I am really excited to write about the proven effectiveness of berberine for weight loss – or, to be more accurate, fat loss. I have been searching for the best berberine supplements on the market to help with fat loss and I have found a few interesting products.
If berberine were a pharmaceutical it would be considered a miracle drug. The list of health benefits that it offers is impressive, to say the least. Numerous studies have also shown that it is performs better than some of the drugs prescribed for problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.
Obesity has become a world-wide epidemic, and people who are overweight or obese are sometimes quite desperate to find something that will help. As a result, they often turn to fad diets, risky medications and unproven supplements.
However, sometimes a supplement comes along that just cannot be ignored. Berberine is one of them. I’ll be giving a few pointers about how to identify a high quality berberine supplement for weight loss at the end of this article. First, let’s get an understanding of why you should consider berberine as part of your daily health program.
Why Is Berberine Good for You?
Berberine is extracted from the roots, rhizomes, stems, and bark of certain plants, including barberry, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric, which are all part of the Berberis herb family. Others plant sources include coptis chinensis (goldthread), Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), and phellodendron.
Three main components of most berberine supplements: barberry, Oregon grape, and turmeric tree
Berberine has been used for many years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and has also been closely studied in Western medicine only in recent years. There are close to 3,000 studies that show how effective berberine is for:
- Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, gastritis, IBS and gut flora.
- Antimicrobial action on bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites
- Metabolic syndrome (combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and large waist circumference)
- Fatty liver
- Heart disease
You can read about each of these in more detail here. This article focuses on why berberine is so effective for people who are struggling with their weight.
The Risks of Being Overweight or Obese
First, let’s look at the health risks associated with being overweight. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, these include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and strokes
- Certain types of cancer
- Sleep apnea
- Fatty liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Pregnancy problems, such as high blood sugar during pregnancy, high blood pressure, and increased risk for caesarean delivery (C-section)
A quick glance at the above list, compared to the earlier list about why berberine is good for, should give you an indicator of why a good berberine supplement should be added to your shopping list if you want to lose a few unwanted pounds and achieve a healthier weight.
However, many of us who have been overweight, know that some of the psychological impacts of being overweight are very difficult to deal with. These include lowered self-esteem, anxiety, depression and even eating disorders. Energy levels may become low, so we often become quite sedentary and miss out on fun activities. Adding insult to injury is the frustration and discomfort of clothes that don’t fit! Some of you may know what I’m talking about.
Measures of Obesity
One measure is Body Mass Index (BMI). This is a measure of your weight vs your height. Scores between 18.5 and 24,9 are considered normal, from 25 to 29,9 is overweight and above 30 indicates obesity. You can calculate your own BMI here, and even download the app onto your phone.
The limitation of using BMI is that it doesn’t take into account muscle / fat composition. This includes those who have built up muscle from exercise, or those who have lost muscle.
2. Waist Circumference and Waist–to-Hip Ratio
Interestingly, one of the signs of metabolic syndrome is large waist circumference. It is an indicator of abdominal obesity or "belly fat", packed around your vital organs. People with "apple" shapes are more at risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and premature death than those with "pear-shapes".
Belly fat is dangerous. It is not just padding under the skin. It includes visceral fat inside your abdomen and fat surrounding your internal organs. Even if your weight is normal, belly fat increases your health risks.
This is why the waist-to-hip ratio is important.
How to Calculate Your Waist-to-hip Ratio
What you will need:
- Tape measure
What you will do:
Stand up straight and breathe out.
- Measure the smallest part of your waist which is just above the belly button. This is your waist circumference.
- Measure the largest part of your hips, which is around the widest part of your buttocks. This is your hip circumference.
- Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. This is your WHR.
What the results mean:
According to the World Health Organisation a healthy WHR is 0.9 or less for men and 0.85 or less for women.
Is WHR Always Accurate?
WHR is not always an accurate measure for determining body fat percentages. For example, exercise may have put extra muscle on your hips. It is also not accurate for children, those who are shorter than 5 feet or who have a BMI of 35 or higher. So, an easier indicator may be waist circumference on its own.
