Berberine Called ‘Nature’s Ozempic’ By TikTokers, Here Are Problems With Such Claims

Berberine Called ‘Nature’s Ozempic’ By TikTokers, Here Are Problems With Such Claims


TikTokers have been bringing on a new phrase to describe berberine, a dietary supplement that’s been around for a while. They’ve been calling it “Nature’s Ozempic,” claiming that berberine can help you lose weight like Ozempic can. Ozempic itself has been getting, oh, a lot of attention with lots o’ people on social media and celebrities like Elon Musk, Chelsea Handler, and Remi Bader talking about using Ozempic to shed pounds. Now TikTokers are saying similar things about berberine such as claiming that six weeks of being on the stuff had lead to a seven pound weight loss. But as you probably know, getting health advice from people on social media platforms such as TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter can be a bit like getting major life advice from bathroom stall graffiti. Instead, it’s better to—weight for it, weight for it— wait until you review the actual scientific evidence before deciding whether berberine can be really considered “Nature’s Ozempic” and actually help you lose weight.

Berberine is a chemical normally found in plants like European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, phellodendron, and tree turmeric. That’s why people have been tossing around the “Nature” label when referring to this supplement. But just because something is from Nature or “natural” doesn’t naturally mean “go ahead and put it in your mouth.” Heck, dog poop is from Nature. But putting that in your mouth could leave you in some deep doo-doo.

Over the years, there have been many claims about what berberine can be used to treat, ranging from diabetes to high cholesterol levels to high blood pressure to burns and canker sores to liver disease to Helicobacter pylori infections in your digestive tract to polycystic ovary syndrome to weight loss. But from a regulatory standpoint berberine ain’t like Ozempic. Ozempic, which is the Novo Nordisk brand name for the medication semiglutide, received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in December 2017 for use in people with diabetes. By contrast, berberine has not received FDA approval as a treatment for any condition. It’s remained in the dietary supplement category, which doesn’t receive the same scrutiny as medications do.

Plus, anytime you hear claims that one thing can somehow treat a variety of ailments that seem to have very different causes, be particularly skeptical until you see real scientific evidence supporting those claims. After all, how would you respond if a doctor tells you, “You have either canker sores or diabetes—I can’t quite tell the difference—but let’s treat them the same way?”

So, is there any scientific evidence that berberine is safe and effective way to “berberine” on weight loss? Well, let’s “berberine” in the scientific studies that have been conducted to date. And scientific studies means things that have actually been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals rather than stories from some dudes or dudettes on social media. While social media may be a reliable way of finding cat videos, it’s not necessarily a reliable way of finding real science.

Some laboratory and rat studies have suggested that berberine may have some metabolic effects such as affecting the bacteria in one’s gut and activating brown fat or brown adipose tissue. What can brown fat do for you? Unlike the more abundant white fat, brown fat help burn calories by converting them into body heat. So, if berberine can indeed activate this action, that could potentially lead to weight loss. But remember you are probably not a rat—regardless of what others think of you—assuming that you don’t have a long tail and whiskers. Just because something may do something in a laboratory or other animals doesn’t mean that it will work for humans.

There have been clinical trials testing the use of berberine in humans. But the words “high quality” are the first words that come to mind when reviewing many of these studies. In fact, it isn’t even the second or third words. A team from Tehran University of Medical Sciences and Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran, did compile the results of these trials in a systematic review and meta-analysis that was described in a publication in Frontiers in Nutrition in October 2022. The authors found 49 such trials and pooled results from these trials. According to the authors, such pooled results showed that berberine use was associated with decreases in systolic blood pressure by an average of 5.46 mmHg, weight by an average of 0.84 kg, which is about 1.85 pounds, and body mass index by an average of −0.25 kg/m2. They also mentioned that these pooled results showed significant decreases in the blood levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, fasting blood glucose, insulin, and hemoglobin A1c.

A 1.85 pound weight loss is not a dramatic amount of weight loss. It’s a little less than the typical weight of a pair of shoes or two towels or two jars of peanut butter depending on what you like to wear on your body. That is significantly less than the average weight loss of eight pounds among people taking a 0.5 mg weekly injection of Ozempic in a clinical trial, as described by a publication in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. That doesn’t quite support the “Nature’s Ozempic” moniker for berberine.

Moreover, it’s important to be a bit meta about meta-analyses. The results of a meta-analysis depend heavily on the quality of available studies out there. As mentioned earlier, if you look more closely at the trials included in this meta-analysis, a number do suffer from methodologic limitations such as not large enough sample sizes or inadequate controls. Moreover, this met-analysis was a bit fruity in that it compared a lot of apples with oranges, meaning that it combined trials that really sued berberine for different purposes. For example, a clinical trial that focuses on the use of berberine for women with polycystic ovary syndrome can be very different from a trial looking at the use of berberine to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The meta-analysis also looked at a rather broad range of outcomes, cardiovascular risk factors in adults, rather than focusing on weight loss. Therefore, take the results from this analysis with an Ugg boot full of salt. More better quality studies are needed to really determine whether berberine can help humans lose weight.

More better quality studies are needed to determine how safe berberine is to take over longer periods of time as well. It’s not as if major safety concerns have emerged so far. There haven’t been warnings that berberine has a significant risk of causing your head to fall off, you to sing Chris de Burgh “The Lady in Red” or other major bad side effects. The most commonly reported side effects include diarrhea, constipation, gas, and having an upset stomach, which don’t sound terrible as long as you are not on a date or in a job interview. But without more formal safety studies, it’s difficult to tell for sure what taking beriberine over longer periods of time may do to you.

Now one thing is clear: don’t take berberine if you are breast feeding. You can transfer berberine through your breast milk to the newborn. And berberine may inhibit a newborn’s liver from removing bilirubin from the blood. Bilirubin results when red blood cells get broken down. Too much bilirubin the body can lead to jaundice, which in turn can lead to brain damage and other bad stuff. So before you even consider putting berberine in your mouth, check to see if you are breast feeding, which should be fairly obvious when it happens.

All told, calling berberine “Nature’s Ozempic” is not a natural thing to do at this point. So far, there is not enough clear scientific evidence that taking berberine is a safe and effective to lose weight. Individual anecdotes just are not enough evidence. When someone tells you that they lost weight when taking a supplement, you often don’t know what else was happening in that person’s life around the same time. Maybe that person changed his or her diet, physical activity levels, sleep patterns, life circumstances, interest in Nickelback, or other key things in the process too. And unless you followed what that person was doing night and day—which in many cases would be considered stalking—you don’t know whether that person was actually taking berberine and actually had the weight loss that’s being claimed.

This certainly isn’t the first time that big claims have been made about weight loss with little scientific evidence. If you are trying to lose weight don’t expect to find some kind of miracle treatment. Instead, achieving sustainable weight loss typically requires a combination of different lifestyle changes. Sure clinical trials have shown that using Ozempic can lead to weight loss. And Ozempic may serve an important role for those who have already diligently tried lifestyle changes to no avail. But it’s still not clear how long the weight loss from Ozempic can be maintained, how effective Ozempic may be in a broader range of people, and what the effects of this medication may be over the longer term. When you are struggling to lose weight, talk to a medical doctor—a real medical doctor—before trying any medication. Don’t simply naturally opt for Ozempic either.