Why TikTok's Berberine Trend Is NOT Nature's Ozempic

girl using diabetes medication injection
Diabetes medications like Ozempic are commonly used off-label for weight loss.

Berberine is a plant-based compound gaining popularity on social media as a supplement replacement for Ozempic and Wegovy, and it has often been referred to as Nature's Ozempic, being grouped together with the other diabetes medications being used off-label for weight loss. But whether it actually works or not is still up for debate, and the current evidence suggests it is not the miracle drug Tik Tok influencers claim it to be, medical experts told CNN.

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Berberine is found in some plants like European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, phellodendron, and tree turmeric. According to WedMD, it might help strengthen the heartbeat, kill bacteria, help regulate how the body uses sugar in the blood and help reduce swelling. People most commonly use berberine for diabetes, high levels of cholesterol or other fats in the blood and high blood pressure.

The chemical compound has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine, where it has been used to treat various ailments, including fighting inflammation and healing wounds, curing constipation and hemorrhoids and battling infections of the ear, eye, mouth and digestive tract.

Berberine has a variety of functions inside cells. One of the main functions is activating an important enzyme called AMPK, which regulates metabolism. This metabolism regulation and blood sugar stabilization make Berberine appealing to those who use Ozempic off-label for weight loss. Berberine may enhance the body’s natural production of GLP-1, or glucagon-like peptide 1, a gastrointestinal hormone that’s used in Ozempic and other new weight loss drugs in the form of semaglutide. That effect is the main contributor to the connection made between berberine and Ozempic.

As pointed out by Caroline Apovian, M.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Berberine is considered a dietary supplement by the U.S. FDA and is regulated as a food, not a drug. Because of that, proper clinical research has not been done to confirm that its ability to facilitate weight loss is clinically significant.

There are studies that support the compound's weight loss ability, but more research is needed to solidify the potential connection, and the weight loss results have been modest at best and lack clinical credibility. Justin Ryder, M.D., a pediatric obesity researcher and associate professor of surgery and pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told CNN that the decrease in BMI from taking Ozempic and Wegovy compared to placebo was 4.61 BMI units, or 18 times more effective than berberine. 

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