Dating back to the end of 2022, social media influencers have contributed to the large demand for Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drugs Ozempic and Wegovy for off-label weight loss.
As more and more people flocked to get on the medication, high demand led to shortages of the drug – making it considerably more difficult for patients to access it.
In addition, the high price tag of the drug – which can cost up to $1,000 a month without insurance – is leaving some people eager to find alternatives. However, that push is also giving way for plenty of health misinformation about alternatives to shedding pounds.
Now, a TikTok trend has kicked off with influencers touting the supplement berberine, sometimes referred to as ‘Nature’s Ozempic.’
Using berberine doesn’t involve eating healthy or exercising as one might assume, instead it’s a compound pulled from certain plants like barberry.
“I have seen so many TikToks about this, so I wanted to test it out,” one TikToker, who considers herself a keto expert, says in a recent video. “From what I researched, all of the benefits were very similar to what you experience when your body’s in ketosis. So I wanted to put it to the test.”
She then goes on to claim that berberine is supposed to help with insulin issues. “Right away, I noticed a huge issue in bloating,” she says. “I have felt really good.”
Another user admits “I am very easily influenced” and says she’s been seeing ‘Nature’s Ozempic’ popping up a lot on the platform. “Obviously it’s summer, I’m trying to lose a couple pounds,” she explains. “I’m just going to test it out.”
Interestingly, unlike Ozempic and Wegovy, which are new drugs, berberine has been around for hundreds of years and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine, primarily to treat diarrhea or other stomach problems.
Like the majority of supplements – which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and therefore often lack clinical evidence for their health claims – berberine’s efficacy on weight loss is disputed. It is, first and foremost, an extremely different compound from semaglutide, the main active ingredient in Ozempic.
It’s possible that berberine has some health benefits, based on the small body of research that does exist.
For example, berberine has been studied for the potential ability to lower cholesterol and help regulate insulin; it’s also been thought of as a way to improve gut health. However, these claims aren’t proven, as most studies on berberine are small and not peer-reviewed.
Berberine’s effect on weight loss is still up in the air as well, though some preliminary research has hinted that it may help people lose weight, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Still, most experts have noted that taking berberine as a full alternative to Ozempic is simply based on inaccurate claims. Semaglutide, after all, is fully FDA-approved as a diabetes treatment.
“Don’t think that you’re going to take [berberine] and the pounds are just going to drop off,” Dr. Melinda Ring, an integrative medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine, told The New York Times.
Others on TikTok are pushing back on the ‘Nature’s Ozempic’ trend, reminding people that Ozempic-related fads without clinical evidence aren’t always going to be a silver bullet for weight loss.
“These are businesses at the end of the day, and people are profiting off women’s insecurities,” TikToker Carly Weinstein says in the video. “Whatever diet or fad you choose to follow, I totally understand… But just know that this is just another version of the fad diet that has taken place in the past. You likely will gain the weight back. It’s likely not sustainable for life.”