(NewsNation) — A plant-derived supplement called berberine is going viral on social media for being a cheaper, natural alternative to Ozempic for those wanting to lose weight.
Posts calling it “nature’s Ozempic” have racked up millions of views on TikTok as users claim it can help with weight loss. But very little is actually known about berberine’s health impacts.
What is berberine?
Berberine is a bright yellow compound extracted from the stem, roots or bark of various plant species.
It is available as a pill or a powder from a range of manufacturers but has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Small studies found berberine can decrease blood glucose and cholesterol, and improve insulin resistance, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Berberine’s possible weight-loss effects may be triggered similarly to the diabetes drug metformin, by improving how cells use insulin, according to Jim Backes, a clinical pharmacist at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Excess insulin in the blood can sometimes make people feel hungrier, and decreasing insulin levels may help reduce that craving, Backes told the WSJ.
Does it work?
While some studies on berberine have suggested the supplement can help with blood glucose and cholesterol, researchers warn that the connection to weight loss is premature and that lifestyle changes like exercise and healthier eating could be responsible for users who reported losing weight.
Researchers are still exploring berberine’s effects on the nervous system, cancer biology, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Some patients at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine who are overweight or obese have experienced moderate weight loss of 5 to 10 pounds over a period of a few months, Dr. Elizabeth Bradley told the WSJ.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at the impact,” Bradley said, noting those taking berberine might also be making other lifestyle changes.
However, some experts suggest the supplement may be acting as a placebo.
“If you believe it is going to help you lose weight, maybe it does,” said Lisa Kroon, a diabetes specialist and professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy.
History of berberine
The plants that produce berberine have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda in India and traditional medicine of the Middle East.
It has been used as a salve for stings and bites, to heal wounds, and to treat things like diabetes, infections and jaundice.
Scientists extracted berberine as the active ingredient in plants at least over 100 years ago, according to Dr. Joshua Levitt, in order to study the compound for metabolic issues like cholesterol and diabetes.