The product names may change, but the desire to find the perfect weight loss pill or supplement is timeless. As the popularity of drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic increases, some people voice concerns about the side effects of these weight loss prescriptions. Are they worth the risk?
Other people may wonder whether certain supplements like berberine might be a safer, effective alternative. But what is berberine, and is it really “nature’s Ozempic?” How does it compare to drugs like semaglutide?
Keep reading to find the answers to these questions and more.
What is Berberine?
Berberine is an alkaloid bioactive compound found in many plant species of the Berberidaceae family such as goldenseal and Oregon grape. While it has been used for many years in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), researchers have only recently begun to explore the science behind its medicinal properties.
Unlike certain prescription drugs which have currently become trendy for their role in weight loss, berberine is available as an over-the-counter dietary supplement.
Potential Benefits of Berberine
The effect of berberine supplements on blood sugar levels has attracted an audience of admirers. In both animal models and human clinical studies involving those with diabetes, berberine has been shown to possess antidiabetic action.
In other words, berberine might help lower blood sugar levels in some people with type 2 diabetes. How does it do that, exactly?
Some studies show that berberine can:
- Reduce the intestinal absorption of glucose and reduce post-meal hyperglycemia
- Reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity
- Improve insulin secretion
- Improve lipid profiles
Berberine and Weight Loss
What health benefits can berberine have when it comes to weight loss? Some experts believe the antidiabetic effects of berberine may inform its possible weight loss effects.
Berberine has also been shown to enhance the expression of a specific enzyme that helps regulate the storage of fat. This enzyme, an AMPK-dependent adipose tissue triglyceride lipase, is positively associated with the prevention of obesity.
In a review of 12 studies, berberine intake corresponded with reductions in body weight and body mass index, belly fat, and the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. And, in a meta analysis looking at the use of berberine in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), it was found that berberine may:
- Reduce visceral fat mass
- Improve ovulation rate
- Alter fat distribution
However, in the majority of these studies, dietary and lifestyle changes were implemented alongside berberine use. Experts also point out that there have been no placebo-controlled clinical studies in this population to date and more quality research is needed.
Is There a Downside to Taking Berberine?
While you may be tempted to turn to berberine as a fast fix for your weight loss woes, it’s important to note that evidence in favor of its weight loss effect is currently limited. As mentioned, many of the studies looking at weight loss and berberine have included study participants who were already making other dietary and lifestyle changes known to support weight loss.
Additionally, berberine may have some negative gastrointestinal side effects to consider. According to animal studies, berberine could bring some unintended negative consequences for intestinal microbes.
Diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive-related side effects have been found to occur for some people taking berberine. Berberine has also been shown to be poorly absorbed after oral intake, and may also alter how your liver processes other medications.
As with any new supplement or medication, you’ll want to consult a trusted healthcare provider to determine what’s right for you.
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic (semaglutide) is an injectable drug that is FDA-approved for use in people with type 2 diabetes. Semaglutide, which belongs to a category of drugs known as GLP-1 or glucagon-like peptide-1, has also been used off-label for weight loss.
During clinical trials, adults taking semaglutide medications lost nearly 15 percent of their starting body weight on average. In a separate trial, adolescents lost about 16 percent of their starting body weight on average.
According to weight loss research, it may take five months to reach the target dosage. During this time, adults taking a weight loss drug in clinical trials lost an average of about 10 percent of their starting body weight. They lost an additional eight percent within 15 months.
While this research suggests these drugs may be effective in promoting weight loss, once someone stops taking these medications, they tend to regain all of the lost weight. If you want to learn more about the side effects and safety of drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, see our article here.
Berberine as an Ozempic Alternative
So can berberine deliver the same results that semaglutide might? Unfortunately, due to the lack of high quality clinical trials with berberine to date, it’s difficult to defend its primary use in weight loss.
That isn’t to say that berberine doesn’t have an impact on weight management for some, however. A 2020 meta-analysis found that when people took about 500 milligrams of berberine daily, they lost around four pounds on average over the course of three months.
But by comparison, semaglutide led to some users losing an average of 12 percent of their weight in around six months.
As with semaglutide, long-term risks of regular intake of berberine are unknown. While early data suggests limited risks for liver function and other markers of toxicity, other studies suggest a risk may be present after all.
Is There a Natural Alternative to Ozempic?
While berberine has become trendy on social media platforms such as TikTok, as a natural alternative to weight loss drugs, it’s not the only natural alternative out there.
Certain dietary changes, such as increasing protein intake, may help the body naturally increase GLP-1 production. Not only can getting enough protein help support GLP-1, but it can contribute to weight loss support in a variety of other ways.
Understanding the factors that impact your weight and customizing your approach to weight loss can be game-changing. Working with a personal nutritionist who is trained and qualified to support you on your weight loss journey can help you identify your barriers and find sustainable, lasting solutions.
Should You Take Berberine?
All that said, is berberine worth taking if you have a weight loss goal? Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind.
1) Though berberine may contribute to a small amount of weight loss for some people, studies are limited and often include people who were making other dietary and lifestyle changes at the same time.
2) By comparison, semaglutide (Ozempic) in clinical trials resulted in more weight loss overall relative to the weight loss data seen with berberine. However, both may have some negative side effects to consider and should be discussed with your doctor before deciding what’s right for you.
3) Foundational dietary and lifestyle changes continue to be some of the most effective and sustainable low-risk options for weight loss success. Customizing your approach based on your personal needs key!
At Nutrisense, our team of highly qualified nutritionists are here to help you figure out what’s right for your individual body. See how the Nutrisense program can support you on your weight loss journey here.
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Amanda is a Nutrition Manager and Registered Dietitian at Nutrisense, with a Masters in Dietetics from Stephen F. Austin State University. Originally from south GA, she got her undergrad degree from Texas Tech University. Before joining Nutrisense, she worked at a hospital in Fort Worth, TX, for 4 years as a dietitian, counseling those living with HIV.