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Can berberine help with weight loss?

Tiktok videos claim this plant-based supplement is a substitute for semaglutide medications

With the popularity of semaglutide injectables continually growing, people are turning to medication to aid in weight loss more than ever. Although medications, Wegovy and Mounjaro, are proven to help patients lose weight, they can often be prohibitively expensive as many insurance providers do not offer coverage. Enter berberine, a plant-based supplement sometimes called “nature’s Ozempic” that is trending on social media as an alternative to weight-loss drugs. While this concept is appealing, and there are potential health benefits of taking a berberine supplement, its promise for slimming your waistline is not entirely proven.

Does berberine help with weight loss?

Berberine is a yellow alkaloid compound extracted from several plants such as goldenseal, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric. It’s available in supplement form as a capsule or soft gel. Some research shows that berberine may help with weight loss, but data proving its effectiveness is limited—and some benefits are shown in animal research only. As of 2022, only about 40 studies have been conducted on berberine for weight loss. 

“While the results were promising, the studies weren’t large enough to say definitively that berberine is an effective weight loss treatment,” says Kathleen Jordan, MD, the chief medical officer at Midi Health in San Francisco. For example, “an often-cited study that generated much excitement around berberine’s use for weight management had only seven enrolled patients.” 

Beyond that, berberine isn’t as effective for weight loss as methods approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). People taking berberine can expect to lose about four or five pounds over one to three months, says Mir Ali, MD, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of the MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Meanwhile, people taking Ozempic for weight loss lost nine to 12 pounds and those taking Wegovy dropped an average of 35 pounds. People taking Mounjaro lost more than 20% of their body weight during the study period.

However, there is promising research on other potential benefits of berberine. Research shows that it can:

“Berberine has been shown to reduce average blood sugar levels and HbA1C (the lab value that measures average blood sugar levels over three months), lower triglycerides and lipid levels, and positively affect metabolic syndrome,” Dr. Jordan says.

How long does it take for berberine to work for weight loss?

As with all dietary supplements, how quickly berberine works and how much weight you lose depends on how your body reacts to it and how you change your life otherwise. One study showed that subjects had a five-pound weight loss over the course of 12 weeks. 

“The amount of weight loss [with berberine] definitely varies,” says Traci Eliszewski, a nurse practitioner with Forum Health in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. “Other factors such as an individual’s diet, exercise routine, and overall health play a role. While berberine may support weight loss efforts, it is important to remember that it is not a magic pill and should be used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle.”

Berberine dosage for weight loss

The recommended dosage of berberine is between 400 mg to 1,500 mg daily. Dr. Jordan notes that the most convincing evidence for berberine-related weight loss suggests taking a 500 mg tablet three times per day for a total of 1,500 mg a day. You may need to take the higher end of the dose range if you are attempting to regulate your blood glucose levels with berberine and no other medication, according to Eliszewski. 

It’s considered safe to take berberine daily for up to two years. “It is generally recommended to take it with meals to enhance absorption and minimize potential digestive discomfort,” Eliszewski says. In fact, taking it 30 minutes before a meal can enhance its effectiveness as it’s already in your system when you start eating. Just keep a watchful eye on how you’re feeling and if you’re having any adverse effects. 

As with any new supplement, talk to your healthcare provider and see what they recommend before starting berberine so they can keep you informed about how you may react to it based on your medical history.

Side effects of berberine

Most people take berberine without incident. The side effects of berberine are mostly digestion-related and include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Stomach upset

These issues can often be resolved by taking the supplement with food. If you are concerned about new or increased gastrointestinal issues, stop taking berberine and talk to your healthcare provider. 

Neurological side effects are rare but can occur.

Who should not take berberine for weight loss?

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take berberine, Dr. Ali says. The supplement can pass to your fetus or child and cause harm. 

Additionally, if you have diabetes, you must watch your blood sugar closely. “Berberine can lower your blood sugars and decrease your insulin needs,” Dr.  Jordan says. “Adjustments can be made under the advice of your diabetes physician.”

Berberine also interacts with a number of medicines, so check with your healthcare provider and pharmacist before starting it if you’re taking any other medications or supplements. Some examples of drug interactions include:

  • Cyclosporine
  • Warfarin
  • Plavix (clopidogrel)
  • Eliquis
  • Pradaxa
  • Xarelto
  • Cozaar (losartan) and other medications that lower blood pressure
  • Metformin and other medicines that lower blood sugar
  • Tacrolimus
  • Pentobarbital
  • Versed (midazolam)
  • Dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant found in medications such as Robitussin DM)
  • Sedatives (such as medications for sleep or anxiety)

Dr. Jordan also warns “not to confuse it with Berberine Complex, which has a different use, with lower amounts of berberine combined with other vitamins and minerals.”

RELATED: Alternatives to berberine for weight loss

The bottom line: Berberine can help with minimal weight loss

Overall, berberine is a potential weight-loss aid that’s safe for most people. However, because studies have been limited and quite small, physicians say it cannot be definitively called a weight-loss supplement. It’s also important to note that berberine is an over-the-counter supplement with limited regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, so there may be side effects and risk factors that are still unknown. Carefully monitor how you feel when you take it, and stop taking it immediately if any adverse side effects occur.