Berberine, The "Natural Ozempic" That's Sweeping TikTok: Does It Really Work?

Through platforms such as TikTok, people spread the idea that berberine is an effective weight loss supplement. But is it true?
Berberine, The "Natural Ozempic" That's Sweeping TikTok: Does It Really Work?
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 17 June, 2023

It’s no secret that TikTok has become one of the leading sources of information when it comes to lifestyle and health tips. However, many of its trends have been full of controversy. On this occasion, we’re going to talk about berberine, labeled by some Internet users as the “natural Ozempic”. But does it really work?

First of all, let’s remember that Ozempic is a drug used for the treatment of diabetes. It became popular some time ago, as both celebrities and influencers testified on social networks about its effectiveness for weight loss.

Such was its impact, that some called it “the Hollywood drug” and there was a shortage that considerably raised its cost. Now, users are spreading the idea of an alternative with similar effects, but at a more accessible price: berberine. We tell you more about its effects and possible risks.

Berberine: nature’s Ozempic?

Berberine is a botanical compound found in plants of the Berberis family, such as Berberis vulgaris L., Berberis aristata L., Berberis croatica L., among others. To be more precise, it’s obtained from the roots, rhizomes, stems, and bark of these plants.

Just like Ozempic, the plant is used against disorders that fall under the category of metabolic syndrome. A review shared in the journal Molecules details that it has scientifically determined mechanisms for the prevention of atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

In fact, it has shown positive effects against inflammatory disorders and alterations of the microbiota. Hence, it’s also linked to the prevention of other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. But is it nature’s Ozempic?

According to its promoters, this herbal supplement helps fight insulin resistance and is ideal for stimulating metabolism and weight loss. What is more interesting for some is that it’s available without a prescription and its price is significantly lower compared to the drug mentioned above.

Even so, doctors warn that neither Ozempic nor berberine are the best options when it comes to weight loss. They don’t have the almost-miraculous effects that some claim and are not exempt from causing side effects.

Ozempic is only approved for use in patients with type 2 diabetes. For these cases, it has shown potential as an adjuvant against insulin resistance and weight loss. In healthy people, it should never be used as a weight loss supplement.

How is berberine different from Ozempic?

Although berberine was dubbed by Internet users as the “natural Ozempic”, in reference to its effects on weight loss, the truth is that both have different mechanisms of action.

Ozempic is categorized as a GLP-1 agonist that mimics the action of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). This targets the areas of the brain that regulate appetite and, in turn, helps to delay gastric emptying. Thus, people who consume it feel less hungry and tend to eat less.

Meanwhile, the weight loss effects of berberine are associated with the activation of a metabolic pathway known as AMPK (Adenine Monophosphate Activated Protein Kinase ) and the optimization of insulin sensitivity. Activation of the AMPK pathway leads to an increase in the production of mitochondria in cells, which are involved in energy and fat metabolism.

In addition, berberine is associated with an increase in insulin release and a decrease in glucagon release. This balance is also reflected in positive effects on weight control.

However, the use of berberine for weight loss is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s cautioned that its intake is contraindicated in some cases and that it’s not free of adverse effects.
Planta de berberina para el suplemento para bajar de peso
Berberis vulgaris.

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Ozempic and berberine may have the potential for weight loss

As detailed above, both the effects of Ozempic and berberine have been studied. Thus, it has been determined that they may have a potential for weight loss, particularly in people with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

A clinical trial reported in the academic journal JAMA Network reported that overweight and obese patients who received a dose of 2.4 milligrams of semaglutide (the active compound in Ozempic) experienced weight loss of up to 6% in 12 weeks and up to 12% after 28 weeks.

Berberine, meanwhile, has been studied as an adjuvant against metabolic syndrome. A review shared in the American Journal of Translational Research states that this substance is a potential therapeutic agent against insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and obesity.

Likewise, a review in Clinical Nutrition ESPEN found that berberine supplementation helped in decreasing body weight, body mass index, and abdominal fat. Hence, it’s linked to an improvement in clinical symptoms of metabolic diseases.

So which is better for weight loss?

At this point, it’s very important to make it clear that neither Ozempic nor berberine are miracle weight loss products. The way they have been promoted through social networks has led many consumers to believe that they are the ideal supplement to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

The truth is that this idea is far from reality. It must be considered that the existing studies have been done in animals and in small-scale human trials. Therefore, there is a need for more extensive research to corroborate their effects.

Furthermore, both substances have been evaluated mainly in conditions of metabolic syndrome (diabetes, obesity, and dyslipidemia). Therefore, there is no certainty that they cause the same effects in people who are not in this population group.

Ozempic is only authorized for use in patients with type 2 diabetes and berberine has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any prescription use. Thus, it’s not advisable to use them without medical supervision.

The risks of berberine consumption

Another of the arguments of those who defend the consumption of berberine as a weight loss supplement is that, being of natural origin, it would not cause the side effects that Ozempic can cause. But while it’s true that its adverse reactions are different, this supplement is not risk-free.

Its consumption may cause the following unwanted symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps

Often, these symptoms disappear as soon as the body gets used to the dose. The latter is usually up to 1.5 grams or 1500 milligrams per day, divided into 3 doses.

It isn’t recommended to extend its intake for more than 8 consecutive weeks.

The reason is that its antimicrobial effects can lead to negative alterations of the intestinal microbiota. The imbalance increases the risk of other digestive problems.

Other contraindications of this supplement are the following:

  • Pregnancy and lactation
  • Concomitant consumption of medications (oral contraceptives, immunosuppressants, beta-blockers, or antidepressants)

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Neither berberine nor Ozempic are panaceas for weight loss

The therapeutic potential of berberine and Ozempic in weight loss is still being documented. In both cases, benefits have been observed when used in patients suffering from type 2 diabetes, overweight, or obesity. Despite this, their intake should be prudent and only with medical authorization.

It’s essential to understand that these products – like other supplements – are not panaceas when the goal is to lose weight. On their own, they do not compensate for the effects of lifestyle.

In general, weight loss requires a multidisciplinary and individualized approach, since it’s necessary to correct eating habits, adopt an exercise routine, manage emotions, and address possible underlying diseases.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.