What is Berberine? Because this supplement is not like Ozempic.
- Berberine is a supplement found in the roots, leaves and stems of some plants.
- It has been used for thousands of years to treat infections and heal wounds.
- Recently, people on social media have dubbed him “Nature’s Ozempic,” but experts disagree.
Berberine, a bitter, yellow chemical found in the roots, leaves and stems of several plants, has been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It is often used to aid in wound healing or treating infections, and there is some preliminary evidence that it may be effective for these problems.
But this year, the old compound has suddenly become a new weight-loss internet sensation, with many TikTok influencers calling it “Nature’s Ozempic” and posting about how it has helped them lose weight and improve hormonal imbalances. .
Use of the supplement has become such a major online fad that even the National Institutes of Health stepped in with a cautionary note on its website this month, warning of the potential dangers of taking berberine.
But the reality is that berberine is no match for the new class of GLP-1 weight loss drugs like Ozempic. Small studies have shown that any potential weight-loss benefit of the supplement is extremely small, and experts told Insider that there are other well-regulated and inexpensive drugs that are more effective for weight loss and metabolism issues.
“Berberine is not that potent,” Dr. Amy Rothberg, an expert in metabolism, nutrition and diabetes at the University of Michigan, told Insider. “If it translates into weight loss, that would be pretty modest.”
Here are the basics of what we know about berberine.
Berberine is very different from Ozempic when it comes to weight loss
If berberine doesn’t cause any weight loss, it’s very modest compared to the dramatic results people have seen with expensive prescription GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy. In clinical trials, these once-weekly injectables can lead to more than 15% weight loss when taken for over a year.
In contrast, a small study of fewer than 10 obese patients who took berberine three times a day for three months found their average weight loss on berberine was about 5 pounds.
Rothberg said it’s possible the supplement doesn’t actually do anything to help people lose weight.
“It could be a placebo effect, which is very powerful in and of itself,” she said.
Berberine may be more comparable to metformin, an inexpensive diabetes drug
While there isn’t a lot of compelling data on berberine for weight loss yet, there is slightly more evidence available to suggest that the compound may be mildly beneficial for controlling blood sugar, cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Dr. Michael Weintraub, an obesity medicine specialist at NYU Langone, told Insider that this makes the cheap generic diabetes drug metformin a more apt comparison for berberine. The beneficial effects of berberine on blood sugar “may be comparable to a moderate dose of metformin,” he said.
Metformin is also “the most common drug prescribed off-label for weight loss,” Weintraub said, though most people who take it will only lose a modest amount of weight, perhaps between 5 and 10 pounds.
Metformin has also become a very common treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, which is one of the metabolic conditions that TikTokers said berberine helps treat.
However, Weintraub isn’t convinced that berberine will replace metformin any time soon.
“I certainly would like to see more well-designed and large clinical trials done, and then maybe we could see if there’s a place for that,” he said.
Like many supplements, berberine is largely unregulated
The idea that berberine is in any way cleaner, better, or purer than licensed prescription drugs like Ozempic is one that experts don’t approve of.
“As with any supplement sold over the counter, you don’t even know what’s in it, frankly,” Rothberg said. “He could claim it’s berberine, it could actually be ephedra,” she said, referring to the supplement that’s now banned in the United States due to its history of causing serious health problems including heart attacks and sudden deaths.
Rothberg said he once saw a patient take an over-the-counter supplement with “some very abnormal blood,” and when the patient’s supplement was tested in a lab, the doctor found “all kinds of chemicals ” inside, including the hormone testosterone, stimulating amphetamine and other substances that have never been listed anywhere on the label.
“There’s no real oversight of these over-the-counter supplements,” she said.
For some people, berberine can be dangerous
Both medical experts Insider spoke to for this story agreed that pure berberine is a relatively safe and well-tolerated compound.
Some of the more common side effects of berberine, like metformin, include constipation, diarrhea and stomach pain. But the purveyors said there are at least three groups of people who should definitely stay away from berberine.
- Pregnant peoplewho can pass on to their children a sort of irreversible brain damage, called kernicterus, if they take berberine
- nursing mothers,because berberine can have a negative impact on the development of the child
- Anyone using other drugs should exercise caution,because berberine can affect a key enzyme that affects how our body metabolizes many other drugs. If you are taking other medications, you should first check with your doctor to make sure that berberine does not cause harmful interactions, such as making the other medicine less effective.
The supplement also has an increased risk of bleeding and bruising, due to its antiplatelet effect.
“Natural doesn’t mean it’s better, more effective,” Rothberg said. “In fact, it’s often just the opposite.”
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