5 fast facts about berberine, the weight-loss supplement blowing up on TikTok

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By now, most Americans have heard of Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy, the Type 2 diabetes drugs that are also helping people lose weight — in some cases, significant amounts. 

But not everyone may qualify for the drugs through their insurance. And the medications can be expensive for those without insurance — in some cases around $1,000 a month. On top of that, because of their surging popularity, the drugs can sometimes be in short supply

See also: The dark side of the weight-loss-drug craze: eating disorders, medication shortages, dangerous knockoffs

All of which has set the stage for a low-cost, non-prescription alternative to emerge — and gain quite the buzz through social media. We’re talking berberine, which is sometimes described as “nature’s Ozempic.” A report in the Guardian said videos about berberine have garnered more than 92 million views

But if you’re considering taking berberine, what should you keep in mind? Here are five things worth knowing.

What is berberine?

Think plants. That is, berberine is a “bright-yellow compound [that] can be extracted from the stem, roots or bark of a variety of plant species,” according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. And it’s hardly new. The Journal adds: “Plants that produce berberine have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine practiced in China, India and the Middle East — as a salve for stings and bites, to heal wounds and to treat disorders including diabetes, infection and jaundice.”

So, in effect, it’s a supplement — and it can be purchased through a wide variety of manufacturers in many formulations. Just look it up on Amazon and you’ll find dozens of choices

How effective is it?

Here’s where there’s a lot of debate and discussion. To be clear, berberine isn’t semaglutide, which is the key ingredient in Ozempic

and Wegovy
Nor is it tirzepatide, the key ingredient in Mounjaro
But it does have various health benefits, according to numerous reports. The New York Times points to a “growing body of research over the last 20 years…[that] suggests that berberine can potentially help lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.”

But what about helping you drop some pounds? The Times says “whether it can actually induce weight loss remains murky.” Similarly, the Journal noted that the weight-loss studies involving berberine “have been patchy and preliminary.” One small scientific study said berberine provided “a moderate weight loss effect.”

Still, plenty of people on social media are sharing their success stories of shedding weight while on berberine. As one person tweeted: “It will nuke your appetite, kill your cravings, and you will lose about a pound a week.”

How safe is it?

The supplement is generally well-tolerated, according to many reports. 

“Berberine is possibly safe for most adults,” says the WebMD site. “It’s been used safely in doses up to 1.5 grams daily for six months. Common side effects include diarrhea, constipation, gas and upset stomach.”

But something else to consider is, depending upon the formulation, berberine may be combined with other ingredients that could potentially pose problems or risks. And a 2018 Journal of Dietary Supplements study found differences in product quality and potency among various berberine products on the market, saying the situation “may significantly contribute to inconsistencies in the [supplement’s] safety and effectiveness.” 

There are also concerns about how berberine may interact with other medications. The Times report noted that the combination of berberine and Metformin could be “particularly dangerous.”

A final warning: As the Journal notes, berberine, like other supplements, isn’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

How much does it cost?

Prices vary depending upon the brand, but berberine is nowhere near as expensive as such prescription drugs as Ozempic and Mounjaro, especially if you’re without insurance coverage. The Journal of Dietary Supplements study found monthly costs for berberine ranged from $8.48 to $47.40. That said, since demand has increased of late for the supplement, there are reports that prices are also increasing. 

So, should you take berberine?

Obviously, it’s a personal choice. But as with any supplement, the general advice is to consult your physician before starting. 

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