You’ve likely heard buzz about new injectable drugs that make extra weight seem to simply fall off. But what about the millions of us who can’t get or don’t want Ozempic? TikTok is buzzing about a drugstore supplement that’s been dubbed “nature’s Ozempic.” In fact, it’s racking up views—60 million and counting. The supposed secret to slim: berberine. But how does it compare to Ozempic — and what benefits can you expect?
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is one name brand of a type of prescription drug called semaglutide. Originally approved as a diabetes drug, it slims primarily “by increasing levels of a hormone called GLP-1, which improves blood sugar control and insulin function as it signals our brains that we’re full,” explains Columbia University–trained nutrition expert and A-List Diet author Fred Pescatore, MD. The more GLP-1 we make, the less we want to eat.
On top of that, chronically high blood sugar comes down, shifting our body chemistry in favor of more effortless weight loss. It’s why studies show dieters who boost GLP-1 lose about 5.5 times more weight than those who don’t. Now, you might be wondering why we don’t all just take semaglutide. Well, it’s pricey, can cause GI distress and gallstones, “and has to be injected,” notes the doc. (To hear what more doctors have to say about these weight-loss injectables, click here.)
What is berberine?
Berberine is a golden compound found naturally in plants like turmeric and goldenseal. While berberine does not work in the body the same way semaglutide does, there has been buzz about its ability to boost metabolism, balance blood sugar and burn fat that suggests that it can similarly help you lose weight without really trying.
Scientists say the effect is so pronounced, it helped participants in one study reverse their clinical obesity. There’s also evidence berberine can dramatically improve cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and more. “I’m convinced that berberine is one of the most beneficial of all natural therapies,” says integrative medicine pioneer Julian Whitaker, MD, who shares wellness advice on HealthyDirections.com. Women we spoke with are enthusiastic, saying berberine is transforming their health while making it easy to lose a pound a day.
Berberine has been used as medicine for so long, ancient healers actually wrote about it on clay tablets. But it didn’t get much attention in modern times until recently, “when small clinical trials demonstrated its remarkable ability to lower blood sugar and cholesterol,” notes Dr. Whitaker. In fact, research suggests a 1,500-milligram daily dose of berberine may slash blood sugar by up to twice as much as the common diabetes drug metformin.
On top of that, it may help lower triglycerides and total cholesterol. “Berberine is really a ‘what can’t it do?’ kind of herb,” says Dr. Pescatore. He adds that while more berberine research is needed, we already know lots of exciting things.
How does berberine help weight loss?
By now, we’ve all heard we should go easy on processed food. But what’s the biggest reason? Turns out, too much processed junk damages delicate mechanisms inside us, making it harder and harder for the hormone insulin to usher blood sugar — a type of fuel made from carbs — into cells to burn for energy. The result is a domino effect of fatigue, weight gain, and poor health.
This is where berberine may be able to help. The herb “binds to cells and asks them to open up for blood sugar,” explains Dr. Pescatore. It gives insulin a much-needed hand, so sugar once destined to end up plumping our fat cells can instead be used to power our engines. Plus, berberine’s blood sugar–lowering ability may help prevent and even reverse prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
As if these berberine benefits weren’t enough, the compound also “minimizes the absorption of carbs and fat from the food we eat,” according to berberine fan Stephanie Redmond, PharmD., co-founder of DiabetesDoctor.com. Bonus: As fat absorption decreases, cholesterol levels drop too. It’s a win-win and then some.
How can berberine help women over 50 lose weight?
Already struggling to control her weight and type 2 diabetes when menopause hit, Elena Correia started gaining and gaining. The Florida yo-yo dieter, 52, recalls, “My instincts told me to look for a natural solution.” She stuck to wholesome foods and exercised, yet progress was slow — until a friend suggested berberine. With her doctor’s blessing, Elena added 500 milligrams of it before meals. Her blood sugar and metabolism responded. “Suddenly, I could go out to dinner and enjoy myself without even thinking about it!” The next thing she knew, she’d lost 60 pounds, her energy sky-high. “I lost my menopause belly and got my health back!”
What's the best way to get enough berberine?
How can we get enough berberine to reap all its rewards? There’s simply not enough available in common foods, so Dr. Pescatore recommends a 500-milligram supplement three times daily. One we like: Naomi Berberine ($39).
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman's World.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
This article was updated on June 5, 2023. It was originally published on September 25, 2021.