What’s the Deal with Berberine?:
The Benefits and Potential Dangers of a Popular and Powerful Supplement
Baby, it’s Berberine!
One of our favorite supplements seems to be enjoying some time in the limelight, so we thought we’d weigh in with some important information about this powerful botanical supplement.
Now, we’ve already published a blog post on the 5 Benefits of Berberine and you can check that out for general information. This post is here to address some concerns that the recent popularization of Berberine has brought to our attention.
I Saw It on TikTok
Recent research (and TikTok videos) have shown Berberine to be a helpful metabolic support for certain people. But who should take it and who shouldn’t? Are there side effects? Does it really cause weight loss? Is it safe? Is it a good substitute for prescription drugs like Wegovey and Ozempic?
Let’s get into it and we’ll tell you what we know.
What Is It?
If you were to ask your average influencer this question, they might respond with, “magic,” or “nature’s Ozempic.”
We have a more scientific answer. It’s a plant alkaloid, AKA a fancy molecule found in certain plants. Other plant alkaloids you may be familiar with include nicotine, morphine, and caffeine. 1 It doesn’t act like any of those compounds though; it’s its own brand of awesome.
Where Does It Come From?
Plant species that contain Berberine include Barberry, Oregon Grape, and Tree Turmeric, but Berberine is only a very small part of the plant, in the same way that caffeine is a small part of coffee, tea, and cacao. 1, 2
What Is It Good For?
Berberine has a long history of use in Asian cultures. Both Ayrvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine practices have used Berberine for hundreds of years to treat a variety of ailments. Mostly though, they have used it to treat diarrhea and infections of the digestive tract, owing to its reputed antimicrobial effects. 2
These days, Westerners mostly use it for metabolic problems. Berberine has been shown to support the maintenance of healthy blood lipid levels, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure, and certain populations also use it to support fertility and/or weight loss.3,4,5,7,8 You can check out 5 Benefits of Berberine if you want to read about these awesome benefits!
Is Berberine a Good Alternative to Ozempic?
Well, that’s a big question with a lot of “what-if’s.” Berberine is not right for every body or every situation, and neither is Ozempic. So, answering this question really requires insight from a knowledgeable healthcare professional who is familiar with your individual health status and goals.
But, just for kicks, let’s look at how they compare to each other.
- A pharmaceutical drug approved to treat diabetes. (And overweight/obesity when prescribed as Wegovy, which is a higher dosage product.)
- Thoroughly studied and tested in both animals and people.
- A “modern marvel.”
- A controlled pharmaceutical drug where every dose is exactly the same.
- Can have potentially serious side effects.
- Clinicians know exactly what to expect in certain situations and at certain doses.
- Tested and controlled by the FDA
- Crazy expensive.
- A supplement with a long history of use for the treatment of various medical conditions.
- Not thoroughly studied and tested in any way, and what research there is, is considered by many to be deeply flawed.
- An ancient remedy.
- Not a controlled substance, and if you buy from a company that doesn’t conduct thorough third-party testing, you don’t really know for sure what’s in the bottle.
- Serious side effects are rare but still possible.
- Clinicians don’t really know how it works or what doses are best for what situations.
- Neither tested, nor controlled by a governing body in the USA.
- Affordable for most people.
In short, one is a drug and one is a supplement, so they’re not really comparable in many respects.
What About Its Magical Weight-Loss Abilities Though?
You’re probably wondering if Berberine can cause weight loss in the same way as Ozempic, so here’s what we know about Berberine’s ability to promote weight loss.
You see, studies show that Berberine can support weight loss, when combined with efforts such as dieting and exercise. 3,4,5 But, taking Berberine while sitting on the couch, noshing on your favorite ice cream, and waiting for results will likely lead to disappointment. You’ve gotta put in the work for it to work. And, if you do, it just might give you the edge you need to get the results you want. In fact, we’ve had customers reach out and tell us that it helped them overcome a weight loss plateau!
In short, if you take Berberine while eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, you may lose more weight than you would without it. That’s it. That’s all we know about Berberine’s ability to cause weight loss.
That’s Secretly Good News Though!
From a holistic perspective, this is a good thing. Chemical compounds that cause weight loss in the absence of personal effort are usually quite unhealthy. Additionally, you’re missing out on the many health benefits of exercise and healthy foods if you try to lose weight while sitting around eating junk food. Drugs like Ozempic have their place, and they can be very helpful for many people, but they should never replace healthy habits anyway. And, gentler substances tend to be, well, gentler and more kind to the body.
Like How Gentle Though? Aren’t There Still Side Effects?
