- A supplement called berberine has been dubbed "nature's Ozempic" on social media.
- Users on TikTok and other social media platforms claim that berberine can help people improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood glucose, and lose weight.
- Experts warn that berberine is not a one-to-one replacement for Ozempic or other semaglutide drugs, and that individuals should discuss the supplement with their healthcare provider before use.
Ozempic and other semaglutide drugs have seen a dramatic swell in popularity in the last few years, as these pharmaceuticals have shown promise for stabilizing blood sugar and reducing body weight. Now a supplement called berberine is trending as a “natural” version of Ozempic.
Social media influencers claim that taking berberine can improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood glucose, and help you lose stubborn weight. The hashtag #berberine currently has more than 60 million views on TikTok—an indicator that many are seeking an alternative to sometimes-pricey prescription semaglutides.
It’s not hard to understand the appeal of a “natural” treatment for health issues like diabetes and obesity. But dietary supplements (and TikTokers) often make health claims unproven by evidence and unauthorized by the Food and Drug Administration, leading to confusion about actual documented benefits.
So how does berberine compare to Ozempic or other medications for diabetes management and weight loss? Here’s what experts have to say.
What Is Berberine?
Berberine is a bioactive compound derived from a variety of shrubs, including barberry, Oregon grape, goldthread, tree turmeric, and others. Unlike vitamins and minerals, you won’t find berberine in common foods, so if you’d like to add it to your diet, it’s necessary to take it as a supplement.
Though it may not be a household name in the U.S., berberine traces its medicinal history back thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. More recently, research has linked berberine supplementation with several potential health benefits, including lowering blood sugar, taming inflammation, and reducing cancer risk.
“Berberine lowers blood sugar by increasing the amount of glucose (sugar) that is taken into muscle cells. It does this regardless of insulin status,” Charlie Seltzer, MD, double board-certified physician in obesity and internal medicine, told Health. “It also activates an enzyme called AMPK which may have anti-cancer and anti-aging properties.”
Berberine is available online and in stores, in powder or capsule form. It can be found in doses ranging from of 500–1,500 milligrams.
“Because the half-life of berberine is only several hours, it is best to divide the dosage by taking it two to three times per day at meals (for a total of 1,000–1,500 mg/day),” Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and creator of The Blood Sugar Fix, told Health.
That said, experts urge people to speak to their healthcare providers about berberine before starting it on their own, so they can help you determine if the supplement is right for you, and the correct dosage to take.
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Berberine Vs. Ozempic
As online influencers tout berberine as a “natural Ozempic” for its ability to lower blood sugar and promote weight loss, the question remains: Are these benefits for real? And if so, how do they compare to prescription semaglutide drugs?
To a degree, berberine may be useful for some people. “Research has found berberine to be effective at reducing A1c, lower fasting glucose levels and fasting insulin levels, and reducing post-meal glucose levels,” Palinski-Wade said.
A 2021 systematic review in Frontiers in Pharmacology, for example, found that berberine was not only effective for reducing insulin sensitivity for better management of type 2 diabetes, it also showed promise for improving cholesterol levels.
“In clinical trials, berberine has been shown to decrease fasting and post-meal blood sugar—both short-term and over three months,” Kim Yawitz, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice, told Health.
The primary difference between berberine and Ozempic is the way they work. Semaglutide drugs help the pancreas to release the right amount of insulin when blood sugar is high (thus reducing blood glucose levels). The drug also works by slowing the movement of food through the stomach, ultimately leading to decreased appetite and weight loss.
Berberine, on the other hand, uses a different pathway. “Berberine impacts multiple systems within the body through the activation of the enzyme AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which helps regulate metabolism and impacts your blood sugar levels,” said Palinski-Wade. “By activating this enzyme, berberine essentially triggers various pathways in the body to help regulate blood sugar levels.” According to Palinski-Wade, berberine can also slow down carbohydrate digestion in the gut, which may help reduce blood glucose levels and decrease appetite.
While all these berberine benefits sound promising, the supplement isn’t a one-to-one replacement for semaglutide—and a lack of research makes it difficult to measure the two against each other. “To my knowledge, there are no randomized clinical trials comparing berberine to semaglutides, so we can’t say for sure whether berberine is as effective as medications like Ozempic,” McKenzie Caldwell, MPH, RDN, fertility dietitian and creator of The Insulin Resistance Mini Course, told Health.
Meanwhile, some experts caution that, though berberine may improve blood sugar levels, it won’t have the same effects as Ozempic on weight loss. “Berberine will not have the weight loss properties because it does not have the appetite suppressant properties,” Dr. Seltzer said.
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Potential Downsides of Berberine
Since it’s readily available over the counter, you might expect berberine to come without significant side effects, but that’s not necessarily the case. Though berberine may not share Ozempic’s lengthy list of potential side effects, Yawitz noted that some people may experience diarrhea, gas, nausea, and constipation with large doses.
And just like prescription meds, berberine may interact adversely with other drugs and supplements. Because berberine lowers blood glucose, it could give you dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), especially when paired with other anti-diabetic medications, like metformin.
People with other conditions may need to steer clear of berberine, too. “Caution should be used in patients currently taking additional medications or herbs with hypotensive, hypoglycemic, or anticoagulant effects, as berberine may cause too strong of an added effect alongside these products,” Caldwell said. Berberine should not be taken alongside the medication cyclosporine, or by women who are trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding, she added.
There’s also always the possibility that an OTC supplement will contain more (or less) than you bargained for. Since the FDA does not test supplements before they hit the market, there have been numerous reports over the years of pills packing prohibited substances—or none of the ingredient they claim. It’s always best to choose supplements from a reputable manufacturer whose products undergo third-party quality testing, such as an NSF certification.
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Bottom Line: Is It Worth a Try?
Ultimately, the decision of whether to try berberine is one to make with your healthcare provider.
While it’s not an exact replacement for drugs like Ozempic or other semaglutide medications, it may be a first line of defense for some people before trying a prescription.
“We do know that it can be helpful, and we also know that it has significantly less side effects when compared to semaglutide injections,” Caldwell said. “For this reason, many of my clients opt to try this natural alternative first before trying a stronger medication to help them manage insulin resistance alongside nutrition and lifestyle changes.”
Still, don’t expect berberine to be a miracle pill. Especially for weight loss, it’s unlikely to yield the same results as semaglutides.
“There are a few studies that show berberine can suppress appetite, but the impact is negligible compared to Ozempic,” Dr. Seltzer said. “If you can’t procure Ozempic, it may be worthwhile to try berberine, but I would not expect too much from a weight loss standpoint.”