We all know a friend or relative who recently lost weight, and who said they did so easily. 

Recently, weight-loss injections have entered the market. These were originally meant to treat diabetes, but after patients reported losing weight, they soon became popular among those battling obesity. 

However, like any drug, these have a long list of side effects. These include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, fatigue, heartburn, and pain.

There are no shortcuts to a healthy weight, and people who use these weight-loss drugs but don’t change their lifestyle may lose weight at first, but as soon as they stop, the magic will wear off. Because in the end, only a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle lasts for a long time and helps you maintain optimal weight and health.

Still, we would all be grateful for some help, and if it’s something from nature, we’ll gladly accept it. So it’s nice to hear about berberine, or as some call it, “Natural Ozempic.”

What is berberine?

Berberine is a natural light-yellow compound found in various plants, including the goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis), barberry (Berberis Vulgaris), and Oregon grapes (Mahonia aquifolium).

Barberries are seen blooming (illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The fact that this compound has health applications is nothing new, with berberine having been used in Chinese and Indian medicine for centuries to treat various health conditions. 

Berberine is part of a group of nitrogen-rich plant compounds called alkaloids, which also include morphine, nicotine, and caffeine. It has been the focus of extensive studies for its health benefits, such as improving blood sugar, cholesterol, cardiovascular health, and the digestive system. However, it has also gained attention for its potential use in helping lose weight.

How does berberine help with weight loss?

One of the studies found that berberine activates the enzyme AMPK, which is found in every cell in the body and helps regulate metabolism. By doing this, berberine is able to help improve insulin sensitivity, imporve metabolism, and promote the breakdown of fats – all of which can contribute to weight loss.

In addition, berberine also inhibits certain enzymes that work to store fats, which means it can help cut down the accumulation of fat.

Other studies have shown that berberine can have positive effects on blood glucose control and can help regulate blood sugar, which can help improve insulin sensitivity. 

By regulating blood sugar levels, berberine can indirectly support weight loss because doing so can reduce food cravings and stop overeating. This is supported by other studies, which say berberine can help with appetite control by impacting certain hormones involved with hunger, like leptin and ghrelin. This would reduce the amount of calories consumed. 

Berberine also has antimicrobial properties, which can help with the gut microbiome. This is important because an imbalance in intestinal microbiota is linked to obesity. 

In one clinical trial looking at treatments for fatty liver disease, participants who took berberine daily for three months saw significant weight loss. 

More studies are needed on berberine’s role in weight loss

Although there are studies supporting berberine’s potential role in weight loss, there still isn’t enough evidence for its effectiveness and safety as a weight loss supplement, especially not for long-term use.

Berberine is good for the digestive system, but it does have its side effects. These can include abdominal pain, swelling, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. It also isn’t good for cases of chronic diarrhea or kidney stones.

Supplements are no substitute for food

In general, the nutritional supplement market is overcrowded. This, combined with the increasing ease of ordering them online, increases the risk of being tempted by cheap supplements that may be of lower quality. 

There are supplements that can react badly with the medications we take. We need to know the right dosages for each supplement, and if we should even take them at all. 

Naturopathy believes in taking supplements for certain deficiencies or treatments, but not just for the sake of it. Healthy people with good diets for the most part won’t need any supplements at all. 

Consult a doctor before taking any supplement, and remember, supplements are no substitute for a healthy diet.

Yifat Abecasis is a naturopath and a lecturer on healthy lifestyles


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