The latest health trend on TikTok has been dubbed Natures Ozempic. It is the herbal preparation berberine.
Influencers have enthusiastically claimed her success in helping them lose weight, with their posts viewed by millions.
But what is berberine actually? How is it related to the drug Ozempic? Does it help people lose weight? And is it safe?
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Why Berberine? What is it anyway?
Many people who fail to lose weight through diet and exercise turn to medication. That includes the high-profile prescription medicine Ozempic, a diabetes drug that also leads to weight loss.
The worldwide supply shortage of the drug and the need to obtain a prescription have probably prompted people to look for alternatives available online or in pharmacies, such as berberine.
Berberine is a bitter-tasting chemical extracted from the roots of plants, such as goldenseal and barberry.
It belongs to the class of plant chemicals called isoquinoline alkaloids. Other well known chemicals in this class include the pain relievers morphine and codeine.
Berberine extracts have been used in traditional medicines for bowel ailments and to treat infections. It is mainly taken orally in the form of a powder, capsule or tablet.
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Is it the same as Ozempic?
Berberine is not the same as Ozempic. Ozempic is the brand name for the drug semaglutide, used to treat people with type 2 diabetes.
Ozempic works by mimicking a naturally occurring hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). This hormone is important because it helps the body produce insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
More recently, Ozempic has been shown to be effective for weight loss in overweight or obese people. By mimicking GLP-1, Ozempic makes you feel full and less hungry.
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Does berberine help you lose weight?
In clinical studies, berberine leads to modest weight loss in obese people. But the data are inconclusive as most published studies are small and of variable quality.
The strongest evidence we have comes from two meta-analyses, types of studies that pool and analyze the results of other studies.
These show that taking 300-3,000 mg of berberine per day orally is associated with modest reductions in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and body weight (about 3 kg). These findings were more significant in women with a BMI greater than 30 who took at least 1,000 mg per day for at least three months.
The studies were only conducted with people who were overweight or obese. So we don’t know if berberine leads to weight loss in others.
We also don’t yet have the data to say what happens when people stop taking berberine.
We don’t know exactly how berberine works to help people lose weight. But a recent systematic review (when researchers pool the evidence) provides some clues.
It affects GLP-1 levels like Ozempic does, but it also likely causes weight loss in other ways. It reduces blood sugar levels, stimulates insulin release, affects how the body absorbs cholesterol, and changes how fat is processed in the body.
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Is berberine safe?
Just because berberine is sold over the counter doesn’t mean it’s safe. It can have side effects and interfere with other medications you may be taking.
Common side effects include diarrhea, constipation, gas and stomach pain. Large quantities can be fatal.
Berberine is not recommended for pregnant people as it is thought that it can cross the placenta and harm the fetus. It can also stimulate contractions of the uterus, which can inappropriately trigger birth. As it can be transferred into breast milk, it is not appropriate during breastfeeding.
Berberine can also interact with many other medications and supplements. These include the immune system drug cyclosporine, cough suppressants such as dextromethorphan, and herbal remedies and medicines used to lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels, reduce blood clotting, and help with relaxation and sleep.
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So what’s going on?
If you are obese or overweight and find it difficult to lose weight through diet and exercise alone, then berberine may be of some help.
However, before buying berberine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if it will be safe for you or if other medications may be more appropriate.
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