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Berberine: Plant-derived supplement is the hot new weight loss trend

Berberine, a dietary supplement derived from the barberry plant and referred to as “nature’s Ozempic,” is causing quite a stir on the internet. Many users are singing its praises, attributing their weight loss success to this natural supplement. 

However, while numerous individuals report weight loss, loose pants, and lower scale numbers, the scientific evidence to back up these claims is still scarce. Moreover, some users also shared unpleasant side effects such as constipation and diarrhea.

Used for thousands of years

Berberine, a bitter chemical compound, is not a new discovery. It’s been an integral part of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and has been used to treat a broad array of conditions from pink eye and itchy skin to high blood sugar and urinary tract infections. However, we should note that the purported benefits of berberine have yet to be proven through large-scale clinical trials.

The supplement is easily accessible and affordable. For approximately $30, you can purchase a bottle of 60 supplements from major retail websites such as Amazon. The recommended dosage is one capsule before every meal.

This inexpensive plant-based supplement has garnered attention on social media platforms for being a natural alternative to expensive prescription medications such as Wegovy and Ozempic, which are not always covered by health insurance.

Functions differently than prescription weight loss drugs

However, it’s crucial to understand that berberine functions very differently from these prescription drugs, also known as semaglutide. Wegovy, a higher-dose variant, has been approved for weight loss for those with a body mass index of 30 or more, or overweight individuals with a BMI of 27 or more, who also have a weight-related health condition. 

On the other hand, Ozempic is used primarily for treating Type 2 diabetes, but it is often prescribed “off-label” for obesity. Semaglutide triggers weight loss by mimicking GLP-1, a hormone in our brain that manages appetite and feelings of fullness.

There’s anecdotal evidence suggesting that berberine can facilitate weight loss. However, large-scale peer-reviewed studies confirming these weight loss benefits are still lacking. Furthermore, the mechanism through which berberine functions as a weight loss supplement remains a mystery.

However, existing research is expanding our understanding of this compound. A 2017 review published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences reported that patients who took two 750 milligram capsules daily for three months experienced a significant weight decrease. 

Another study published in the American Journal of Translational Research suggested that berberine might activate brown adipose tissue, fat cells that prompt the body to convert food into energy, thus burning calories.

Other health benefits of berberine

Besides weight loss, berberine appears to have other potential benefits. A 2019 analysis in the Endocrine Journal found berberine more effective in reducing blood glucose levels than a placebo. 

Studies also suggest it could help manage polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that occurs when ovaries overproduce a certain hormone called androgens, leading to irregular menstrual cycles and unpredictable ovulation. It has also been shown to decrease hemoglobin A1C, an indicator of blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

However, despite these encouraging findings, the scientific community remains cautious. Since berberine is derived from plants, there’s a risk that people may erroneously assume it is entirely harmless. Pregnant women, in particular, are warned against taking it due to the potential risk of brain damage to the fetus or young children.

Furthermore, berberine might interfere with the metabolism of prescription medications for diabetes and other conditions if taken as instructed on the bottle. Its long-term safety is still undetermined, and it’s unknown whether the weight loss will be sustained after stopping the supplement. It’s also suggested that abrupt cessation of either Wegovy or Ozempic could result in a rapid regain of weight.

Common side effects associated with berberine include diarrhea, constipation, and stomach upset. These experiences shared by users underline the necessity for a comprehensive understanding and scientific scrutiny of berberine’s safety and efficacy.

The internet’s latest dietary trend is indeed compelling, but until there is solid scientific evidence to support the claims of its weight loss benefits and safety, caution is advised. Until large-scale, peer-reviewed studies are conducted to confirm its benefits and assess its long-term safety, berberine remains a supplement of interest with potential, but unverified, benefits. 

For those considering berberine as a weight-loss supplement, it’s essential to discuss it with healthcare professionals who can provide personalized advice based on your individual health situation and potential risks.

More about the barberry plant

The barberry plant, scientifically known as Berberis, is a large genus of deciduous and evergreen shrubs from 1–5 m (3.3–16.4 ft) tall. They are native to various regions of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America.

This plant is quite versatile and is known for its attractive and dense growth habit, often adorned with small, oval leaves that may turn vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red in the fall. It typically blooms in mid-spring, showcasing small, yellow flowers. By late summer or early fall, these flowers give way to small, red berries, which are sometimes used in culinary dishes for their tart flavor.

The berries of the barberry plant have been used for centuries in traditional medicine due to their high berberine content. Berberine is a bioactive compound that is believed to have numerous medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal effects. However, as of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, more research is needed to fully confirm and understand these potential benefits.

Interestingly, the plant also plays a role in the life cycle of a type of wheat rust (a fungus), which is a significant wheat disease. Because of this, cultivation of the plant is often controlled or restricted in many regions to prevent the spread of the fungus.

Despite its potential health benefits, it’s important to note that barberry can be toxic if consumed in large amounts, particularly for children and pets. It can cause upset stomach, kidney problems, and worsen certain health conditions. Always consult a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement regimen.


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