When you’re looking to lose weight, quick results always seem the most ideal. You’ve likely heard increasingly more and more chatter surrounding Semaglutide drugs such as Wegovy and Ozempic and the celebs who are taking them to meet their weight loss goals. If you’re not eligible for these types of weight loss drugs, you may have also heard about alternatives like berberine, which is being hailed on the internet as “nature’s Ozempic.” We spoke with Dr. NavNirat Nibber, senior medical advisor at AOR and a naturopathic doctor based in Canada, who shares everything there is to know about berberine, including if it really helps you lose weight, and of course, if it’s safe. Keep reading to learn more, and when you’re finished, don’t miss People Are Using a Diabetes Drug To Lose Weight—but Is It Safe?
What is berberine?
Dr. Nibber describes berberine as an “active molecule” found in plants like barberry. It’s been used for quite some time as a supplement and more recently gained traction as a natural alternative to Ozempic. But in reality, berberine is a lot more complex than that. While it could aid in your fat loss efforts, it goes about it differently than the popular prescribed weight loss drugs out there.
“Specifically, Ozempic and Wegovy, assist in rapid weight loss by three mechanisms: blood sugar regulation, appetite suppression, and decreasing gastric (stomach) emptying,” Dr. Nibber explains. “Berberine has many actions, but the one being most talked about is that it actually activates an important gene pathway called AMPK which regulates energy balance in cells particularly important for determining how sensitive cells are to insulin (and therefore the ability to take sugars from circulation into cells). This pathway is the primary mechanism for the popular diabetes drug, Metformin.”
In addition to weight loss, you can utilize berberine as an antimicrobial or to give your digestive system a boost. Berberine is also an underrated method to improve cardiovascular health; Dr. Nibber points out it can aid in reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) along with total cholesterol.
Is taking berberine a safe and effective way to lose weight?
Finding quick ways to lose weight has become increasingly more popular over the past 10 years, Dr. Nibber tells us. She notes that berberine won’t provide the extent of weight loss that you may receive from FDA-approved weight loss drugs. In addition, its effect will be more noticeable in individuals who are more insulin resistant, and it will have less of an impact on people who are insulin sensitive. It functions as a “baby Metformin,” Dr. Nibber explains, “which is an anti-diabetic medication that can be used for weight loss depending on an individual’s insulin resistance.”
Again, it’s important to stress that not all individuals who go down the road of taking berberine for weight loss will achieve their desired results. But it can certainly be helpful in starting the weight loss process for those with insulin dysregulation, which causes weight gain.
“For anyone looking to lose weight, you must first identify the source of weight gain or weight retention,” Dr. Nibber says. “For example, if it is hormonal, you must correct the cause of the hormonal change. Additionally, the natural weight loss alternative can help avoid the destruction of your microbiome, which affects your mood and neurotransmitter function and can thus lead to hormonal dysregulation (cystic acne, anxiety, etc.). Another very important consideration given that it does have anti-microbial effects is the impact on your microbiome. Long-term use may not be ideal for individuals with GI conditions such as IBS and should be monitored by a qualified hcp.”
How should berberine be taken for weight loss?
If you’re a suitable candidate, Dr. Nibber explains that taking 500mg of berberine two times daily can help kickstart your weight loss efforts. She does warn, though, that if you’re coming off of Ozempic and switching over to berberine, you have the potential to experience rebound weight gain. “So to transition out, one must have a very clear plan as to how they will self-correct their metabolism from shooting back up,” Dr. Nibber says. “Taking them together is not advisable as it increases the risk for hypoglycemia. That transition plan is usually a caloric restriction type diet, which can sometimes perpetuate ideas of disordered eating. This is something that we see frequently when we speak silver bullet approaches to weigh management.”
Keep in mind that what works for someone else may not work for you. It’s always a smart (and recommended) idea to chat with your healthcare provider before starting any kind of weight loss plan. They will help you curate an individualized routine for yourself rather than simply following the latest fad. As Dr. Nibber puts it, “Listen to your body and needs and check in with your motivations for weight loss. Also, be mindful of the toll it can have on your mental health.”