If you take a quick swipe on TikTok, you might see a new yellow supplement pill getting a lot of attention for its promise as a weight-loss magic bullet: berberine.
Advertised as natures Ozempic and typically sold in capsule or powder form, this plant-based compound has made its way into the spotlight. Social media creators, millions of them, are actually raving about its Ozempic-like ability to melt away unwanted pounds.
And people are taking notice. #Berberine has over 69 million views, with #berberinesupplement at 23 million, #naturesozempic at 5.5 million and #berberineforweightloss at over 3.9 million views.
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The push? Berberine promises a cheaper alternative to expensive weight-loss prescription drugs semaglutide such as Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus (which can cost as much as nearly $900 for a month’s dose), is easily accessible at pharmacies, and can be purchased over-the-counter. And the fact that it comes from nature could make it seem as a no-brainer for those who aren’t ready to take the step to a prescription drug.
Meet the experts:
Rahi Sarbaziha, MD, is a dual-certified integrative medicine specialist based in Los Angeles.
Payam Vahedifar, MD, is a physician at Nuvo Spine & Sports Institute & Ortho Regenerative Center.
Janese Laster, MD, is a DC-based gastroenterologist specializing in nonsurgical endobariatric procedures and medical weight loss from Gut Theory Total Digestive Care.
Like many idiots who have gone viral on the internet lately, is this too good to be true? Here, experts weigh in on the purported merits of this peppy supplement, how it works in the body, and what, if any, hard science is actually in Berber’s corner to suggest it really is “Nature’s Ozempic.”
What is Berberine?
Berberine is an alkaloid (an organic compound) found in plants such as barberry, goldenseal and Oregon grape, says Rahi Sarbaziha, MD, a dual-certified integrative medicine specialist based in Los Angeles. And while it has quickly become part of the zeitgeist in 2023, berberine has been around for centuries, popping up in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicinal practices thanks to its many purported health benefits, according to Dr. Sarbaziha.
You may see berberine used in different types of cuisines as well. Prized for its bitter, tart, and spicy notes, barberry fruit (which, again, contains berberine) is a favorite seasoning for Persian rice dishes, says Dr. Sarbaziha.
But it also has some purported health benefits for the body.
What does berberine do in the body?
The compound is thought to help manage high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and obesity. It may also help fight cardiovascular problems associated with such conditions, research shows.
Of course, these purported health benefits are great, but what people *really* want to know right now is if it helps with weight loss like Ozempic does. The compound works by targeting a protein called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), an enzyme that plays a role in activating insulin receptors, which in turn affect blood sugar levels. By activating AMPK, berberine may help boost metabolism, leading to potential weight-loss effects, says Dr. Sarbaziha.
Specifically, berberine may improve insulin sensitivity, help reduce glucose production in the liver, and potentially promote glucose uptake into cells, according to Dr. Sarbaziha and Payam Vahedifar, MD, a physician at Nuvo Spine & Sports Institute & Ortho Regenerative Center. (Research suggests this, too.) Taken together, Dr. Sarbaziha says these effects may help regulate blood sugar levels and potentially benefit people with diabetes or insulin resistance.
Both doctors note that the researchers also looked at berberine’s lipid-lowering potential, which may have positive implications for overall heart health. A small 2012 study involving both humans and rats found that berberine can help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (human subjects with obesity lost an average of five pounds). Dr. Vahedifar is quick to point out, however, that no large-scale randomized trials like this one have been conducted since then.
However, these findings were bolstered in a recent 2021 meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials of berberine, which also suggested that berberine might raise HDL cholesterol. By improving lipid profiles, berberine may contribute to overall cardiovascular health, says Dr. Sarbaziha.
Can Berberine Help You Lose Weight?
Right now, the answer is perhaps murkier than a resounding yes.
Berberine may help boost your metabolism, leading to potential weight-loss effects, says Dr. Sarbaziha. Keyword here: May.
While this compound certainly displays some properties that could be beneficial to your body, the jury is still out on its effectiveness for weight loss, particularly as there are no large, long-term clinical trials to aim for and the Current research has focused more on testing animals than humans.
On the other hand, Ozempic (FDA-approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but prescribed off-label for weight loss) and Wegovy (FDA-approved for weight loss) have much better studied outcomes, with patients who see significant weight loss. After a few months of using semaglutide medications, people typically lose about 15 percent of their body weight.
Are berberine supplements safe?
Yes, they’re generally considered safe for most people when taken in appropriate doses, says Dr. Sarbaziha. But there’s a caveat: People respond differently to supplements, and some may experience more side effects or interactions with other medications.
While adverse effects aren’t very common, Dr. Sarbaziha says you may still experience gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or an upset stomach while taking berberine.
And since the FDA doesn’t heavily regulate anything classified as a supplement (they generally aren’t subject to the same testing and regulations as prescription drugs), you need to be careful where you get your supplies. There is no general quality control in how berberine is made or in the standard dosage, most existing studies place between 500 and 1500 milligrams per day. Essentially, it’s hard to know what patients are getting from bottle to bottle, says Janese Laster, MD, a Washington, DC-based board-certified gastroenterologist who specializes in nonsurgical endobariatric procedures and medical weight loss from Gut Theory Total Digestive Care. .
The supplement selection process is important. When starting your research, you should consult a healthcare professional about potential dosage and look for a product that has been tested by a third party.
If you are currently taking any other medications or have active medical issues, Dr. Sarbaziha also recommends checking with your doctor before starting berberine to avoid health complications.
While there hasn’t been a lot of research done on the topic of pregnancy, it is advised not to take berberine if you are pregnant, says Dr. Sarbaziha, as some case studies have suggested that berberine may possibly cause fetal jaundice, teratogenesis, and premature birth. .
So, is berberine really Ozempic nature?
While berberine could potentially be used as a tool in a weight loss plan for some people, its Not A replace a healthy diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes.
And despite what TikTokers might tell you about their experiences with sups, the mechanics at work in berberine supplements and the drug Ozempic are *not* the same, so you shouldn’t expect equivalent results. Ozempic is a prescription drug that works in the central nervous system to improve satiety, reduce appetite, slow gastric emptying and improve insulin resistance, while berberine does not.
It’s not as effective as Ozempic,” says Dr. Sarbaziha. Dr. Laster adds that it’s “in no way the same as Ozempic.”
So if you’re looking to lose a significant amount of weight, berberine probably won’t be your holy grail, especially not by itself. I always tell my patients if it were that simple, ‘trust me, we would use it for everyone!’ says Dr. Laster. There are no gimmicks or gimmicks in weight loss.
Danielle Blundell is a New York City-based lifestyle writer and editor who has written on topics ranging from home to health for a variety of publications including Rachael Ray Everyday, Redbook, Family Circle, This old house, Elle Decor, Squire, Domino, AND Apartment therapy. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism and has appeared as an on-air pundit Today, Doctors, celebrity page, and other local news. Website: https://danielleblundell.myportfolio.com/
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