Berberine: Is it a safe, natural Ozempic alternative - or just another TikTok fad?

  • 16/06/2023

Berberine has been heralded by online influencers as a miracle weight loss pill and has soared in demand thanks to TikTok personalities claiming it helps shed unwanted kilos.

The commercially available dietary supplement's popularity follows people using diabetes management drug Ozempic for weight loss.

Some are labelling Berberine the non-prescription or 'natural' equivalent of Ozempic, but is that correct and does it actually work?

No - and maybe, according to an expert.

Of course, any use of a supplement or new weight loss methods should only be done in consultation with your medical professional.

Professor Peter Shepherd is the deputy director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre, one of seven New Zealand Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs) established by the Government to underpin world-class research efforts in Aotearoa and he appeared on AM on Friday to discuss the supplement.

"Berberine is definitely not the new Ozempic," Prof Shepherd said.

"There is evidence of a small effect of Berberine and it works in a very similar way to a drug we already use to treat diabetes called Metformin. Both of these act in your gut - they sort of upset your gut a little bit so it sends a signal to your brain to stop eating for a while.

"Berberine has a small effect according to what we can see from the studies that have been done, very similar to the drug Metformin, but nowhere near as much as Ozempic." 

The supplement is readily available in New Zealand and some social media users appear to be taking it here.

The expert advice is to exercise caution with it - in addition to consulting your GP or other medical professional before trying it, because it hasn't been scrutinised in the same way controlled medicines have.

"Berberine hasn't been developed as a proper drug, so we don't know the right dose or the optimal dose in the safety range in the way we do with other drugs. All those other drugs go through rigorous testing to make sure they're safe and we know what'll happen with a certain dose of the drug," Prof. Shepherd said.

"With Berberine, it's uncontrolled because it's a natural substance. So, you know, my worry is that some people will think 'more is better' when actually they could be doing themselves damage by taking too much."