Is Berberine Nature’s Ozempic?
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Around 42% of Americans are obese according to the 2019-2023 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, and that number is predicted to stay on the rise. It is no wonder that weight loss drugs such as Ozempic have received extensive amounts of attention across both the media and the medical world. With an increase in demand for these prescription drugs, access has become more limited. Not to mention, patients prescribed these common weight loss drugs are often charged with a steep price of around $1000 per month for the drug. Could there be an alternative pill for weight loss? Social media influencers have been promoting the natural supplement, berberine, as “nature’s Ozempic.” While berberine has been receiving a surplus of popularity amongst social media platforms, it may not be all that it is hyped up to be.
“Could there be an alternative pill for weight loss?”
The common weight loss drugs, such as Wegovy, Ozempic, and Mounjaro, are semaglutide drugs and often prescribed for aiding in weight loss. Semaglutide works by replicating the effects of the hormone, GLP-1. This hormone is produced in the intestine and works to regulate blood sugar by positively affecting both insulin and glucose levels. Currently, Ozempic and Mounjaro have only been approved by the FDA to treat type 2 diabetes, while Wegovy has been FDA approved for the specific use of targeted weight loss. While these semaglutide weight loss drugs have been labeled as a “cop out” by some, and a “miracle drug” by others, there is mounting evidence that these drugs are highly effective for weight loss. Since lifestyle changes are sometimes not yielding the significant results that patients struggling with weight loss are seeking, prescription drug intervention has proven to be highly effective in resolving weight issues in patients.
Since semaglutide drugs are not always accessible, or some just prefer a more natural solution, berberine has recently been receiving an increase in attention for its proclaimed ability to work as a natural weight loss pill. Berberine is a plant-derived compound used in traditional Chinese medicine that is extracted from plants like goldenseal and barberry. It is an orange-yellow powder typically found in a pill or tablet form. Users are claiming that the natural supplement has helped with their weight loss, as it specifically aids in resolving insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Some users even claim that Berberine has helped with treating cancer. But is berberine all its hyped up to be?
“…berberine has recently been receiving an increase in attention for its proclaimed ability to work as a natural weight loss pill.”
Medical experts have reported that there is not much evidence to support these proclaimed benefits of berberine. Reshmi Srinath, MD is the director of the Mount Sinai Weight and Metabolism Management Program in New York, NY, and reports that the data on the plant-based pill is quite sparse. Srinath states that the attention berberine has received in the media is quite shocking as there is little evidence in the medical world to support these claims.
Jaime Almandoz, MD, medical director of the UT Southwestern Weight Wellness Program, based in Dallas, Texas, states that the medical literature that is currently available does not provide enough evidence to support the impact berberine has on weight loss. Many weight management experts and endocrinologists agree that the lack of medical research is unable to support the use of berberine as a weight loss supplement. The National Center of Complementary and Integrative even took it a step further by issuing a warning to users that there is a lack of medical evidence to support these claims and it may be ineffective. While berberine is not necessarily reported to be harmful, its overstated uses remain unsupported.
“Many weight management experts and endocrinologists agree that the lack of medical research is unable to support the use of Berberine as a weight loss supplement.”
Ivania Rizo, MD, is an endocrinologist at Boston University’s Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. Rizo states that there are some randomized controlled trials done on Berberine’s impact on weight loss, however these studies all appear to be underpowered due to low quality of methods which can lead to an increase in bias.
A systematic review of 35 studies provided a critical overview to understand the efficacy of berberine to prevent and manage obesity. The review of these studies was able to conclude that berberine was shown to be effective in reducing blood glucose levels. Yet, this systemic review was underpowered. In contrast to the findings proving that berberine does help with weight loss, an additional study found that berberine had increased the body weight of rats as the supplement caused a soar in their appetite.
The efficacy of berberine used as a weight loss solution has still yet to be supported by the scientific literature. Some researchers have hypothesized that there may be a connection between the gut microbiome and berberine. This potential link would explain the effect that berberine has on type 2 diabetes and weight loss. Yet, there is no solid evidence to strongly support this clinical data. It is clear that further research is needed in the medical world to fully understand the effective uses of berberine, and the potential that it may have on weight management and prevention of obesity.
“It is clear that further research is needed in the medical world to fully understand the effective uses of berberine.”
As for now, obesity experts and endocrinologists are cautioning their patients on taking berberine and other dietary supplements claimed to support weight loss since there is a lack of evidence to support these uses. Since lifestyle interventions by themselves are typically not effective enough for obese patients to lose a significant amount of weight, it is common for obese patients to experiment with supplements proclaimed to be effective for weight loss. Plus, dietary supplements are less regulated by the FDA making them more accessible and cost effective.
Perhaps you or someone you know heard of berberine on social media and are now interested in experimenting with it due to its proclaimed benefits for weight loss. However, it is important to be aware that the current clinical data is lacking on the efficacy of its use for weight loss. It is not uncommon to hear of overstated claims about the efficacy of dietary supplements across social media. While an individual on social media may have their own valid and unique experience with a supplement, this may not be the case for everyone. It is important to do further research and always first talk to your doctor before experimenting with supplementation.