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Is berberine ‘nature’s Ozempic’?

By The Health News Team | August 29, 2023
Yellow capsules

Berberine, a chemical found in some plants, is gaining popularity on social media for its weight-loss effectiveness. Some people even tout the dietary supplement as “nature’s Ozempic®.”

Dr. Neelima Chu, an endocrinologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, explains what there is to know about berberine, and what to expect when using it as a dietary supplement for weight loss.

What is berberine?

Berberine is a yellow-colored chemical found in plants, such as European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, philodendron and tree turmeric. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammation, heal wounds, and cure constipation and hemorrhoids. Berberine is linked to many health benefits, and studies suggest the supplement can lower blood sugar and decrease insulin resistance in people with Type 2 diabetes.

How is berberine different from Ozempic?

Berberine may be called ‘nature’s Ozempic’ due to its weight-loss effects, but they are very different, Dr. Chu says.

Ozempic, a brand name for semaglutide, belongs to a class of medicines called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists. It mimics the GLP-1 hormone released in the gut in response to eating. Semaglutide helps stimulate insulin production and interacts with the part of the brain that reduces appetite and signals a feeling of fullness.

On the other hand, berberine activates an enzyme adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which helps stimulate and regulate metabolism. Berberine has been shown to reduce glucose levels and improve insulin resistance but does not replicate the action of semaglutide.

Does berberine work for weight loss?

Studies on berberine and weight loss have been small and inconclusive. Berberine improves insulin resistance and therefore, improves energy expenditure and may reduce body weight.

Is berberine safe?

Berberine is safe for most adults. In addition to helping people with Type 2 diabetes, berberine has several potential health benefits, including:

  • Protecting the gastrointestinal tract by reducing toxins and bacteria

  • Reducing the production of various types of cancer cells

  • Improving blood pressure

  • Reducing hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • Improving glucose metabolism

However, according to Dr. Chu, known side effects of berberine include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Gas

  • Upset stomach

Additionally, Berberine may change how quickly the liver breaks down medications. This can result in higher levels of the medicine and may worsen side effects.

“Like with all supplements, it is important to discuss what you are taking with your physician,” says Dr. Chu. “There may be an interaction between berberine and other medications you are currently taking.” 

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