Since the use of Ozempic (a drug for diabetes) as a slimming treatment became popular a few months ago, the demand for this medication has skyrocketed in practically the entire world to the point of being out of stock in many pharmacies. Given this situation, it has not taken long for different alternatives to this drug to come to light and be promoted on social networks, among which berberine stands out above all, a plant extract that is presented as the “natural and cheapest option” of the ‘Ozempic’.
The videos that talk about the benefits of this nutritional supplement, generally marketed in capsules filled with a yellowish powder and used for thousands of years by traditional Eastern medicine to treat digestive problems, accumulate millions of views on platforms such as TikTok.
They explain how this alkaloid, which is extracted from plants such as European barberry or goldenseal, acts on our body in a similar way to semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic. That is, it controls blood glucose levels, reduces cholesterol and also helps fight obesity, a property for which the drug has become known worldwide… and in demand.
Two or three kilos at most
However, the scientific community questions the slimming power attributed to berberine “given the lack of serious studies in humans”, although they do recognize the benefits of this chemical compound in the treatment of diseases such as hypertension. or insulin resistance in diabetic patients, “but always with the supervision of a health professional,” they warn.
The trials carried out so far on the effects of this nutritional supplement on weight “have such a low quality of evidence that they do not allow conclusions to be drawn. Furthermore, those that show beneficial effects on weight present very moderate results,” reveals Dr. Inka Miñambres, member of the Obesity Area of the Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition (SEEN).
These clinical studies to which the endocrinologist refers estimate the average weight loss in patients who take berberine at just two or three kilos, “a minimal loss when compared to the effect on the scale of medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy or Mounjaro. In the case of these drugs, the trials have shown a much more powerful and proven effectiveness, with an average weight loss of between ten and fifteen kilos,” explains Carlos Fernández Moriano, head of the Scientific Dissemination Area of the General Council of Pharmacists. For Dr. Miñambres, “the evidence of supplements such as berberine on weight loss is too weak to recommend them in consultation.”
Natural does not mean harmless
Although the safety range of this alkaloid is usually high and most people tolerate it without major problems, its intake is not without risks, especially if taken without the supervision of a health professional. «It is important to remember that natural does not mean harmless. Berberine can have side effects (nausea, vomiting, tingling in the hands and feet…), in addition to being able to produce resistance to antibiotics or being incompatible with some medications such as antihypertensives,” warns Carlos Fernández.
One of the biggest risks of this fashionable chemical compound is, precisely, its status as a nutritional supplement. «Their marketing is not subject to the rigorous controls that drugs are subject to, so we cannot have clear data on the purity or concentration of the capsules sold on the free market. The absence of clinical trials that evaluate not only its effectiveness but also its safety means that we cannot say with complete certainty that it is a harmless compound. In fact, we do not even have data on its long-term safety,” warns the endocrinologist.
Despite warnings about the risks of taking this alkaloid without any type of medical supervision, the sale of berberine continues to grow, with a price range that ranges between 5 and 40 euros, although some brands reach 200. “Describing this chemical compound as ‘nature’s Ozempic’ is an exaggeration,” the experts conclude.