‘Nature’s Ozempic’ Has a Pretty Gross Side Effect

Lifestyle

On social media, the supposed “miracle drug” that’s on everyone’s lips at the moment is Ozempic, the medication created to treat type 2 diabetes that is now being used as a weight loss treatment. But with access to Ozempic waning with increased demand and prices rising, social media users have started looking for alternatives that they say have the same effect— and don’t require a trip to the doctor. 

Enter Berberine, an over-the-counter supplement that in the last six months has gone viral under a new name: “nature’s Ozempic.” 

What is Berberine? 

The compound Berberine is derived from natural ingredients, as it naturally occurs in the shrub barberry, as well as turmeric, goldenseal, and other herbs, says Dr. Amanda Velazquez, the Director of Obesity Medicine at Cedars- Sinai Hospital. 

In some studies, Berberine has been shown to improve high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, all things that can potentially lead to weight loss. Velazquez says that the research around Berberine’s effectiveness is sparse, and smaller studies should be met with caution. 

But that hasn’t stopped TikTok from declaring Berberine as the next great weight loss drug, likening it to a natural version of Ozempic, a semaglutide originally developed to treat diabetics by regulating blood sugar. 

The hashtag #naturesozempic has more than 12.4 million views, with #berberine bringing in an additional 76.8 million views. Searching the app for mentions of “Berberine” or “Nature’s Ozempic” results in thousands of videos of influencers documenting their experiences with the supplement. 

“So you want to give Berberine a try? Here are some things you need to know from a functional and holistic nutritionist,” says one wellness influencer account. “POV: you started taking Berberine for PCOS weight loss and are waiting to lose 20 lbs,” jokes another, before mouthing “how long is this going to take?!

Are there any side effects? 

For the average person, there’s nothing dangerous about Berberine per se. You can buy it at a health food store, or even Amazon. But according to Dr. Priya Jaisinghani, an endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist at NYU Langone, it can also have interactions with many medications, including chemotherapies and immunosuppressives, so people should do their due diligence before they start taking it. 

“It’s so important to speak to your doctor before starting any supplement,” Jaisinghani says.  “Whether it’s natural or its manufactured, whatever you’re taking has an effect.”

“Let’s start with the gut, because guess what bitch, the gut is gutting,” says another influencer, who describes intense amounts of diarrhea he experienced after first taking the supplement. 

Perhaps even more worryingly, in addition to appetite suppression and sugar regulation, one of the closest similarities Berberine shares with Ozempic is its potential side effects. Because the supplement directly targets the gastrointestinal tract, it can help you lose weight, but it can also, possibly make you poop your pants. Gastrointestinal distress like constipation or diarrhea, as well as nausea and migraines, are side effects of Ozempic that are commonly documented on social media and can also impact Berberine users. 

As a weight loss method, Berberine also isn’t nearly as effective as Ozempic, says Velazquez. “This isn’t a substitute or replacement for an anti-obesity medication,” she tells Rolling Stone. “It maybe be considered as an add-on if your provider thinks it’s appropriate for you. But it definitely does not have the same efficacy as some of these newer anti-obesity medications.”

However, Velazquez adds, many people who take Berberine might inaccurately believe it’s as effective a weight loss supplement as Ozempic, precisely because it can yield the same side effects.

“There’s going to be abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea. And I think that that’s where [some are] getting this misunderstanding that [berberine] is this replica of Olympic, “ Velazquez says. “It’s absolutely not. I think that people are mistakenly thinking that if they’re experiencing these side effects, which are common with Ozempic, it must be doing the same thing.” 

Dr. Azza Halim, a Florida-based physician focused on wellness, notes that while Berberine is pretty safe in moderation, some advice she has seen online goes directly against medical opinion, and could result in more intense side effects. 

“Social media has a huge impact and is a big influence. When people find that, ‘Oh, one tablet is good or one pill does the job, maybe I take two,’ that’s when they start seeing the side effects,” Halim says. “With Berberine, I would not want somebody to start overdosing on it so that they can start losing five pounds a week. That is not healthy. There is no miracle pill.” 

Why is Berberine so popular? 

Since Ozempic became a household name, there’s been a major shortage of the drug, both for users looking to lose weight and for the type-2 diabetics for whom it was originally created. Drug shortages and the rising cost of medications have led users to seek cheaper options, from telehealth sites or compounding facilities. 

“Patients may inquire about the medication in their doctor’s office, qualify for the medication, and then find out from their insurance that the plan doesn’t cover anti-obesity medications,” Jaisinghani says. “Out-of-pocket costs for these medications might be prohibitive for people to obtain access. And with drug shortages which make patients unable to have a consistent treatment plan, it may drive patients to begin seeking alternative sources of medications.”

Trending

Berberine isn’t a newfound discovery or even a major medical advance. But unfortunately, as long as Ozempic remains the buzzy new drug, Berberine won’t be the last “natural” alternative to go viral. And while it isn’t dangerous in small doses, doctors still urge users to exercise caution, despite glowing endorsements on social media. 

“When something is touted as natural, it definitely has a marketing advantage, where consumers may feel that it is more trusted,” Velazquez tells Rolling Stone. “But natural doesn’t automatically mean safer.”

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