Experts warn that the newest weight-loss craze enjoying its moment of fame on TikTok may not be as safe as it seems. Berberine, an inexpensive herbal supplement, is being compared to the super pricey weight loss drug Ozempic. TikTokers are dubbing the plant-based product as “nature’s Ozempic,” claiming it has helped them lose weight without Ozempic’s price tag and prescription requirement.
Berberine is a chemical found in some plants like the European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric, says WebMD. The yellow-colored, bitter-tasting chemical helps strengthen the heartbeat and kill bacteria.
According to the New York Post, an injection of Ozempic costs $1,300 but a bottle of 60 capsules of 1000 milligrams of berberine retails for about $36 on Amazon. Ozempic, and its sister drug Wegovy, contain semaglutide, which suppresses the appetite. Berberine users claim the herb does the same thing. One proponent, Briana Parr, claims she lost 60 pounds by using the supplement.
But Jenna Werner, a registered dietitian, warns the public that people are advocating for the supplement “with very little context as to what else they are doing” to lose weight. She told the Post that she was concerned dieters would “take unrecommended doses” that will only cause more harm in the hopes of achieving quick weight loss, and subsequently “suffer from mental health and physical health outcomes.” She stressed that Ozempic and berberine are not the same thing.
“It’s an herb — herbs can counteract with other medications and supplements and cause harm in quite a few populations,” Werner said, suggesting that people check with their healthcare professional before taking the supplement.
Supplements, like berberine, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so while berberine is considered safe, aside from reports of stomach issues, the correct dosage and contraindications are hard to determine.
According to Healthline, berberine may interact with medications that lower blood sugar, increasing the risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels. It may also interact with medications that are processed by the liver. On the plus side, berberine may help a little with weight loss. One study found that when people with obesity were given 500 milligrams of berberine three times a day for 12 weeks they lost an average of five pounds and lowered their triglyceride levels, says Everyday Health.
But the TikTok trend doesn’t consider the wellbeing of the person using berberine for weight loss, warns Werner.
“All of this is being directed to weight loss with no true regard for what it means to someone’s health,” she said, “because weight loss and health outcomes and improvements are not the same thing.”
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