Berberine for Weight Loss: Explained

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 04/05/2024

If you’ve spent any time on TikTok recently, you might have stumbled across posts about berberine. This natural compound found in plants is said to help you lose weight, and it’s even hailed as “nature’s Ozempic®.”

Whether you learned about berberine from TikTok or anywhere else, we’re probably not the first to tell you social media shouldn’t be your primary source. But you’ve come to the right place, and we’re ready to answer the big question you might have: does berberine help you lose weight?

Or maybe you’ve heard the opposite and are wondering: can berberine cause weight gain? The info definitely runs the gamut.

While some studies show berberine can lead to a reduction in weight, BMI and waist circumference, more research is needed to say for sure. And it may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s free of potential side effects and drug interactions.

Below, we dive into what berberine is, whether it’s an effective weight loss aid, its side effects and what other supplements can help you lose weight.

Berberine is a substance found in plants like goldenseal, Oregon grape and barberry — and as an over-the-counter supplement in your favorite health food store.

It’s an alkaloid, a class of natural compounds containing nitrogen. Many alkaloids have health benefits and can help treat conditions like diabetes, cancer and cardiac dysfunction. Berberine is no different.

It’s been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and more recently in modern medicine to treat fevers, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal problems, flu and the common cold.

Berberine is now gaining popularity as a weight loss supplement. But is it effective?

The jury is still out, but berberine may help with weight loss.

A 2022 systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis looked at how berberine affects cardiovascular risk factors. The results found that berberine can significantly lower weight, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI).

It also significantly reduced factors that can negatively affect body weight and health, such as:

  • Triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood)

  • Total cholesterol

  • Low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol)

  • Fasting blood sugar

  • Systolic blood pressure

  • Insulin

  • HOMA-IR (a measure of insulin resistance)

Berberine also increased high-density lipoprotein, AKA good cholesterol.

A 2020 systematic review found similar results. It looked at berberine studies in humans, animals and in vitro (performed in a test tube or culture dish) and concluded that berberine is effective for obesity, as well as conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes and cancer.

More research also found that berberine may lower cholesterol and blood glucose (blood sugar levels) in those with type 2 diabetes.

Not bad for a humble natural compound, eh?

However, before you run to the nearest health store, you should know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't approved the supplement for weight loss or any other medical condition. And more clinical trials with humans are needed to confirm if berberine can help with weight loss.

The final verdict: Berberine shows some promise as a weight loss aid, but there needs to be more solid evidence to know whether it's truly effective.

But since there is some evidence that berberine can help with weight loss, let’s look at it in more detail.

Berberine can help with weight loss in a few different ways. First, it improves insulin sensitivity in people with insulin resistance, which can help lower blood sugar.

Berberine also acts as an anti-sclerotic, which means it lowers cholesterol levels.

The supplement also enhances the expression of a type of protein that helps break down fat — which is linked to long-term weight loss.

Berberine may also change your gut microbiota, reducing the types of bacteria that could contribute to obesity and increasing the types of bacteria that could help prevent obesity.

Finally, berberine also acts as an anti-inflammatory. This is important because inflammation has been linked to metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, excess weight around the stomach and elevated blood sugar levels.

Weight loss is a tricky journey. Even if you take berberine, you should focus on other factors that promote weight loss, such as a nutritious meal plan and increased movement.

Speak to a healthcare provider for personalized advice on what’ll work best for your body, including before taking berberine.

However, we can give you some guidelines for taking berberine for weight loss based on existing research.

What’s the Best Berberine Dosage for Weight Loss?

The reviews we mentioned earlier found that the optimal dose of berberine to reduce weight, triglycerides and total cholesterol was 1 gram of berberine a day.

They also found that the optimal dose to lower insulin and HOMA-IR was 1.8 grams of berberine daily and 5 grams daily to increase high-density lipoprotein.

You should take this supplement by mouth once daily, at whatever time works best for you.

How Long Does It Take for Berberine to Work for Weight Loss?

The small amount of research available has found that:

  • Significant weight loss effects were only seen when people took more than one gram of berberine per day for more than eight weeks.

  • For waist circumference, those significant effects came after a whopping 50 weeks of berberine supplementation.

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Weight loss treatment that puts you first

Berberine has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, but there’s not much research on its safety, especially since it’s not FDA-approved.

It’s natural but can still come with side effects and risks.

