Between the renewed embrace of diet culture and the (unfortunate) resurgence of the thin-is-in mentality, the appetite for Ozempic isn’t dwindling. But as high costs and supply shortages make the injectable — a Type 2 diabetes treatment that’s often used off-label for weight loss — harder to access, many people are searching for alternatives. There’s Mounjaro, another injectable that can now be prescribed only to actual Type 2 diabetics; off-brand semaglutides that may not be as safe or effective as Ozempic; and now berberine, an over-the-counter supplement gaining traction on social media for its purported slimming properties.
People are scrambling to get their hands on what TikTok is calling “nature’s Ozempic,” but experts say berberine’s budding reputation as a weight-loss agent is overblown. Board-certified endocrinologist and obesity specialist Dr. Rocio Salas-Whalen notes that the supplement “does not and will never have the same effect in weight loss, cholesterol, or glucose” as drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy. She advises exercising a healthy dose of caution, as the supplement isn’t FDA-approved to treat any condition and its long-term side effects remain unclear. Also unclear? What’s going into the berberine capsules you may be thinking about putting in your Amazon cart.
“People are so desperate to lose weight by any means, and sellers who are going to take advantage of that, they’re not going to care about the side effects or benefits,” Dr. Salas-Whalen warns. “Be smart about what they’re promoting and promising. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
What is berberine?
Berberine is a chemical compound taken from the roots and barks of certain plants, including barberry, a shrub known for its medicinal properties. It has historically been used in traditional Chinese medicine, and today it’s frequently sold in capsule form. The supplement, which is known for its antimicrobial properties, has been used to treat gastrointestinal issues and to potentially help with hypertension and insulin resistance, according to the New York Times.
Does berberine actually help people lose weight?
Despite the TikTok influencers claiming to “have the energy of a thousand suns” or shed several pounds within a week on the supplement, Dr. Salas-Whalen says there isn’t substantial clinical data to suggest that berberine induces weight loss. The supplement can improve metabolism and potentially lower blood sugar, she says, “but there’s not a study showing it can work as a therapeutic dose for diabetes,” adding that it won’t be “the first thing that will come up” in the vein of Ozempic dupes. Abbey Sharp, a registered dietitian and content creator behind Abbey’s Kitchen, agrees that claims about berberine’s weight-loss properties are hyperbolic. “It’s not terrible, it’s not nothing, but it’s not a lot,” she says.
What are berberine’s side effects?
Assuming the individual is using high-quality supplements, Sharp says, berberine’s “safety profile on paper is quite good.” Its side effects are largely gastrointestinal, she says, as is the case with Ozempic — think bloating, cramps, and nausea. Sharp also cautions some individuals may not be able to tolerate berberine, or may tolerate it without issue for a period of time before developing side effects at a later point.
Are there risks to taking berberine?
Without formal studies or sufficient clinical data, the long-term side effects of berberine remain murky. “There’s the potential for complications we don’t know about now,” says Dr. Salas-Whalen. Sharp advises people to remember that, as is the case with all supplements, “just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s benign.” Without FDA regulation, it’s impossible to know what’s going into berberine capsules on the market. “It’s a bit of the Wild West out there when it comes to the supplement world,” says Sharp. “There are wildly different formulations, dosages, underages, overages, contaminated products — you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting. You’ll probably buy the first berberine that comes up on Amazon and maybe take just one a day, which could be doing absolutely nothing because it’s so far from the recommended dosage.”
That doesn’t mean you should go buck wild. Dr. Salas-Whalen cautions against taking “large amounts of doses” just to see results. It’s also important to be mindful that supplements can negatively interact with other medications; for instance, the Times reports that taking the diabetes drug Metformin with berberine can potentially lead to hypoglycemia. People considering berberine should consult with a dietician or doctor about which supplements are high quality and to determine the appropriate dosage.
Is there really such a thing as “nature’s Ozempic”?
Frenzied as the search for Ozempic dupes is, there’s no miracle supplement that can achieve the same results, so be skeptical of claims to the contrary. “At this point, nothing is able to really compete with this powerful pharmaceutical that is Ozempic,” says Sharp. “There’s a reason why people are talking about it. There’s a reason it’s a thousand dollars a month. There’s a reason why there’s significant data about blood sugar and weight loss. At this point, we don’t have a ‘natural’ solution that’s going to rival that.”