Ozempic is enjoying fifteen minutes of fame right now because of the medical profession pushing it as the next big weight loss drug.  But, as with all pharmaceuticals, it is not without adverse side effects (check out our blog post from March 27).  So it goes without saying that people are searching for natural alternatives.  Enter berberine.  But nature doesn’t work like chemicals made in a lab.  So let’s look a little deeper at berberine.

Berberine is a chemical compound found in plants like goldenseal, Oregon grapes, bayberries, barberries, poppies and coptis rhizome (Huang Lian), a commonly used herb in East Asian Medicine.  Berberine is very bitter and cold in nature.  Because of these properties, it is not something that is safe for everyone.  A person’s constitution has to be considered when herbs are prescribed.

To understand this more, we’re gonna take a little trip down the herbal East Asian Medicine road.  In East Asian Medicine (EAM), there is a concept known as Wu Wei.  This is the flavor profile that each herb is assigned.
Here’s the breakdown:
1. sweet herbs are used to tonify and harmonize
2. salty herbs are used to purge toxins and soften masses
3. bitter herbs are used to clear heat and drain dampness
4. sour herbs are used to astringe or shrink
5. acrid herbs are used to disperse

As mentioned previously, berberine is bitter and cold, so any herbs or foods containing berberine will be good at clearing heat, reducing inflammation and clearing infections.  Huang Lian, for example, has been used for centuries to treat stomach ulcers, gastritis, gastrointestinal bleeding, intestinal infections and burning stomach pain.

When it comes to herbs and supplements, it’s important to remember that the therapeutic property of an herb is much more than the sum of the component’s parts.  Herbs or supplements taken in whole form have natural safeguards.  But extracting a single chemical, like berberine, from the plant, strips away those naturally occurring safeguards, which can render the chemical harmful.

A prime example of this is ephedra.  In the 1990’s diet pills containing ephedra were all the rage and due to improper usage, there were upwards of 18,000 adverse effects and even multiple deaths.  This is because ephedra contains a component known as ephedrine.  When ephedrine was extracted from the plant and used by itself, without the naturally occurring safeguards, it became dangerous for many people.  Now, ephedra is banned, despite the fact that it has been used safely for millennia in EAM as a very powerful bronchodilator that can help with a multitude of upper respiratory diseases, like asthma or COPD.

This is why running out to get berberine, is not something we recommend.  This is not to say that berberine doesn’t have therapeutic properties.  It has been studied for years, but not specifically for weight loss.  Many studies do demonstrate that berberine can be used to help decrease blood pressure, regulate immunity, increase insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol and improve blood glucose levels.  But there is not enough conclusive evidence to suggest that it can be used safely and effectively for weight loss.

Remember that herbs and supplements can be strong and powerful medicines.  But it has to be reiterated that plants in the wild work synergistically as whole foods.  So extracting and taking individual components can be detrimental to the gut microbiome, the organs and the body as a whole.

More importantly, weight loss is not a quick fix.  It takes time and understanding of why your body is acting the way it is.  There may be hormonal imbalances, mold exposure, heavy metal toxicities or even nutrient deficiencies that may be contributing to your weight gain.  This is why it’s so important to NOT jump on the bandwagon and instead work with a host of practitioners to figure out what your body needs.  Find the right combination for you.  This may include functional medicine doctors, acupuncturists, herbalists, massage therapists, etc.  There is no one size fits all when it comes to weight loss.  But once you get on the right track, there will be nothing that can deter you.

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