Berberine Side Effects

Potential side effects of berberine include:

  • Nausea

  • Constipation

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating

  • Diarrhea

Berberine Interactions with Medications

One key thing to be aware of is that berberine may interact with certain medications.

Berberine shouldn’t be taken with cyclosporine, and you should be careful taking berberine with:

  • Diabetes medicines like metformin

  • High blood pressure medications

  • Medications that slow blood clotting

  • Sedative medications

  • Medications changed by the liver

  • Midazolam

  • Pentobarbital

  • Tacrolimus

  • Dextromethorphan

  • Losartan

If you’re taking medication, ask your doctor before you try berberine. Also let your doctor know that you are taking berberine before taking a new prescription medication.

Who Can’t Take Berberine?

Berberine may lead to a buildup of the compound bilirubin in infants. This can cause brain damage, so berberine is probably not safe for infants, or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Seek medical advice before taking berberine if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

So, if the evidence for berberine as a weight loss supplement isn’t quite there yet, are there any supplements that have been proven to help you manage your weight?

Dietary supplements that may help with weight loss include:

  • Caffeine

  • Green tea

  • Magnesium

  • Protein

  • Fiber

  • Vitamin B12

Check out our guide to the best weight loss supplements for women to learn more.

Beyond supplements, there are prescription weight loss medications you can consider.

These include weight loss injections like:

  • Ozempic and Wegovy® (semaglutide)

  • Mounjaro® and Zepbound® (tirzepatide)

  • Saxenda® and Victoza® (liraglutide)

And non-injectable weight loss medications like:

  • Topamax® (topiramate)

  • Rybelsus® (semaglutide)

  • Metformin

  • Contrave® (naltrexone-bupropion)

  • Qsymia® (phentermine-topiramate)

  • Xenical® (orlistat)

Quick heads-up: Most insurance companies and plans don’t cover weight loss drugs, so you’ll likely have to pay for them yourself.

If you’re exploring weight loss options, your best bet is to speak with a healthcare professional. They can recommend the best options based on your circumstances and any health conditions you might have.

On social media, berberine is often dubbed a natural weight management aid, but should you believe the hype? Well, maybe.

The bottom line is that berberine could help promote weight loss. Berberine supplements have been linked to a reduction in weight, BMI and waist circumference, as well as other weight-related factors like cholesterol and fasting blood sugar.

But research is limited and more is needed to confirm these benefits.

Right now, berberine isn’t FDA-approved for weight loss — or anything else for that matter. There are also potential side effects like nausea, bloating and diarrhea.

Luckily, there are other weight loss treatments with much more science behind them, whether that’s prescription weight loss medications or lifestyle interventions like healthy eating and incorporating more movement into your day.

8 Sources

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  2. Ain, Q. U., Khan, H., Mubarak, M. S., & Pervaiz, A. (2016). Plant Alkaloids as Antiplatelet Agent: Drugs of the Future in the Light of Recent Developments. Frontiers in pharmacology, 7, 292. https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/pharmacology/articles/10.3389/fphar.2016.00292/full
  3. Neag, M. A., Mocan, A., Echeverría, J., Pop, R. M., Bocsan, C. I., Crişan, G., & Buzoianu, A. D. (2018). Berberine: Botanical Occurrence, Traditional Uses, Extraction Methods, and Relevance in Cardiovascular, Metabolic, Hepatic, and Renal Disorders. Frontiers in pharmacology, 9, 557. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6111450/
  4. In the News: Berberine. (2023). https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/in-the-news-berberine
  5. Zamani, M., Zarei, M., Nikbaf-Shandiz, M., Hosseini, S., Shiraseb, F., & Asbaghi, O. (2022). The effects of berberine supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors in adults: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Frontiers in nutrition, 9, 1013055. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.1013055/full
  6. Ilyas, Z., Perna, S., Al-Thawadi, S., Alalwan, T. A., Riva, A., Petrangolini, G., Gasparri, C., Infantino, V., Peroni, G., & Rondanelli, M. (2020). The effect of Berberine on weight loss in order to prevent obesity: A systematic review. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie, 127, 110137. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332220303292
  7. Och, A., Och, M., Nowak, R., Podgórska, D., & Podgórski, R. (2022). Berberine, a Herbal Metabolite in the Metabolic Syndrome: The Risk Factors, Course, and Consequences of the Disease. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 27(4), 1351. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8874997/
  8. Berberine. (2023). https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/1126.html
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