A dietary supplement dubbed ‘nature’s Ozempic’ is taking the internet by storm with thousands of people extolling its weight loss benefits.
The plant-derived weight loss tool is believed to help treat inflammation, high cholesterol, and diabetes, though evidence to support these claims is limited — but it is not yet clear whether the supplement is safe to take long-term.
As people on social media rave about the transformations they’ve witnessed in the forms of looser pants and a lower number on the scale, they have also shared uncomfortable side effects, including diarrhea and constipation.
Given berberine’s growing popularity, DailyMail.com gathered all the facts you need to know about what it claims to do and how effective it is.
What exactly is it?
Berberine is derived from the barberry plant, shown here. Its berries, rich in berberine, are also thought to have antioxidant properties
The bitter-tasting chemical is found in certain plants including European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, phellodendron, and tree turmeric.
The compound has been a fixture in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat myriad conditions including pink eye, itchy skin, high blood sugar, and urinary tract infections, among other bacterial infections.
Still, these benefits have not been confirmed in large-scale clinical trials.
A bottle of 60 supplements, one taken before every meal, can be purchased on major retail sites including Amazon for around $30.
With thousands of positive reviews and glowing reports on TikTok, the chemical is quickly becoming known as a natural alternative to expensive Wegovy or Ozempic, prescription medications that are not always covered by health insurance.
But it works very differently from the prescription drugs, also called semaglutide.
Wegovy is a higher-dose version that has been approved for weight loss in people with a body mass index of at least 30, or in overweight people with a BMI of 27 or greater, who also have a weight-related medical condition.
Ozempic, meanwhile, is approved to treat Type 2 diabetes, but it is being prescribed ‘off-label’ for obesity.
Semaglutide spurs weight loss by mimicking the actions of GLP-1, or glucagon-like peptide-1, a hormone in the brain that regulates appetite and feelings of satiety.
What are the benefits?
Despite anecdotal evidence that berberine can help users shed pounds – including one woman on TikTok who lost seven pounds in six weeks – its weight loss benefits have not been confirmed in large peer-reviewed studies.
The mechanism behind berberine supposedly working as a weight loss supplement is also unclear.
Still, the evidence is expanding. One 2017 review published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences found that patients who took two capsules at 750 milligrams each every day for three months had ‘a significant decrease’ in weight.
A separate study published in the American Journal of Translational Research suggested that the supplement activates brown adipose tissue, or fat cells that tell the body to turn food into energy by burning calories.
The chemical has several other applications as well.
A 2019 analysis published in the Endocrine Journal indicated that taking berberine supplements was more effective at lowering blood glucose levels than a placebo.
Research also suggests the supplement can help treat polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that occurs when the ovaries produce much more of a certain type of hormone called androgens, leading to irregular menstrual cycles and unpredictable ovulation.
And research has also shown that berberine can decrease hemoglobin A1C, a measure of blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
What are users saying?
In an update five weeks after beginning to take the supplement berberine, Savannah Crosby shared another before and after photo detailing her weight loss transformation
In another clip, seen more than 83,000 times, @briana_parra2 shared before and after photos of seven months of berberine usage. ‘I use puritans pride 500mg’, she told a user who commented on her video. Before starting to take berberine she weighed 285lbs (129.2kg)
The hashtag #berberine has racked up 58million views on TikTok, with one specific to weight loss hitting 1.7million.
Savannah Crosby, a 34-year-old TikToker from Texas has lost about seven pounds while taking the supplement.
She began using berberine about two months ago. At the same time, she also changed her diet and lifestyle, as recommended. Despite eating healthy and working out nearly everyday, the number on the scale did not change.
Before starting her weight-loss journey, she weighed in at 187.4lbs (85kg) and described herself as ‘frustrated’.
In an effort to slim down she took to TikTok to record her experience of the supplement, taking three 600mg capsules daily — one 30 minutes before each meal.
Sharing her weekly progress with before and after photos, at six weeks she claimed she weighed 180.8lbs (82kg).
‘I definitely have seen just a change in my body the way my clothes fit me. I’m probably losing inches,’ Crosby said.
Another TikTok user said: ‘Week 9 on berberine and down 18lbs’, while a second boasted, ‘Two weeks in and down 8 pounds.’
Another clip with 1.7million views posted from the account @daphnunez says: ‘Berberine is my favourite supplement for my weight loss clients just because it is extremely transformative.
‘It’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat a number of metabolic health conditions like diabetes and obesity.
‘Overall just a really great supplement if you’re looking to lose weight.’
Is it safe?
Berberine supplements, like all dietary supplements, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. People interested in taking it, espcially those already on prescription medications to treat other conditions, should consult their doctors first
Scientists are still trying to answer this question with certainty. Because it is plant-derived, it’s easy to fall under the delusion that it must be harmless. Pregnant women are advised not to take it, as it may pose a risk for brain damage to the fetus or young children.
Taking it as instructed on the bottle could negatively affect the metabolism of prescription medications to treat diabetes or other medical conditions.
Whether it is safe to take over a long period of time remains unclear. Users who stop taking it may also gain the weight back quickly.
It is believed that abruptly stopping either Wegovy or Ozempic will cause the pounds to pile back on.
Common side effects of Berberine include diarrhea, constipation, and stomach upset.
Crosby, for instance, has complained about the capsule’s gastrointestinal side effects, says overall that the benefits outweight the costs.
She also said: ‘I do notice some of my hunger coming back a little bit and I don’t know if that means I have to increase my dosage but it’s fine, I’m working through it.’