You could spend a good $50+ out of pocket.
What does it mean to you
Experts say people who use berberine may not see the same results as other prescription drugs intended for weight loss. Before trying berberine, you should talk to your doctor, especially if you have certain health conditions like diabetes or are taking other medications and supplements.
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