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What to know about berberine for weight loss

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What is it?Does it work?Side effectsMedicationsSummary
Berberine is a compound that naturally occurs in certain plants. There’s some evidence that its supplement form can help with weight loss, but more research is needed.
Medically reviewed by Ami Patel PharmD, BCPS
Updated on

Making dietary changes and engaging in regular physical activity are effective ways of achieving healthy, sustainable weight loss.

But there is some evidence that a supplement called berberine can help aid weight loss. It comes from plants and has long been used in Chinese traditional medicine.

It’s also important to note that berberine might cause some side effects and may interact with other medications, so you should always speak with a healthcare professional before deciding to take it.

What is berberine?

A person drinking a protein shake and kneeling on a yoga mat. They may be wondering about berberine for weight loss.
Photography by Visualspace/Getty Images

Berberine is a bioactive ingredient found in certain plants. It belongs to a group of plants known as alkaloids. Examples of plants containing berberine include goldenseal, tree turmeric, Oregon grape, and goldthread. When taken as a supplement, it can affect how the human body functions, including aiding in weight loss.

Berberine has a history of use in traditional Chinese medicine in the treatment of multiple medical conditions because of its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

In recent years, scientists have begun associating its use with potential health benefits such as reducing inflammation and promoting weight loss in humans.

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Does it work?

A few research studies suggest the potential of berberine for aiding weight loss.

Berberine works by controlling the genetic factors responsible for fat production and burning. One 2018 review highlighted that berberine could either slow down or totally stop the factors responsible for fat formation in the body. Also, berberine can stimulate the mechanism that initiates the fat-burning process in the body.

Another review, from 2020, further explored the effect of berberine on weight management and fat loss. The researchers found that berberine could alter the gut microbiome in animal and human trial studies.

Additionally, a 2021 study shows that berberine improves insulin resistance, which can lead to weight loss in those with type 2 diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

An older study from 2012 among people with obesity suggested that berberine could result in fat loss at a dosage of 500 milligrams (mg) taken three times per day. The researchers reported a 3.6% fat loss among study participants. 

Though these research studies demonstrate the effectiveness of berberine for weight loss, more human clinical trial studies are necessary to accurately determine its safety and efficacy. 

Possible side effects

The side effects of berberine vary for each person and could also depend on the dosage. Also, there is no adequate information to fully determine the side effects of berberine.

Findings from animal studies reveal the following possible side effects of berberine: 

  • nausea
  • muscle tremors
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • white blood cell reduction
  • stomach ulcers
  • enlarged liver and kidney

Also, berberine intake could interfere with medications such as:

  • blood pressure medications
  • oral hypoglycemics for blood sugar control, like metformin (Riomet)
  • anticoagulants
  • some sedatives

Therefore, extra caution is crucial if you are on medications and plan to take berberine. Contacting your doctor for medical guidance is essential to evaluate the health risks and benefits.

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Weight loss medications

Weight loss medications help people with obesity or a higher body mass index (BMI) lose weight and reduce other health risks. There are different types of weight loss medications, and they work in various ways.

The following are common weight loss medications available in most clinical settings.

  • Orlistat: Orlistat is the generic form of the drug Xenical. It acts in the gut, where it decreases the amount of fat absorbed from food into the body. Orlistat may cause gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhea, stomach discomfort or pain, and passage of oily stools.
  • Phentermine: Phentermine (Adipex-p) suppresses appetite and increases how full you feel. This reduces the amount of calories the person can eat. Some side effects include constipation, dizziness, and dry mouth.
  • Liraglutide: Liraglutide (Saxenda) acts in the brain, where it helps control appetite and food intake. It is typically available as an injection. Common side effects are nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headache, and abdominal pain.
  • Semaglutide: It is commonly known as Ozempic. It helps control appetite and food intake by acting in specific regions of the brain. It is available as an injection and typically given every week. Some side effects are fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, headache, and abdominal pain.

Despite their effectiveness in weight management, these medications are not suitable for everyone. Most individuals on long-term medications may require medical guidance from a doctor before taking these weight-loss medications.

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.


Berberine is a biological ingredient found in certain plants. Its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties have made it potentially useful in managing some chronic medical conditions, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. There is some evidence to suggest it can be helpful in weight loss.

However, more clinical trials are necessary to determine its effectiveness and safety in humans. Berberine might cause some side effects and it can interact negatively with certain medications.

Due to the health risks and possible side effects of berberine, it is best to contact your doctor for professional advice before taking it.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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