Wellness topics on TikTok have a tendency to create a bit of a frenzy—especially when promising a health and wellness “hack”. Berberine is the latest ancient remedy caught up in the viral craze. The traditional supplement is having a big moment lately as nutritionists hail its benefits as a gentler, safer weight loss protocol than Ozempic. But is it true?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Ozempic is the newly popular peptide therapy originally intended to support those with type 2 diabetes. Its off-label use has sparked a weight loss frenzy here in L.A. with near-hysteric speculation after every celebrity transformation. (You can read our in-depth take on peptide therapies here—there’s so much more to learn about than just Ozempic!)
Naturally, celebrity weight loss protocols continue to be our culture’s shameless obsession. Although we rarely touch on the topic of weight loss, we wanted to tap our experts to help break down the traditional benefits of berberine and why the supplement actually belongs in a class of its own…
Is Berberine Really ‘Nature’s Ozempic’?
As is the case with so many holistic health protocols going viral these days—berberine has actually been around for years. You can find it in the medicine cabinets of many a wellness pro—Dr. Will Cole, for example, recently shared on his podcast that he’s used berberine in his clinic for over 13 years—and it’s been right under your nose in the supplement aisle for ages. If you’ve ever taken a natural anti-candida complex, you may have even taken berberine already.
First, let’s break down the potential blood sugar balance and metabolism benefits specifically so we can clear the air on those Ozempic comparisons. Bottom line: berberine is not specifically a weight loss herb, nor does it specifically recreate the effects of a semaglutide like Ozempic which mimics a gut hormone called GLP-1 which helps regulate blood sugar levels.
“It is true that berberine, in the correct bioavailable form, can certainly support healthier glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and ultimately help improve body composition and aid in weight loss,” explains Dr. David M. Brady, Chief Medical Officer at Designs for Health. “However, recent claims that it is the ‘natural semaglutide or Ozempic’ are overly simplistic and exaggerated.”
Berberine Is Closer To Being Nature’s Metformin, Not Ozempic
Berberine, instead, works more subtly over a variety of mechanisms. As the traditional supplement has been shown to activate an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), it’s actually closer to how another type 2 diabetes treatment that has widely been used for years in function, called Metformin. By activating AMPK, berberine may help increase metabolism, leading to potential weight loss effects. Plus, as with the purpose of Metfomin, research suggests that berberine may improve insulin sensitivity, help reduce glucose production in the liver, and promote the uptake of glucose into cells. These effects can help regulate blood sugar levels and potentially benefit individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance.
“While berberine can improve glucose and insulin metabolism, it generally does not possess nearly the level of strong appetite suppression, gastric motility slowing, and rapid weight loss as the medications,” says Dr. Brady.
We asked Shira Barlow, registered dietitian, for her take: “I do like the idea of berberine as opposed to the GLP-1 antagonists like Ozempic and Mounjaro in people without uncontrolled diabetes because it’s less powerful on insulin receptors, so there’s less risk of over-sensitizing them. While the GLP-1 antagonists have been engineered to stay metabolically active in the body for a long time, berberine is getting metabolized, which I think is ultimately a good thing unless you are experiencing uncontrolled diabetes or serious risk factors associated with decreased insulin sensitivity.”
Another reason to love a natural approach? With these formulas there’s always a more potential benefits for your health beyond the specific reason you may have intended. Metabolism and blood sugar regulation are just two of the laundry list of potential benefits seen with using berberine supplementation.
Why Berberine Is So Widely Beloved By Wellness Pros
Berberine has been used for years in traditional Native American, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for its potential health benefits. The bitter-tasting alkaloid compound is found in the roots, rhizomes and stem bark of various plants such as goldenseal, Oregon grape, barberry, goldthread. These plants had been used to treat a wide variety of ailments including eye conditions, diarrhea, jaundice, acne, and more. It was first isolated in the early 20th century from plants used in traditional Chinese medicine and now sold in powder or pill form.
