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TikTok has become a hotbed of questionable medical advice, so it’s understandable to have a healthy dose of skepticism when something new starts making the rounds. The latest: a large number of TikTokers recommend the berberine supplement for weight loss.
I’m about to get Natures Ozempic, says one Tiktok user in a post. It is this supplement called berberine. The side effects don’t seem that bad. (Ozempic, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a type 2 diabetes drug that’s gotten a lot of press for its association with weight loss, although it’s not intended for weight loss.)
Another Tiktoker dubbed Berberine nature Ozempic in a different post. She updated her followers on her weight-loss progress, even sporting baggier-than-normal jeans that she said came after seven weeks of using the supplement.
But the supplement industry is largely unregulated in the United States, raising many questions about whether berberine is safe and what evidence there is to back up the weight loss claims. Here’s the deal, according to nutritionists.
What is Berberine?
Berberine is a botanical compound that targets a protein common in insulin resistance and blood sugar (glucose) generation.
Berberine is a compound you’ll find in many plants that have been used medicinally, says Jessica Cording, RD, nutritionist and author of The Little Book of Revolutionaries. It is being studied for use in the treatment of several conditions, including obesity.
Scott Keatley, RD, co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy, says it has been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic effects, which may explain its popularity on TikTok.
The effects of berberine have been studied as a potential treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), as well as dyslipidemia (high blood cholesterol), type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Scientists specifically looked at how the supplement may help reduce cardiovascular risks from such health conditions.
Can berberine help you lose weight?
Maybe, but there’s more. Some data suggests that berberine may help with weight loss, though it’s important to note that it hasn’t been directly compared to weight-loss drugs like Ozempic.
A 2022 meta-analysis published in frontiers of nutrition, for example, it analyzed data from 49 studies and found that berberine can help boost your metabolism, which could lead to small amounts of weight loss.
“Animal studies have found that berberine could prevent obesity by affecting the expression of genes that promote fat cell growth,” says Deborah Cohen, RDN, associate professor in the Department of Clinical and Preventive Nutrition Sciences at the Rutgers University. Berberine may also help reduce the growth of fat cells by preventing them from taking up glucose and fatty acids, she says.
Berberine decreases the secretion of leptin, a natural hormone that stimulates appetite, Keatley says. But, unlike mice, which are the vast majority of berberine test subjects, we have other compensatory systems for signaling hunger.
Experts say it’s hard to tell at this point whether berberine is, in fact, natures Ozempic.
We really need to see where the research goes: It’s too early to tell whether it definitely helps with weight loss, Cording says. With more people becoming aware of which drug class Ozempic is in, we’ve seen more people look for other options. But berberine needs to be studied more before we can figure out if it is truly effective or safe.
Keri Gans, RDN, author of The diet of small changes, agrees. More controlled human studies are needed, he says.
Side effects of berberine
In general, the potential side effects of taking berberine are thought to be minimal. Cohen says the supplement can cause the following symptoms:
Is berberine safe?
Berberine does not interact well with certain medications and conditions. Anyone taking the drug cyclosporine shouldn’t take berberine, as berberine can increase its effects and the side effects of this drug, he says. Also, people with hypoglycemia and low blood sugar levels should avoid berberine.
People with gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will also likely want to avoid berberine due to its potential for diarrhea, constipation and gas, Cording says. Breastfeeding women should also not take berberine, as it can be passed on to the baby through milk, she adds.
There are always questions about the quality of supplements and whether they are what they claim to be, says Keatley. But, aside from some gastrointestinal discomfort and, potentially, an impaired ability to properly digest large amounts of fat, there were few if any adverse reactions.
Potential drug interactions are a big concern, Gans says. Berberine is known to potentially lower blood sugar levels and should be used with caution for people with diabetes who are on glucose-lowering medications, she says. Also, berberine can interact with many drugs that are broken down by the liver causing a decrease in efficacy and an increase in side effects, such as ibuprofen, losartan, metoprolol, and tamoxifen.
If you’re interested in trying berberine for weight loss, Cording recommends checking with your doctor first to make sure it won’t interact with any medications you’re taking or affect any underlying health conditions you may have.
But experts generally recommend trying weight loss avenues other than supplements. Reduce portion sizes, increase physical activity. Losing weight takes time, says Cohen. The weight has not been gained in two weeks and therefore people should not expect to lose all the weight in two weeks. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Food supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicinal products and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure any disease. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing.
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