Nature’s Ozempic Dubbed Berberine Supplement Explained

Nature's Ozempic Dubbed Berberine Supplement Explained

Berberine is having a moment, with the dietary supplement receiving a lot of attention as a purported weight loss aid.

Some TikTok users call it natures Ozempic, claiming it can help curb cravings and improve blood sugar levels. (There isn’t enough evidence to support these claims, experts tell TODAY.com.)

Savannah Crosby of San Antonio, Texas, said she lost 3 pounds after taking berberine for seven weeks and noticed her clothes fit her better. She turned to berberine because she was cheaper than Ozempic, the type 2 diabetes treatment that many people use off-label for weight loss.

I was noticing that no matter what I was doing, the scale was tipping and I felt like I was gaining weight, Crosby told NBC News Now. If it were up to me, I would have done Ozempic, but because of the cost, it’s just outrageous.

The list price for Ozempic is $935 per injector pen, which usually holds a month’s worth of medication. The cost of a bottle of 60 capsules of berberine ranges from $22 to $38 on Amazon.com.

But is berberine really nature Ozempic?

Not so, Dr. Daniel Monti, chair of integrative medicine and nutritional sciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and an integrative medicine physician at Jefferson Health, tells TODAY.com.

Ozempic is a diabetes drug. It also significantly suppresses appetite and people achieve significant weight loss by taking Ozempic. For those who need it, it works. With berberine, we can’t be so clear on any of these things.

Berberine has nothing to do with Ozempic “that’s a complete misnomer,” adds Dr. Pieter Cohen, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who leads the Supplement Research Program at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts.

Berberine is unlikely to reduce appetite and potentially lead to little or no weight loss, says Cohen.

There is very little evidence to support any claim about berberine, adds Dr. Christopher McGowan, an obesity medicine specialist in Cary, North Carolina.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade group representing manufacturers of nutritional supplements, says that promising metabolic benefits of berberine have been explored in recent years.

“Some research points to its potential to support weight management,” Jeff Ventura, a spokesperson for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, told TODAY.com.

“It is important to understand that berberine dietary supplements are not intended to cure or treat any medical condition and should not be used as a substitute for prescription medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy. As always, CRN recommends that people consult their physician before starting a weight loss plan.

What is Berberine?

Berberine is a bitter-tasting yellow substance found in plants such as goldenseal, says Monti.

It was first isolated in 1917 and has been used as a dye, though its primary use now is as an over-the-counter herbal dietary supplement, according to the American Chemical Society.

It’s been around for a while, but everything has its time and today it’s the Berbers, observes Monti.

It’s not because there was a rousing clinical study that said, Wow, berberine this is your new weight loss drug. It’s because the right people who got a good anecdotal response got the right amount of attention.

It’s a plant extract, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies it as a dietary supplement, she says. Supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs, according to the FDA.

“There’s no oversight of the bottles or the accuracy of the labels, and unless people are getting sick from berberine, the FDA would do nothing,” notes Cohen.

Because it is regulated as a food and not a drug, consumers may not get the labeled amount of berberine a company may put less in to try to save money or add more, perhaps because they want the supplement to have a greater effect, says Cohen.

What does berberine do for weight loss?

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 49 studies, published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2022, provides some clues.

It found that “although (berberine) may affect weight, it does not have a statistically significant and sizable effect” on body mass index, resulting in about a quarter-point reduction in BMI.

Monti calls any weight-loss benefit the paper found rather modest.”

For people who have a mild weight problem, it might curb appetite enough and help regulate blood sugar enough to give them a bit of a head start while they’re on a diet, Monti says.

In one small study, seven obese people who took 500 milligrams of berberine three times a day for 12 weeks lost an average of 5 pounds.

There may be potential for very modest weight loss of a few pounds or so, but that hasn’t been studied long-term, so no one knows whether the weight would stay off in six months, Cohen says.

Berberine “isn’t a game changer,” he notes. “I would discourage my patients from using berberine for weight loss.”

Berberine appears to have a small impact on weight in small, lower-quality studies, but there’s no solid scientific evidence that it can help a person lose weight, adds McGowan.

As for the impact on weight, specifically, it’s not proven, he says. If anyone is looking to use this for weight management I would advise against it. There is simply insufficient evidence, so for me there is only potential risk.

While Ozempics’ mechanism of action is understood, its active ingredient, semaglutide, mimics a hormone the body releases when a person eats food, reducing appetite. Berberine’s mechanism of action is unclear, Monti and McGowan note. .

What does berberine do for the body?

There may be a benefit to its impact on cholesterol, McGowan and Cohen say.

There was some data (indicating) that it could lower blood pressure, lower blood lipids and have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar regulation, Monti adds. (But) I don’t feel convinced about some of these things where there’s a little, tiny little study about something.

Most botanicals like berberine undergo limited study because there is little reason to study them, while drugs like Ozempic need to undergo extensive clinical trials, he adds.

After these large studies show that a drug is safe and effective and the drug gets FDA approval, there are very strict rules that require that the drug dispensed from a pharmacy be exactly what it is labeled, Cohen says.

“None of that exists for berberine. Berberine exists as a food, basically,” he notes.

Is there a downside to taking berberine?

The most common side effects of berberine include diarrhea, constipation, gas and stomach pain, according to the National Library of Medicine.

If a person is already taking blood sugar lowering medications and also takes a large amount of berberine, there is a theoretical risk of hypoglycemia, or hypoglycemia, Monti notes.

Monti also cautions that berberine can affect the effect of medications including anticoagulants, which slow blood clotting, and cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant drug, so patients taking these medications shouldn’t take the supplement.

Is it safe to take berberine every day?

Berberine is “possibly safe” for most adults in doses of up to 1.5 grams per day for six months, notes the National Library of Medicine.

For most healthy adults who don’t have liver or kidney problems, the organs that remove drugs from the body, the data suggests they’re relatively safe, Monti says. He advises consumers to keep the dose to less than 1 gram per day, perhaps 500 milligrams.

But pregnant or nursing women shouldn’t take berberine because there’s a risk of it crossing the placenta or being found in breast milk, and children shouldn’t take it either, according to the National Library of Medicine.

It’s not something I recommend people take on their own without consulting their doctor because their doctor will know if they have any risk factors that would warrant extra caution, Monti says.

Is berberine safe to take long-term?

Nobody knows, warn Monti and Cohen.

“We have to be cautious. We need long-term studies, and those aren’t available for berberine,” says Cohen.

Natural doesn’t always mean safe, observes Monti. Just because it’s over-the-counter doesn’t mean it’s safe and can be taken without regard, Monti adds.

When asked about the safety of berberine and its side effects, the Council for Responsible Nutrition recommended that you consult a doctor before taking berberine for weight loss.

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