Dubbed “‘nature’s Ozempic,” berberine isn’t a magic pill for losing weight.
But so long as patients and doctors have honest conversations about medicine use, it might not hurt to try berberine.
Ozempic’s high demand and steep prices have pushed some people into the supplement aisle to browse for weight loss alternatives. Dubbed ‘Nature’s Ozempic,’ berberine is one supplement that people have gravitated toward. But experts say that berberine’s pound-shedding powers are unclear and understudied.
What is berberine? And can it help you lose weight?
Berberine is an extract from plants that has anti-inflammatory properties. It was used in ancient medicine for its antimicrobial benefits, and it might also impact metabolism. Whether or not it goes so far as to induce weight loss is unclear but not unfounded.
“Berberine is one of those herbs that has been touted to ‘cure everything,’' says Stephanie Redmond, PharmD, CDE, BC-ADM, a nationally recognized diabetes expert and Founder of Dr. Stephanie’s. “However, since we know that metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance are exacerbated by inflammation in the visceral organs, lowering inflammation through berberine use could certainly make a difference in reducing metabolic syndrome symptoms and blood sugar levels through increasing insulin sensitivity,” Redmond adds.
According to Mir Ali, MD, FACS, FASMBS, bariatric surgeon and Medical Director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center, the most significant risk with patients taking a supplement such as berberine is that it will interact poorly with another substance they are taking. Because of this, providers need to ask patients about all medications they are taking—both prescription and over-the-counter—so that they can best guide and inform healthy decisions.
“Patients have to be cautious, especially if they're on other medications because there could be some interaction,” says Ali. “It’s important to make sure that there's no problem with their other medications and how they affect blood sugar, cholesterol, and the gut microbiome.”
Dangerous drug interactions could also be a risk if a patient uses a supplement that is altered and contains ingredients other than berberine. This is a common concern with weight loss supplements, doctors told the New York Times, which are often adulterated or contaminated with banned substances. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), weight loss substances are the most likely supplements to send people to the emergency room with adverse reactions.
For practitioners, recommending a natural supplement can be a way to establish trust with a patient who is wary of medications, which can be essential for prescribing FDA-approved treatment down the line, Redmond says.
“Medication non-compliance is a real thing, and many patients try natural supplements on their own, so it’s best to be educated or at least have a good resource to check for clinical information so [doctors] can empower the patient to make good decisions,” Redmond says.
Advice for patient use
Redmond says that she likes to recommend natural supplements when relevant and encourages people not to be too dissuaded by the fact that supplements are not FDA-regulated.
“I do recommend berberine because I am a believer in natural dietary supplements,” says Redmond. “It obviously hasn’t been clinically studied to the same great lengths that Ozempic has, although it has been around in the world for a lot longer.”
If a patient wants to choose a berberine supplement or guide a patient on its use, Redmond recommends telling them to look for a product that states it has been third-party tested and checking to see the percentage of berberine in the product (high-quality supplements are about 97% berberine, she adds). If using and looking for benefits, she recommends taking at least 500 mg of berberine three times daily, with doses spread throughout the day.
“My advice to patients is to be realistic [about] natural supplements,” says Redmond. “They don’t work overnight and, just like medications, they don’t work for everyone. You’re not going to lose 100 pounds by starting berberine, but you might see better results versus not taking it at all.”
The main goal of weight loss, regardless of drug, is lifestyle sustainability
Berberine, Ozempmic, or other medications can only do so much when it comes to losing and sustaining weight loss, says Ali.
“I tell my patients that no matter what we do—surgery, medication, dietary counseling—the whole goal is to help the patient establish a healthier lifestyle,” Ali adds.
This is the most critical component of any weight loss program. While medication or other interventions can help for a period of time, lifestyle changes are most important in helping a person maintain a healthy weight if and when the support goes away, he says.
To ensure that patients are working on lifestyle changes along with taking supplements or medication, Ali advises initial chats with primary care physicians who know the patient’s health history and referrals for more weight loss–specific doctors when needed. What specialist is best will depend on the person’s unique situation and body composition, Ali says. Some specialists could include bariatric surgeons like himself, non-surgical weight loss specialists, and/or dietitians to help educate the patient on what a healthy diet looks like for them, he adds.
What this means for you
Trending as ‘nature’s Ozempic,” berberine is a supplement that may aid in reducing inflammation and promoting a healthy weight, but it is understudied. While doctors say not to think of berberine as a foolproof solution for weight loss, they don’t discourage patients from trying it so long as they and their doctors are aware of potential medicine interactions.