Social media is chock full of posts promising the next best way to lose weight.
One of the latest trends is berberine, a bitter-tasting quaternary ammonia compound found in many botanicals, including goldenseal, barberry, and Oregon grape.
In fact, many on social media are calling berberine supplements “nature’s Ozempic,” compared to the wildly popular prescription drug semaglutide (also known as Wegovy and Rybelsus), which is used to treat type 2 diabetes and obesity.
MedPage Today spoke with Jamie Kane, MD, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Weight Management and chief of the obesity medicine section at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Long Island, New York, to find out if the roots health benefits of berberine really make it the ideal candidate to lose weight safely.
“Berberine has been around for a long time,” Kane said. In the past, he said he’s seen it used by patients in an effort to address conditions ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to high blood sugar.
But is berberine really worth it for weight loss or anything else?
“Almost always, I tell people to stop taking them,” Kane said of the supplements. “And berberine would be no exception.”
That’s not to say berberine doesn’t have any potential benefits under the right circumstances, she added. It just hasn’t been studied on a large scale.
Supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Kane pointed out, adding that “the safety and reliability of supplements are always questionable.”
“If you don’t know exactly what you’re taking and you’re not sure about effectiveness, the whole thing makes it very difficult to recommend,” he said.
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While berberine may have potential benefits in terms of blood sugar levels, eating certain foods, such as those high in fiber, may contribute even more, Kane noted. And it’s not entirely clear whether significant weight loss has been reported.
Additionally, there may be side effects associated with berberine, including effects on gut microbial function and liver enzymes. And it can pose some risks to babies, even from being ingested through breast milk, Kane said.
“Generally, when people ask me about supplements, if it’s a whole herb that’s used in cooking, eat it in its whole form,” she advised. “I would generally stay away from these products, period.”
Some brands tend to be more trusted, especially if they allow third parties to observe the manufacturing and testing of products, he added. However, uncertainties remain without large-scale studies.
Kane said it’s “alarming” that berberine or other supplements are being touted on social media as “miracle solutions.” She said she hopes people don’t start treatment based on “20-second snippets” or “retouched photos.”
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of anti-obesity bias,” she said.
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Addressing the fact that it remains difficult for patients to access prescribed weight loss medications, Kane said: ‘It’s a difficult situation to be in, if you feel like you need help and you’re struggling. But it’s not necessarily worth it. , putting yourself in danger [by taking unregulated supplements].”
“I know [berberine is] part of the conversation for other treatments in complementary medicine,” he added. “[But] when it comes to replacing heavy weight loss drugs, it won’t be anywhere near as good. When you look at the risk-benefit ratio, the benefit may be minimal and therefore, for most people, it’s not worth the risk.”
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