Like any powerful chemical compound, whether natural or synthetic, Berberine can cause side effects, and may not be appropriate or safe for every body. So, let’s check out some of the side effects and other important chemical interactions you should consider before taking Berberine.
Abdominal pain and distension, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, nausea, and vomiting, are all possible side effects of taking Berberine. While most people don’t experience these side effects, some do, and you should know the possibilities before you partake.6
Berberine can cause headaches for some people. Again, not a serious, life-threatening condition, but something to consider before you decide to give it a go.6
3.Heart & Skin Problems.*
If taken intravenously,* Berberine has the potential to mess with your heart and/or cause painful swelling at the injection site.6 Since most of you aren’t shooting up Berberine, we don’t think this is something you’ll need to worry about. But, on the off chance that some of you have considered taking Berberine intravenously, just know it’s not the same as taking it orally!
4. Allergic Reactions.
Yes, you can be allergic to Berberine and it can cause drama. This is true of almost every edible thing in the world though.
I’m Willing to Risk Those Side Effects. Anything Else I Should Know?
Yes, there is still a TON of stuff you should know before taking Berberine. We’ll review some of it here, but please read 5 Benefits of Berberine to get a better understanding.
- Don’t take Berberine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. It could lead to worsened jaundice or even cause brain disorders in your little ones. Not for babies!
- Don’t take Berberine if you are on any of the following medications: Bosutinib, Tacrolimus, Cyclosporine, or any other chemotherapies or immunosuppressants. Read 5 Benefits of Berberine to find out why.
- Taking Berberine alongside any medication or supplement that lowers blood glucose levels, lowers blood pressure levels, or that has antiplatelet effects can increase the risk of hypoglycemia, hypotension, and bleeding, respectively. Check out our caution statements under the CAUTION tab on this page.
So, What’s the Deal With Berberine? - A Summary.
Berberine is a potent botanical supplement with a long history of use for various conditions. It is not “Nature’s Ozempic” however, and that’s a very good thing. (Nature would never create Ozempic.)
Berberine can be helpful in promoting healthy metabolic markers such as healthy blood glucose levels, lipid levels, and blood pressure for certain populations. It can help with weight loss for some people too, but it needs you to do your part.
Berberine is not appropriate for pregnant and breastfeeding individuals, though some people do find it helpful for supporting fertility. Just be sure to stop taking it if you find you are pregnant.
Berberine is not appropriate for individuals who take certain medications, including bosutinib, tacrolimus, and cyclosporine.
When used appropriately, Berberine is typically well-tolerated and side effects are generally mild, but this is not always the case.
In short, Berberine is a powerful, natural compound that could be just what you’re looking for, but its power makes it inappropriate for some people due to drug/supplement or drug/condition interactions. Please be sure to check with your healthcare provider before adding Berberine, or any other supplement, to your regimen.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plant foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such as a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
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- Staff, Cleveland Clinic. What to know about berberine: Benefits, uses and side effects. Cleveland Clinic. May 22, 2023. Accessed June 2, 2023. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/berberine-for-insulin-resistance-weight-loss/.
- YX C. Berberine. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/berberine. Published October 2020. Accessed July 29, 2022.
- Zhang Y, Li X, Zou D, Liu W. Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant…Research Gate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5454721_Treatment_of_Type_2_Diabetes_and_Dyslipidemia_with_the_Natural_Plant_Alkaloid_Berberine. Published July 2008. Accessed July 29, 2022
- Yan H-M, Xia M-F, Wang Y, et al. Efficacy of berberine in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. PloS one. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4529214/. Published August 7, 2015. Accessed July 29, 2022
- Zhao JV;Yeung WF;Chan YH;Vackova D;Leung JYY;Ip DKM;Zhao J;Ho WK:PTse HF;Schooling CM; Effect of berberine on cardiovascular disease risk factors: a Mechanistic randomized controlled trial. Nutrients. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34444711/. Published 2021. Accessed July 29, 2022.
- Staff, Natural Medicines Database. Berberine - Professional Monograph. NatMed Pro. 2023. Accessed June 2, 2023. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1126#adverseEvents.
- Dong H, Wang N, Zhao L, Lu F. Berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systemic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3478874/. Published 2012. Accessed July 29, 2022.
Perez-Rubio Kg;Gonzalez-Ortiz M:Martinez-Abundis E;Robles-Cervantes JA;Espinel-Bermudez MC; Effect of berberine administration on metabolic syndrome, insulin sensitivity, and insulin secretion. Metabolic syndrome and related disorders. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23808999/. Published 2013. Accessed July 29, 2022