What is berberine, and why is it all over TikTok?

“Magical” weight loss solutions are nothing new, and neither are diet pills.

What is berberine, and why is it all over TikTok?
A pharmacist displays boxes of Ozempic, a semaglutide injection drug used for treating type 2 diabetes made by Novo Nordisk, at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, U.S. March 29, 2023. Reuters/George Frey/File Photo

“Magical” weight loss solutions are nothing new, and neither are diet pills. But, with Ozempic and other semaglutide medications taking the internet (and the world) by storm, are we at risk of falling right back into those snake oil hacks rooted in diet culture?

While Ozempic is a clinically-proven diabetes drug, it’s also become a popular weight loss solution because it tends to suppress appetite. It’s hard to get your hands on and is often very expensive. So, alternatives are in high demand, and TikTok is a major source for getting the word out on these treatments. Nicknamed “Nature’s Ozempic,” a supplement called berberine has become a total sensation on the platform.

Berberine isn’t really similar to semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic. It’s actually a chemical compound extracted from plants like goldenseal and barberry, and it’s been used in Asia for at least 2000 years. It’s often used to treat diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues. Researchers have been looking into berberine as a possible treatment for hypertension and insulin resistance, too.

While it hasn’t typically been seen as a weight loss tool, berberine recently became all the rage for just that. Some studies have suggested there’s a possibility that it could help people lose some weight, but there haven’t really been any big clinical trials on that theory.

“There is a marginal benefit from berberine supplementation on total body weight, but the benefit is nowhere near weight loss medications, and nowhere near any real amount of weight loss that would be required for any significant health changes,” explains Dr. Idrees Mughal, a British physician with a masters in nutritional research. In one 2020 study, researchers found that people taking about 500 milligrams of berberine daily lost about 1.8 kilograms (4 pounds) on average, even after taking it for months.

"The FDA doesn't regulate supplements like Berberine the way they do medications. The FDA can't weigh in on the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements," Dr. Céline Gounder, the editor-at-large for public health at KFF Health News, told CBS News. "People are desperate to lose weight. Understandably, they want to do so cheaply, easily, and quickly. But even Ozempic isn't a silver bullet."