Is berberine "nature’s ozempic"?

Scrolling Instagram I saw an ad (with a watermelon as a background) claiming that berberine is nature’s Ozempic… But is it really?


What is berberine?

Berberine is an alkaloid compound found in many plants like European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, phellodendron, and tree turmeric (spoiler alert – watermelon is not a source). When extracted it is yellow and has a bitter taste.

Berberine has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for centuries because of its antidiarrheal, antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties as well as support for the cardiovascular system and diabetes management.

Recent studies confirm Berberine’s multi-spectrum action, from antioxidative agent to modulation of neurotransmitters and enzymes, supporting and balancing the immune system – as well as helping to decrease cholesterol levels and insulin resistance. Some studies have shown that it might down-regulate the expression of some genes that are involved in the proliferation of fat cells as well as inhibiting hepatic gluconeogenesis.

What does this mean?

It means that berberine can help cells be more responsive to insulin, so sugar can get inside instead of staying in the bloodstream and being stored as fat in the liver and adipose cells. It also means that it might influence some genes that can stop fat cells from increasing fat stores and can inhibit the liver from releasing glucose in the bloodstream (something that occurs normally when our blood glucose levels drop).

How does this differ from Ozempic?

Ozempic is a drug licensed to manage type 2 diabetes which mimics a hormone (gop1) that helps increase the insulin release by the pancreas as well as helping regulate appetite. The Ozempic craze around weight management stems from its appetite suppressant effects, which will lead to a lower kcal intake and consequent weight-loss.

It's important to note that the Ozempic effect lasts only until the medication is taken, and then suspended hunger levels will be restored. For this reason, two-thirds of patients treated with Ozempic revert to the weight they had before the treatment a year after suspending the treatment.

As you can see, they work in a very different way – berberine is a natural substance which can be supportive for type 2 diabetes patients, improving different body functions associated with this condition, but it doesn’t suppress appetite like Ozempic.

Ozempic is a drug used for diabetes and using it purely for weight management can have detrimental effects on your overall health, especially if ordered on the internet without constant medical supervision and assessment.

Update July 2023: The NHS is currently facing supply issues with a range of semaglutide drugs (including Ozempic) used for managing blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The latest guidance from Diabetes UK is to avoid prescribing these drugs outside of their approved use, until the shortages end (predicted until at least mid-2024).

Could berberine help you with weight management?

If combined with a healthy and balanced diet, it might. But it is also important to note that, because of its antimicrobial properties, it can have an impact on your gut microbiome – possibly leading to a decreased variety and quantity of 'good' bacteria.

Why is this relevant? A healthy gut microbiome is the key to overall health. Our gut bacteria are involved in neurotransmitters production, regulating the metabolism, immunity... And much more! This information seems to contrast with the studies on berberine mentioned above, right?

The truth is that berberine can have a place in different protocols but, like the diabetic drug Ozempic, it is better to be advised by a healthcare professional. They can suggest if it could be beneficial for you, and if so the best dosage and how to complement it with a tailor-made diet.

Despite being tempting, avoid falling for alluring ads promoting substances that promise easy weight-loss – whether those are pharmaceutical drugs or natural compounds. Weight management is a very complex topic as many factors are involved, there is no magic wand! Working with a registered nutritional therapist can help you reach and maintain your goals in a way that suits and nourishes your body.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Written by Lucia Stansbie, Registered Nutritional Therapist, Dip CNM, mBANT, mCNHC
London, W1S 1HP

Lucia Stansbie, BANT registered Nutritional Therapist founder of Food Power Nutrition

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