What Are The Benefits? “Berberine has been clinically studied for numerous applications in cardiometabolic health such as supporting healthy blood sugar and lipid metabolism, supporting normal insulin sensitivity as well as supporting general cardiovascular health,” explains Dr. Brady. “Berberine has a range of effects on cardiovascular health including the support of healthy vessels and a normal response to oxidative stress and inflammation. Berberine may also support digestion and promote healthy microbial balance in the gastrointestinal tract.”
+ Metabolism and weight loss: Berberine has been found to influence certain metabolic processes, such as activating an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). This enzyme plays a role in regulating metabolism and energy production. By activating AMPK, berberine may help increase metabolism, leading to potential weight loss effects.
+ Blood sugar regulation: Berberine has been studied for its effects on blood sugar levels. Research suggests that it may improve insulin sensitivity, help reduce glucose production in the liver, and promote the uptake of glucose into cells. These effects can help regulate blood sugar levels and potentially benefit individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance.
+ Cholesterol management: Some studies have indicated that berberine may help lower cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides. It may also raise levels of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). By improving lipid profiles, berberine may contribute to overall cardiovascular health.
+ Decrease inflammation: Berberine has been found to have potent anti-inflammatory effects, which can help reduce inflammation throughout the body. By suppressing inflammatory cytokines and regulating immune responses, it may alleviate symptoms of various inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
+ Support digestive health: Berberine may benefit digestive health by reducing symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders like diarrhea, IBS, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). It has been shown to help regulate gut motility, reduce inflammation, and restore the balance of gut bacteria, thereby improving overall digestive function.
+ Antimicrobial activity: Studies show that berberine may have antimicrobial benefits against various bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Therefore it may inhibit the growth of harmful organisms, making it helpful in treating various infections, including respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, and gut health concerns such as candida overgrowth.
Further studies are being done to understand berberine’s potential benefits for brain health, fatty liver disease, and supportive PCOS treatments.
How should I use it? “Berberine has been used safely in doses up to 1500 mg per day for 6 months and 1 gram daily for up to 24 months in various studies,” says Dr. Brady. But the key to this supplement is the limited bioavailability—may only be a 1% uptake in powder form!—so it’s important to ensure you’re taking something formulated to ensure your body can actually use it. Designs For Health combines berberine with quillaja extract (from an evergreen tree found in South America) to enhance bioavailability in their formula Berb-Evail, for example.
Dr. Sara Gottfried, author of The Hormone Cure, recommends taking 300 to 500 milligrams one to three times per day and suggests that benefits can be improved further when combined with milk thistle.
What are the risks? As with any supplement, it’s important to work with a functional doctor or holistic health practitioner to ensure what you’re taking is actually right for you. “Since berberine is a botanical ingredient, it does have the potential to interact with numerous classes of prescription medications and may have an additive effect when combined with other dietary supplements,” warns Dr. Brady. “Everyone should talk to their health care provider if they are taking any prescription medications prior to starting berberine supplementation.”
Do We Actually Need Supplements To Impact Our Natural Metabolic Processes?
If you’ve been a longtime TCM reader, then you know there’s no “silver bullet” when it comes to your overall health and wellbeing. Every single one of us has a unique and individual makeup influenced by genetics, lifestyle, specific health conditions, etc. What works well for one person, may not work well for another. This is especially true when it comes to the complex systems that influence metabolism.
“Human metabolism is an extremely complex network of biochemical interactions and using any external agent, be it a natural supplement or prescription medication, can have positive or negative ramifications, and in many cases can have both,” warns Dr. Brady.
Shira explains: “My 5 year old son sometimes futzes with our thermostat, turning it on and off and on again and when I ask him to stop and he asks me why I tell him ‘because you could break it’. Intuitively I have this concern that if we futz too much with these delicate metabolic systems we could throw them off.”
Berberine has the potential for a huge variety of health benefits and could definitely be worth exploring, but be sure to gain proper guidance from an expert before undertaking any supplement, such as Designs for Health Berb-Evail, that impacts homeostasis and metabolic processes. No matter how many views #naturesozempic has on social media.
We also love Cymbiotika for overall metabolism support if you want to keep thing natural and support a healthful balance. Learn more about the well-researched and comprehensive ingredients in Metabolic Support, formulated to down-regulate appetite, enhance satiety, and optimize fat modulation.