The herbal preparation berberine is being hailed as ‘nature’s own Ozempic’ by TikTok users – but just what is it and does it really help people lose weight?

With rising rates of obesity, more and more people are turning to medication to help them lose weight. Among them is Ozempic, a drug used for diabetes that contains semaglutide also leads to weight loss. The popularity of Ozempic led to shortages of the drug, so people started to look for alternatives.

Berberine, which is extracted from plant roots, is in the same plant chemical class as medicines including morphine and codeine.

It is used in traditional medicine for infections and gut disorders.

Studies into how effective berberine is when it comes to weight loss have so far been small and the data is not conclusive.

Two studies, which pulled together previous research, found that taking a 300-3,000mg oral dose of berberine a day is linked to modest weight loss – around 3kg. These results were most prominent in women with a BMI greater than 30, who took at least 1,000mg a day for a minimum of three months.

However, there is not yet any data on what happens when people stop taking the plant extract.

In addition, it is not known exactly how berberine works in terms of weight loss.

Ozempic mimics the natural hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), making you feel less hungry. It is thought that berberine may play a role in GLP-1 levels too, but may also bring about weight loss in other ways. It alters the way fat is processed and stimulates the release of insulin, among other things.

In terms of safety, berberine’s side effects include diarrhoea, constipation, wind and an upset stomach.

Taking it in large quantities can be fatal. Pregnant women are advised not to take it, and women who are breastfeeding should also avoid it.

It is thought berberine interacts with other supplements and drugs, including ciclosporin, and dextromethorphan.

People are advised to speak to their doctor or pharmacist before buying berberine to make sure it is right for them or if other medications may be better suited.

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