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Secret Shopper: What’s the deal with berberine—nature’s Ozempic?

Celebrity buzz and heavy advertising have boosted interest in medications for type 2 diabetes—and berberine, a supplement. Find out more.

Melaina Juntti

February 1, 2024

3 Min Read
Secret Shopper: What’s the deal with berberine—nature’s Ozempic?

A new wave of FDA-approved weight-loss drugs has seized the zeitgeist, most notably Ozempic and its sister medication, Wegovy. Both are branded forms of semalgutide, an injectable drug used to treat type 2 diabetes or help people drop pounds. Ozempic especially has found favor among celebrities and high-profile influencers, driving demand for this drug through the roof.

Of course, the average natural products shopper is likely less interested in pharmaceutical approaches to weight management. However, the Ozempic craze has sparked intrigue around berberine, a botanical-based supplement that might support blood sugar, appetite control and, possibly, weight loss. These potential benefits have even earned berberine the nickname “nature’s Ozempic.”

Knowing that natural products retailers are fielding more customer questions about berberine—especially in January and February, when weight management is top of mind—we sent our Secret Shopper out into the field. Here’s how a staffer at one store handled this timely topic. 

Natural Foods Merchandiser: What’s the deal with berberine—nature’s Ozempic?

Retailer: Well, I don’t think it’s quite “nature’s Ozempic.” Berberine is a supplement, not a drug, so it works differently. That being said, it could help with weight loss, kind of like Ozempic.

Natural Foods Merchandiser: Is it a new supplement? I ‘d never heard of it until recently.

Retailer: No, it’s been around. It’s just getting lots of attention right now.

Natural Foods Merchandiser: Well, what is it? And does it actually support weight loss—and how? 

Retailer: It comes from a few different plants, I think, and it definitely has promise for weight loss. I’m pretty sure it helps with blood sugar, which might affect weight loss. Diet is still really important, though. Berberine won’t do you much good if your diet isn’t healthy. 

How did this retailer do?

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Our expert educator: Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist, weight loss expert and author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods.

The retailer was correct in that berberine is a supplement that comes from several plants, such as barberry, Oregon grape and goldenseal. It’s a bitter-tasting, bright-yellow chemical compound that has shown promise in lowering blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. As a result, berberine has been compared to Ozempic (semaglutide), which mimics the action of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1) in the body to increase insulin secretion and lower blood sugar and body weight. However, more high-quality, large randomized controlled studies on berberine are needed to show its effectiveness for lowering blood sugar, as well as reducing body weight, in humans.

It is wise to advise customers to practice caution with berberine, as it may interfere with the action of medications, such a blood sugar–lowering medications, causing hypoglycemia. It should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women or young children, as it may elevate bilirubin, causing jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes.

As with all dietary supplements, checking product labels for third-party certifications, such as United States Pharmacopeia (USP), Underwriters Limited (UL), NSF International or ConsumerLab, is important to ensure the quality of the product.

As the retailer alluded to, the bottom line is that a healthy lifestyle—a balanced diet, regular physical activity, good sleep—is the first line of defense for keeping blood sugar and body weight in check. A supplement like berberine is a promising adjunctive therapy, and let’s hope more robust research is done down the road to substantiate its health claims.

About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and NewHope.com. Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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