Obesity is one of the most devastating chronic disease and metabolic disorders in America, affecting nearly 45% of the population. Berberine, a natural and ancient herbal remedy, has gained increasing popularity, being labeled as nature’s Ozempic. Ozempic, a GLP-1 receptor agonist, is part of a new class of biopharmaceutical drugs, called incretin mimetics, indicated for type II diabetes, that have shown remarkable outcomes for weight loss. But is berberine as effective and does it work for weight loss? We’re going to discuss what berberine is, how berberine works, and if this natural weight loss supplement can help you.
What Is Berberine
Berberine is a powerful bioactive plant compound, specifically an isoquinoline alkaloid used for the last 2,000 years in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
Berberine is found in a group of shrubs called Berberis and can be derived from several different plants including Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), Coptis chinensis (Coptis or goldenthread), Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape), Berberis vulgaris (barberry), and Berberis aristata (tree turmeric). Berberine is found in the root, rhizomes, and stem bark of these plants.
A large body of evidence has established Berberine’s therapeutic potential and benefits, to help lower blood pressure, increase weight loss, reduce glucose levels, and improve heart health.
How Does Berberine Work, What Does Berberine Do
Berberine has several different mechanisms, which include but are not limited to
- Decreasing insulin resistance and having an insulin sensitizing effect.
- Stimulates glycolysis, enhancing glucose metabolism your body’s ability to break down sugars.
- Regulates lipid metabolism.
- Inhibiting fat-forming and lipogenic genes of fat, thereby reducing fat production.
- Increases good bacteria in your gut.
Berberine has been shown to have similar mechanisms to metformin. Berberine increases glucose consumption and or glucose uptake in the absence of insulin [R].
Regarding lipid metabolism and weight loss, berberine can inhibit fat-forming and lipogenic genes of fat, thereby reducing fat production.
By increasing the expression of uncoupling protein mRNA in skeletal muscles, heat production and oxygen consumption are increased, thus glucose and fat metabolism is accelerated. Research also shows that Berberine is an AMPK agonist, and it increases energy production and reduces energy storage by activating AMPK. The activation of AMPK can normalize the imbalance of lipid, glucose, and energy and improve the metabolic imbalance caused by metabolic disorders [R].
Additionally, berberine-mediated AMPK activation has an anti-inflammatory effect, which improves insulin resistance [R].
Often referred to as “nature’s Ozempic” research has shown that berberine does demonstrate moderate weight loss effects, yet is vastly different than the GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1) incretin mimetic properties in Ozempic.
Berberine can inhibit fat-forming and lipogenic genes of fat, thereby reducing fat production. By increasing the expression of uncoupling protein mRNA in skeletal muscles, heat production and oxygen consumption are increased, and glucose and fat metabolism is accelerated. Berberine is also an AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) agonist, and it increases energy production and reduces energy storage by activating AMPK.
A meta-analysis published in the journal Clinical Nutrition examined 12 different studies, and found that berberine significantly reduced body weight up to 4.4lbs, BMI, waist circumference, and c-reactive protein concentration [R].
Studies show that berberine does have promising metabolic effects on weight loss, yet more research is needed to show any large clinical significance.
Preclinical studies, also show that berberine also affects gut microbiota, by reducing diversity of microbes starting at a dosage of 300mg per day, which may tie into the weight loss properties.
Type II Diabetes
Type II diabetes is characterized, by having too much glucose in your blood, (hyperglycemia) and insulin not working properly to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar. Berberine, has been shown to have hypoglycemic effects essentially lowering blood sugar, by regulating glucose.
A study published in the journal Metabolism investigated the effects of berberine on type II diabetic patients. 36 type II diabetic patients were randomly assigned to treatment with berberine or the pharmaceutical drug metformin in a 3-month trial. The study found that the hypoglycemic effect of berberine was similar to that of metformin, lowering hemoglobin A1c, fasting blood glucose levels, and plasma triglycerides. Total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) were decreased significantly as well.
The effects of berberine on insulin is enhanced by and related to the mechanisms on lipid metabolism.
Another study, enrolled 116 patients with type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia and were randomly assigned to receive berberine (1.0 g daily) and the placebo for 3 months and concluded that berberine reduced fasting glucose by 20% [R].
Thus, berberine does show significant therapeutic benefit as a potential treatment for type II diabetes with significant effects glucose and lipid metabolism. More research is needed to confirm these results [R].
Berberine has been shown to have a direct effect on blood pressure, which can help hypertension and heart health as well as total cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol levels attribute to the development of fatty deposits in blood vessels. Atherosclerosis, a build of plaque will also develop over time from high cholesterol, making blood pressure rise. Research suggests that berberine effects lipid metabolism and inhibit fat-forming and lipogenic genes of fat, thereby reducing fat production.
A systematic review published in Frontiers in Pharmacology included 18 randomized controlled trials, analyzing patients with metabolic disorders and treatment with berberine. The analysis included between 600-700 patients per indication and found that berberine can improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL) by 1.59 and decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL), by 1.77 [R].
Depending on the therapeutic effect, dosages of berberine start between 300-500mg per day, for gut health, potential action on glucose, as well as lowering cholesterol levels and weight loss. Other studies use doses between 1-1.5g per day, to reduce fasting glucose.
Berberine Side Effects
Berberine for the most part is very well tolerated and has a great safety profile. Some reported side effects relate to digestion and may include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
When it comes to efficacy, berberine does show moderate effects on weight loss, with studies showing an average of 4lbs of weight loss, over a 3-month period. Compared to incretin mimetics, like Wegovy or Ozempic, this is nominal, hence why it is an herbal supplement and not an FDA approved pharmaceutical drug. For clinical significance and FDA approval a pharmaceutical drug, indicated to treat obesity must demonstrate a 5% reduction in body weight. A 200lb individual must lose 10lbs, for that drug to show significance.
Comparatively, berbine has shown promising benefit as a potent herbal remedy for weight loss, as well as regulating blood glucose, improving total cholesterol levels, and improving metabolic factors.
If weight loss is the goal, lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise must also be considered. Overwhelming evidence proves, that personalized nutrition plans, in addition to consistent exercise is the solution for weight loss and improvements in quality of life. Herbal supplement and prescribed medications may help, however, without diet and exercise, the outcomes will be nominal at best.
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