Berberine is a promising weight loss supplement

Step aside, Ozempic — there’s a trending, alternative weight-loss supplement on the scene. The supplement berberine has been branded as “Nature’s Ozempic” and "Natural Wegovy" on social media. Ozempic and Wegovy are a type 2 diabetes drug known by the generic name semaglutide that also is used for weight loss. Semaglutide has skyrocketed in popularity as an often effective (albeit sometimes very expensive) weight-loss measure.

“With weight loss and with diabetes management, even when a prescription medication, always also combine it with lifestyle interventions,” she says. “So when people get excited about supplements out there, even if there is some evidence, we can’t just assume that it’s magic, even Ozempic’s is not magic button.”

What is the supplement berberine?

Berberine is a type of plant substance known as an alkaloid, and is found in a variety of plants, including barberry, goldenseal, Oregon grapes and coptis. These plants have long been used in traditional medicines — including Native American and Chinese practices — to treat a wide variety of illnesses, including eye conditions, diarrhea, jaundice and acne.

Today, berberine is available in supplement form and taken orally, though it is sometimes delivered intravenously or topically.

What is berberine used for?

According to TikTok, a whole lot. Alongside first-person online testimonials about weight loss, skim through social media and you’ll find people who are using berberine for ailments like high cholesterol, insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

While such a wide array of benefits seems too good to be true, a look at the research shows that berberine is indeed ripe with possibility. Researchers are exploring many possible uses of berberine including as a treatment for diabetes, blood sugar management, obesity, cancer, PCOS, and high cholesterol.

However, research is still limited, especially as some of the studies done thus far were small or performed on animals, Schmidt says. Even so, some of the most encouraging results for berberine thus far are for:

  • Lowering cholesterol. Studies have demonstrated that berberine may reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Diabetes. Berberine may improve blood sugar measures such as fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) in those with type 2 diabetes, and by some measures may work about as well as the commonly prescribed oral diabetes medication metformin.
  • PCOS with insulin resistance. Berberine supplements may lower testosterone levels, improve cholesterol, lower fasting blood sugar levels and decrease measures of insulin resistance in people with PCOS and insulin resistance.

There has been some research showing that berberine supplementation may help reduce weight.

What are the risks of berberine?

Berberine may be safe when taken in recommended amounts — with the exceptions that it should not be used by children or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The main side effects of berberine are gastrointestinal (GI) and include nausea, constipation, diarrhea, gas and vomiting. 

Possible interactive medications with berberine include: anti-clotting drugs, sedating medications such as zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar) and diabetes drugs including metformin.

How does berberine work?

It potentially works in a bunch of different ways. It’s considered antimicrobial and may alter the bacteria in your gut. In addition, berberine may affect a wide variety of body functions, and is thought to act as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer substance.

Berberine’s effects on insulin and gut microbiota may be partially responsible for potential weight loss, Schmidt says. And one animal study showed that it affected glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) — a hormone involved in insulin secretion — which semaglutide also affects.

Some people on social media are claiming that the supplement berberine is helping them lose weight by lessening their appetite.

“One week in. 3 pounds down. All the snack chatter in my head has disappeared,” one TikTok commenter wrote. Another chimed in, “Same thing happened to me! Food noise gone and hunger really reduced.”

Better blood sugar regulation could explain a more modrated appetite. If you’re having fewer highs and lows in your blood sugar, you might not feel that more extreme hunger that drives over eating and appetite. It’s also possible that some people experience a reduced appetite due to berberine’s possible GI side effects. 

How much berberine should I take?

It’s considered that taking 1000mg of berberine a day, or split into multiple doses, is safe.