Can you lose weight by taking berberine?

Losing weight and having a healthy diet are seen as effective in addressing obesity. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in natural health supplements since they have fewer side effects than pharmaceutical ones. One of these health supplements is berberine.

Increased body mass index (BMI) is associated with poor health and conditions such as heart disease, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke. Individuals with a BMI of 25.0 to <30.0 are considered overweight, while those with a BMI of 30.0 or higher are obese. Obesity is a serious health issue since it is a risk factor for developing different metabolic disorders.

What is berberine?

Berberine is a wonder compound since it can cure infections and treat or manage several health conditions. It’s a naturally occurring plant alkaloid extracted from Turmeric trees, goldenseal, coptis, European barberry, goldthread, Oregon grape and Phellodendron.

For thousands of years, berberine extracted from these plants has been used as part of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine and Native American healing. Interestingly, berberine is only potent when taken orally and not applied topically. It is toxic when applied externally.

can berberine help you lose weight?

Can berberine help you lose weight?

Berberine has the potential to help you lose weight. A meta-analysis and review of 13 clinical trials demonstrated that the intake of berberine supplements led to the following [1]:

  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL), recognised as good cholesterol, increased by 1.59 mg/dL in the treatment group compared to the placebo group.
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, lowered by 1.77 mmol/L in those receiving berberine supplements compared to those in the control group.
  • Total cholesterol in the treatment group was reduced by 1.77 mmol/L compared to the placebo group.
  • Triglyceride levels were reduced by 0.93 mmol/L in the treatment group compared to the control group.
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The review pooled results from 13 trials and found that total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL consistently lowered while HDL increased following treatment with berberine. Notably, berberine was taken along with lifestyle intervention, while the control group also had lifestyle intervention and placebo drugs. This is important since both control and treatment groups had lifestyle interventions. In turn, this reduced the risk of bias in the findings of the studies.

Findings indicated that the intake of berberine is effective in lowering the biomarkers associated with obesity. Biomarkers are compounds such as LDL, triglycerides and cholesterol used by doctors to determine your risk for obesity and metabolic disorders. Lowering these biomarkers and increasing the HDL biomarker can help you lose weight.

How does berberine help reduce weight?

Berberine may help you reduce weight by controlling hormones that regulate fat cells. As soon as berberine is taken orally, it is absorbed in the small intestine and enters the bloodstream. It then travels through the blood to different cells in the body. Once inside the cells, berberine has been shown to target multiple pathways.

One study demonstrated that berberine inhibits genes involved in fat formation, thereby reducing the production of fats [2]. It also increases the expression of the protein mRNA in the skeletal muscles. In turn, this increases the production of heat and oxygen consumption and the metabolism of fat and glucose.

How does berberine help reduce weight?

Another study showed that berberine is an AMPK agonist [3]. An agonist helps produce a biological response. AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is an essential enzyme since it improves glucose metabolism, increases energy production and reduces energy storage.

Hence, when AMPK is activated, this can normalise the imbalance of energy, glucose and lipid. Further, when AMPK is activated, this can speed up the transport of free fatty acids to the cell’s mitochondria, reducing glucose and lipid levels [4].

Berberine-mediated activation of AMPK also has anti-inflammatory effects. This can result in improved insulin resistance.

The effects of berberine can lead to decreased fat and sugar storage through increased metabolism of lipids and sugar. All these can result in a reduction in the weight of individuals who are overweight or obese and those with metabolic disorders. As one study points out, berberine’s anti-inflammatory and weight-loss effects can indirectly improve the clinical symptoms of individuals with metabolic disorders [5].

What dose should I take to lose weight?

Clinical trials have been conducted to examine berberine’s effects on participants’ body weights. In one study, individuals who were obese participated in 12-week research and took 500 mg of berberine three times a day [6]. Investigators found out that the participants lost an average of 5 pounds. In addition, the participants lost 3.6% of their body fat.

A second study showed impressive results in reducing BMI in individuals with metabolic disorders [7]. All participants took 300 mg of berberine supplements thrice a day for three months. At the end of the study period, the average BMI dropped to 27.4 from a BMI of 31.5 compared to the beginning of the study.

This suggested that the intake of berberine in just three months helped individuals who are obese to become overweight. This is a significant reduction in their BMI in just a relatively short period.

In addition, the same study also revealed that leptin levels reduced from 8.01 at the start to 5.12 μg/L while the leptin/Adiponectin ratio decreased. Leptin is another biomarker of obesity where high levels indicate resistance to leptin, a hormone responsible for reducing appetite.

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The same study likewise examined the waist circumference of the participants before and after intake of berberine. A high waist circumference indicates increased belly fat, a predictor of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Results of the 12-week study demonstrated that those who took berberine reduced their waist circumference by an average of 5.2cm. This adds to evidence that berberine is an effective medication in lowering your risk of heart disease by reducing your waist circumference.

Based on the findings of these two studies, a dose of 300-500 mg three times per day or 1200-1500 mg/day taken for at least three months can significantly reduce weight. However, there are still limited studies examining the prolonged health benefits of berberine in reducing weight. More clinical trials that discuss the long-term effects of berberine on weight loss are needed to verify the safety and efficacy of berberine in weight loss.

Should I take berberine alone or in combination with diet and exercise?

Currently, two studies have shown that intake of berberine alone in those who are clinically obese can result in significant weight loss. Intake of berberine should be done for at least three months to see visible results.

However, these studies only recruited small sample sizes. This means there is still a need to verify findings in large clinical trials.

Despite the small samples of the studies, the findings demonstrated that berberine has significant effects on lipid metabolism and eventual weight loss. All these are promising results for individuals considering losing weight through natural supplements.

A review showed that intake of berberine with lifestyle interventions such as a healthy diet and exercise would also result in significant weight loss. This suggests that berberine’s effects increase when diet and exercise are used. Evidence from literature has strongly recommended that diet and exercise are essential to losing or keeping weight off your body [8].

Is it safe to take berberine to lose weight?

Studies have shown that a dose of 1200-1500 mg/day of berberine is well-tolerated and safe for different patient groups. The safety and efficacy of this wonder supplement make it ideal for helping with weight loss.

In one study, doses of up to 2600 mg/day are even well tolerated. However, minor side effects are noted, such as nausea and vomiting [9]. These side effects often go away when you stop taking berberine.

Although berberine is relatively safe to use, caution should be taken when taking this with other drugs, such as anti-hypertensive or metformin medications. When taken together with metformin, it can drastically reduce blood glucose, leading to hypoglycaemia. Deficient blood glucose levels can lead to nausea, vomiting, and in worse cases, loss of consciousness.

Meanwhile, taking berberine with other anti-hypertensive drugs can significantly lower blood pressure. Hypotension can lead to confusion or loss of consciousness since the brain is not receiving sufficient oxygen due to low blood pressure.

In addition, berberine with sedatives can increase drowsiness. Hence, when planning to lose weight, always consult a doctor to ensure that berberine does not react with the medications you are currently taking.

When should I consult a doctor when taking berberine?

Berberine is a relatively safe medication to take when planning to lose weight. However, before taking the supplement, always consult your doctor on the appropriate dosage and duration of the medicine. Since there are potential drug-drug interactions when taking berberine, always inform your doctor if you are taking other supplements or are taking metformin, anti-hypertensive drugs, and sedatives.

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Photograph: Andrey Starostin/Shutterstock
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