Nature’s Ozempic? Berberine’s impact on blood sugar and weight loss

Diabetes and weight problems often go hand in hand. They also typically lead to other metabolic disorders that can quickly send a person’s health down a long and unpleasant road.

So for these reasons, it’s easy to understand the hype that came about when the diabetes drug Ozempic and its off-label version geared toward weight loss, Wegovy, proved successful for many people.

It seemed that the “magic pill” of our wildest dreams, that could make managing diabetes and weight loss effortless, was finally here.

But, as with most things that sound too good to be true, we learned about alarming side effects and insane medication costs that were not always covered by insurance.

Over the past dozen years or so, research has been ongoing into a natural, plant-based compound that appears to have the ability to support blood sugar metabolism and other health benefits as well — including promising studies on weight loss — all without the side effects of medication.

Most recently, it’s been referred to as “nature’s Ozempic.” Here’s what we know about berberine…

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Is this Traditional Chinese Medicine Nature’s Ozempic?

For more than 10 years now, science has been investigating how natural chemicals from the barberry plant can help control type 2 diabetes.

Specifically, a phytochemical (natural plant compound) called berberine seems to be doing the trick.

Berberine is also found in the perennial flower known as goldenseal, and other plants including Oregon grape and tree turmeric. In most of these plants, the compound is concentrated in the root or stem.

It’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for a long time as an anti-inflammatory agent. It may also help prevent fatty liver disease, bacterial infections and lower your risk of heart disease.

An examination of data from a number of independent studies (known as a meta-analysis) was conducted by researchers at Iranian and British universities and found that supplementing with barberry can indeed decrease insulin levels.

Seven studies that included 452 subjects were included in the review. The analysis showed that barberry significantly reduces insulin levels. And lowering insulin is the first important step to preventing type 2 diabetes.

Hyperinsulinemia (higher-than-normal insulin levels) is a sign of insulin resistance, where your pancreas is working overtime to secrete insulin because your body is not responding to it. Left untreated, this will lead to type 2 diabetes.

Glucose and cholesterol improve with berberine

Two earlier studies had already shown the effectiveness of berberine supplements in preventing diabetes.

In 2008, a Chinese study examined a group of subjects with diabetes and dyslipidemia.

Many people who are diabetic or prediabetic also have the triple whammy of dyslipidemia: good cholesterol (HDL) is low, bad cholesterol (LDL) is high, and triglycerides are high.

In the Chinese study, 116 patients were given either 1g of berberine daily or a placebo for a period of three months.

In the berberine group, fasting glucose levels decreased from 7mm/liter to 5.6mm/liter, and triglycerides dropped from 2.51mm/liter to 1.10mm/liter. The placebo group showed significantly poorer results.

Together with lifestyle changes, berberine proved effective in controlling blood sugar

In a 2012 meta-analysis, four researchers from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China reviewed data from 14 randomized trials that included 1068 subjects.

While berberine did not control blood sugar any better than oral diabetes medications like metformin, it did have some effectiveness against dyslipidemia.

However, when combined with lifestyle changes to prevent diabetes, berberine proved more effective in controlling blood sugar than metformin or similar drugs when combined with the same lifestyle changes.

You may be surprised to learn though that berberine isn’t the only plant substance that gives metformin some competition. Be sure to check out what my colleague wrote about the diabetes spice that improved glucose tolerance as efficiently as metformin while showing no significant adverse effects.

Berberine and weight management

Some research in animals and humans indicates berberine may be helpful for weight loss.

Berberine reduced weight gain and food intake in mice with high-fat diet-induced obesity while having no effects on mice on a normal diet.

In a 12-week study involving people with obesity, taking 500 mg of berberine three times a day resulted in an average 5-pound weight loss.

A study has also shown that berberine may help activate metabolism and increase brown fat in the body. Brown fat cranks up your energy burn, which has the potential to crank up your fat burn with it.

According to Medical News Today, Berberine appears to activate AMP-activated protein kinase, which can help regulate how the body uses blood sugar. Researchers believe this activation can help treat diabetes and related health issues, such as obesity and high cholesterol.

Berberine isn’t the only plant compound we’ve written about that appears to enhance the activation of energy regulator AMPK to boost metabolism.

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Supplementing berberine

Berberine supplements are available online or through your health food store. It’s always wise to choose supplements from a trusted brand and follow their guidelines on serving amount. Also check the product label for third-party certification, for example, from the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Although berberine is not known for troublesome side effects (other than digestive issues for some people) you should talk with your doctor if you’re taking any medications, especially those that already lower your blood sugar.

Berberine can interact with metformin and affect blood sugar levels, making them harder to manage. 

Whether it could be called nature’s Ozempic may be debated. It works differently because it is obviously not a drug.

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  1. Berberine in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis — National Center for Biotechnology Information (ncbi)
  2. The effect of barberry (Berberis vulgaris L.) on glycemic indices: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials — Science Direct
  3. Berberine – A Powerful Supplement With Many Benefits — Healthline
  4. Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes and Dyslipidemia with the Natural Plant Alkaloid Berberine — The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
  5. Berberine — Medical News Today
  6. Berberine is a potential therapeutic agent for metabolic syndrome via brown adipose tissue activation and metabolism regulation — National Library of Medicine
  7. National Diabetes Statistics Report — CDC
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.