Berberine is the latest supplement to take TikTok by storm, with people making it sound like a wonder supplement for weight loss, lowering blood sugar levels and everything in between. Naturally, we had to find out more.
By Wanita Nicol
If you’ve never heard of Berberine, you’re probably not on TikTok. The supplement has been having a major moment, with several creators posting weekly updates on their berberine journeys and calling it
“Nature’s Ozempic” (yes, as in the diabetes medication turned celebrity weight-loss fad). Amidst all the hype, though, are other videos of people claiming that taking berberine made them ill; so, what should we believe?
WHAT IS BERBERINE?
“Berberine is a plant alkaloid that is found in the roots, rhizomes and stem bark of certain plants,” explain homeopath and iridologist Dr Jessica Leske. These include European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, phellodendron and tree turmeric.
Having a rich yellow-golden colour, berberine has been used as a dye, as well as medicinally and in ancient China it was highly prized. While it may be new to TikTok, berberine has been around in the natural medicine world for some time. “Berberine has been used for over 3,000 years in Chinese traditional medicine, and for over 20 years in the Western world in the form of a herbal extract or dietary supplement,” say Maria De Ascencao, a good health and wellness expert.
NOT JUST A HASHTAG
As is so often the case when it comes to trending remedies, there are many claims around the uses of berberine, with the most popular among TikTokers being its benefits for weight loss and lowering of blood sugar. “Yes, it’s recently trended on TikTok and you may have heard of it being referred to as ‘Nature’s Ozempic’. This reference is a nod to the diabetes drug that has taken the world by storm, primarily because of its notorious weight-loss side effects,” says De Ascencao. “As a supplement, the buzz around berberine primarily relates to its utility as a natural aid for people with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. There is research that indicates it might even strengthen the heartbeat, potentially helping people with certain heart conditions.”
While the science can sometimes be sketchy when the internet claims to have found its latest “miracle remedy”, berberine has actually been studied quite extensively. “There is a growing body of research over the last 20 years showing that berberine is indeed ripe with possibility,” says De Ascencao.
“Researchers are exploring many possible uses of berberine, including as a treatment for diabetes, obesity, cancer, PCOS, high cholesterol and more”.
Dr. Leske agrees. “As far as I know it is quite well studied. Recently there have been more studies coming out on Berberine.” In some animal studies, it was shown to help regulate metabolism and energy levels. Other studies found that berberine helps lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol and that it may
help with weight loss and lowering the risk of heart disease. It has also been found to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
“It has many properties – it is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, alters the gut microbiome and therefore helps to lower cholesterol, balances blood sugar, reduces insulin,” says Dr Leske.
There are plenty of so-called experts on TikTok posting about how to take berberine and in what dosage – and their advice varies considerably “Berberine usually comes in capsule form and the dosage is 200-300mg taken two to three times a day,” says Dr Leske.
Natroceutics recommends taking the berberine complex just before meals as it takes about an hour for it
to be absorbed by the body; however with any medication or supplement, it’s a good idea to speak to your health provider before taking it for the first time. This is especially true if you already take chronic medication (more on that below) but even if you don’t, your dosage may be different from someone else’s depending on your personal needs and health profile.
IS IT SAFE?
While berberine is mostly safe for adults, you may experience some side effects, especially in the beginning. “It is generally safe, but may cause stomach upset initially – diarrhoea, bloating, or constipation,” says Dr Leske. It’s these symptoms that TikTokers are usually referring to when they talk about berberine making them ill. Some research suggests this initial gastrointestinal discomfort may be because berberine supports the gut microbiome and the effects occur as the gut flora balance corrects. They shouldn’t last; however, if you experience any kind of discomfort, it’s better to be safe than sorry – ask your health provider about it right away. Don’t just push through, hoping for the best.
Berberine is also not for everyone. Dr Leske cautions that pregnant and breastfeeding women should not
take berberine. De Ascencao adds that it’s also not recommended for babies and children and that it may interact with certain medications. “Do not take it with cyclosporine,” she says. “And if you have a medical condition or are taking any medications, speak to a healthcare professional before taking berberine. This is especially important if you are currently taking blood sugar-lowering medication. Overall, berberine has an outstanding safety profile.”
There is no such thing as a “miracle remedy”. While berberine has been found to have many useful properties and people have had positive results using it, it’s always a good idea to approach any new supplement or medication with caution. Seek medical advice before trying it, and whatever you do, don’t take yourself off any prescribed chronic medication without consulting your health provider.