Why Berberine Supplements Are Not Really ‘Nature’s Ozempic’

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The natural dietary supplement berberine is gaining popularity on social media for its weight loss effects. simonkr/Getty Images
  • A supplement known as berberine is being hailed on TikTok as “nature’s Ozempic” due to its weight loss effects.
  • Berberine activates a gene known as the master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis and also lowers glucagon release.
  • Studies show that supplementing with berberine may aid in weight loss, but more research is still needed.
  • Berberine has many side effects such as nausea and vomiting, and is not safe to use with many medications.

A dietary supplement called berberine is gaining momentum on social media platforms like TikTok for its weight loss effects, with some even calling it “nature’s Ozempic.”

Ozempic, a drug intended for use as a type 2 diabetes treatment, has recently become a popular weight loss aid. However, it has a long list of side effects, and the demand for the drug has caused supply issues, resulting in shortages for people with diabetes.

Now, internet users claim that berberine can mimic the effects of popular weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy. So, is berberine a better alternative?

Here, we explore what you need to know what berberine is, especially when using it as a weight loss aid.

Berberine is a naturally occurring compound found in plants like barberry, goldenseal, tree turmeric, and Oregon grape. It’s linked with many health benefits, including weight loss, and is usually available in supplement form.

“While it does not have a comprehensive nutrient profile like vitamins or minerals, berberine has been studied for its potential benefits in managing blood sugar levels, improving insulin sensitivity, reducing obesity, supporting cardiovascular health, and reducing inflammation,” says registered nutritional therapist Helen Perks.

“It exhibits various biological activities and has been shown to have pharmacological effects such as dilating blood vessels, reducing blood pressure, regulating immunity, inducing penile erection, inhibiting inflammation, and treating cancer,” she explains.

While berberine is available over the counter, some practitioners prescribe it for weight loss, especially for those with insulin resistance, as is the case with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

Berberine may have been dubbed ‘Nature’s Ozempic’ online due to its weight loss effects but the two are significantly different.

“While both berberine and GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic and Wegovy have some effects on weight, they work through different mechanisms,” Perks explains. “GLP-1 agonists mimic the action of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which helps reduce food intake and appetite through the augmentation of insulin secretion, suppression of glucagon secretion, and deceleration of gastric emptying.”

“On the other hand, berberine’s weight loss effects are thought to be mediated through different pathways, such as AMPK activation and improvements in insulin sensitivity,” Perks surmises.

Jane Mostowfi, nutritionist and founder of The Therapeutic Kitchen, explains this in more detail.

She says that berberine activates a pathway in the body called AMPK. This pathway includes genes such as PGC-1α which is known as the master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis and other genes that regulate energy and fat metabolism.

In turn, activating AMPK increases cellular uptake of glucose and insulin sensitivity.

Mostowfi says berberine also increases insulin release and lowers glucagon release, both of which have benefits for weight management.

The weight loss effects of Ozempic are well documented.

in clinical trialspatients who received a 2.4-milligram dose of Semaglutide – the active ingredient in Ozempic – lost on average 6% of their weight after 12 weeks, and 12% of their weight after 28 weeks.

Is berberine as effective?

“Research shows us that berberine can improve blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, and reduce triglycerides and so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol, particularly in those with type 2 diabetes. All are very useful when trying to reach our optimal healthy weight,” said Mostowfi.

One study carried out in 2012, found that taking 500 milligrams of berberine three times per day caused approximately 5 pounds of weight loss, on average, and helped participants lose 3.6% of their body fat.

Meanwhile, a reviews of 12 studies in 2020 found that supplementing with berberine led to significant reductions in body weight, body mass index, and belly fat.

So, berberine or Ozempic, which do our experts think is better for weight loss?

“I don’t think there is a case for taking one over the other as they are not comparable products – one is a herbal supplement that has many uses but also quite powerful effects and the other is a licensed medication for diabetics and people struggling with obesity under the supervision of a [health care provider],” Mostowfi points out.

Meanwhile, Perks points to the lack of research into the weight loss effects of berberine as an area of ​​concern.

“The arguments against taking berberine instead of Ozempic and Wegovy include the limited amount of high-quality human research supporting its weight loss effects,” she notes. “While some studies suggest potential benefits, many of the existing studies have been conducted in animals or small-scale human trials.”

Mostowfi says there are a lot of contraindications when it comes to the safety of berberine.

For example, you should never take it while pregnant or breastfeeding, nor with prescription medications including oral contraceptives, immunosuppressants, beta-blockers, or anti-depressants.

“This is because berberine can alter the level of the medication in your body which can be dangerous,” Mostowfi warns.

Berberine should not be taken for more than 8 weeks consecutively either, unless under professional advice.

“Berberine also has pretty strong antimicrobial effect on the gut microbiome which means taken in the wrong way it could strip all the good bacteria in the microbiome causing other gut-related health issues,” Mostowfi explains.

There are many other side effects to be aware of too, including:

Additionally, more research is needed on how berberine affects the liver and kidneys in humans.

Perks note that it’s not always easy to determine the quality of the supplement either.

“The quality and accuracy of supplement formulations can vary, highlighting the importance of working with a professional who can guide individuals in selecting reliable and safe products,” she points out.

Another concern is that simply taking a supplement to lose weight, doesn’t address the underlying lifestyle habits that contributed to your weight gain in the first place.

The supplement alone won’t help you understand your current food and activity habits, encourage you to make positive changes, or prioritize your overall health.

In other words, weight management is a little more complex than simply popping a pill.

“Achieving a healthy weight is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. We all have our own big pictures and ‘personal pieces’ that we need to address and fit together to achieve our own optimum healthy weight,” Mostowfi concludes.

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