Every week someone asks me about berberine for weight loss.
Patients have been turning to social media apps like TikTok and Instagram for health advice but not all the advice you find online is reasonable and applies to your unique situation. On social media it’s not possible to provide all the information you may need to make healthy choices for yourself. It’s always best to check in with your doctor to see what is best for you before taking a new supplement or making a drastic lifestyle change.
Berberine is a natural substance with POWERFUL biological effects. Here in the Pacific Northwest forests you’ll find plants that contain berberine are common.
You might even have some in your yard!
One of the most common forest understory plants in the area, berberine is found in the roots of Mahonia. It is also known as “Oregon Grape” as after the yellow flowers drop off, the plant has grape like fruit. There is a short shrubby form as well as an even more prickly tall form. As with many prescription drugs, the active compound found in a plant, in this case- berberine- has been turned into a medication- Metformin.
Berberine strongly lowers blood sugar. In people with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, PCOS, or type 2 diabetes it may be a valuable part of their treatment plan.
Although it is basically the same as metformin, some people prefer a more natural product, or prefer to avoid taking a prescription medication so berberine may be used instead. As it is the SAME molecule as the prescription drug, it is important to treat berberine with as a medicine.
Berberine can have adverse effects and may be contraindicated if you are on some medications, particularly if you are being treated for cancer. While ramping up to the correct dose, it is not unusual to have significant negative side effects like nausea, diarrhea, constipation, gas or an upset stomach. Berberine reduces blood sugar levels, which may be dangerous in some individuals. Side effects are typically dose dependent, the more you take the more likely and more significant side effects will be.
There is data showing a small amount of weight loss over baseline when using berberine or metformin.
Initially the thought was that berberine reduced the amount of new blood sugar created by the liver. The liver normally produces blood sugar from stored nutrients as needed. There is also evidence that berberine may reduce appetite, as is not uncommon with medicines that upset the digestive system- although there may another reason for this response.
As with all supplements that may cause a small amount of additional weight loss compared to baseline, I urge you to consider the cost of the supplement over that time frame and determine if that is worthwhile to you.
Most of the time, the cost of the “weight loss” supplement over the duration needed far outweighs the benefit of taking the supplement.
It’s not unusual for the additional weight loss to be on the order of 5 pounds in 6 months of using a particular supplement. In my opinion, spending the same money on experiences or things that help you move your body (a bike, a gym membership, weights) or on healthy foods will provide better long-term benefits.
I recommend that anyone considering taking berberine check in with your doctor and have bloodwork done first to assess your normal blood sugar levels. This ensures that your blood sugar would not drop too much when adding berberine. If your blood sugar levels drop below what is appropriate for you, adverse symptoms can result. Common symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) include fast heartbeat, shakiness, sweating, anxiety, irritability, confusion, dizziness and hunger.
If you have questions or concerns about finding the right supplements or weight loss plan for you, the doctors at Qwibil are happy to help you.