Waist circumference by itself is surprisingly important.
- For example, a follow up on the Nurses’ Health Study found that women with the highest waist sizes had nearly double the risk of dying from heart disease, cancer and other causes, compared to women with smaller waists. The risks increased incrementally with every inch. This was not only for overweight or obese women, but for those who seem to have a normal healthy weight.
- Even normal-weight women whose waists were more than 35 inches had three times the risk of death from heart disease compared to normal-weight women with smaller waists. This finding for non-obese women was confirmed in a Shanghai Women’s Health Study
The Harvard School of Public Health provides the following table for waist circumference cut-offs:
Proof That Berberine for Weight Loss Actually Works
I think that it’s important to distinguish between "losing weight" and "losing fat". Many fad diets and weight loss pills will help you lose weight. However, this might actually be mostly water loss or lean muscle loss. You want to lose fat and keep the muscle because fat is what is unhealthy for you.
Ketogenic diets are designed to switch your body from burning glucose as its fuel source to burning stored fat as its food source. Sometimes these diets are not as quick as fad diets, but you’re losing fat! Berberine seems to have the same effect and seems to be particularly effective if taken in conjunction with a keto diet.
What Do The Studies Say?
Here are the results of some studies that I found very interesting:
In one study, obese subjects took 500mg of berberine three times a day. There were even indications that berberine might be beneficial for osteoporosis prevention and treatment.
In a second study, subjects with metabolic syndrome took 300mg, 3 times per day, for 3 months. They dropped their BMI levels from "obese" to "overweight", they lost belly fat, and importantly, leptin levels were lowered as well. Leptin is a hormone that sends signals to our brains telling us when we’ve had enough to eat and should stop, and where energy must be directed. This signalling is disturbed when we become overweight, and we can develop leptin resistance. As a result, we don’t know when to stop eating, are chronically hungry and put on weight. Berberine restores leptin sensitivity.
A third study involved 100 women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). They were divided into 3 groups. All of them were given nutritional advice about limiting fat and carb intake, and were asked to do 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise. One group was given the drug metformin. Metformin (MET) is often prescribed for obese patients or those with diabetes. Another group was given 500mg of berberine, 3 times per day (BBR group). The third group was given a placebo. Various measures were taken at the start, and all three groups had similar profiles.
Results of the Study
After 3 months of treatment, each subject was measured again. The results were illuminating.
- Body weight and BMI decreased signiﬁcantly in all three groups; the results were similar for all 3 groups. The researchers noted that this study may have been too short to comment on overall weight loss, and pointed to other studies that showed the link between berberine and management of obesity.
- Waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) also decreased in all of the groups. However, the BBR group showed a greater reduction in waist circumference than the MET group and the BBR group showed significantly greater reduction in WHR than both the MET and the placebo groups. This shows that BBR effectively deals with belly fat, the most important fat to lose.
- Berberine was as good as metformin at improving insulin sensitivity, blood glucose levels and hormone levels.
- Berberine was better than metformin at reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and increasing HDL (good cholesterol).
Some comments can be made about these studies, other than the somewhat surprising finding that berberine was better than metformin:
Barberry - One of the main ingredients of berberine supplement
#1: Change in Lifestyle Factors Has an Effect on Study Outcomes.
This is shown by the improvements in the placebo group, especially in weight loss and BMI. So, it’s not enough to simply take berberine and expect to have the weight drop off!
#2: Berberine Leads to Loss of Dangerous Belly Fat
Berberine may lead to only moderate overall weight loss, but it is very efficient at getting rid of belly fat
#3: Berberine Is Safe to Use
It does not have the side effects of some drugs prescribed for diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Some Other Findings About Berberine for Weight Loss
Berberine has a positive impact on mitochondria. Mitochondria are like the engines in our cells, taking nutrients from the cells, breaking them down and producing energy. They also impact the aging and weight loss processes. Mitochondria can be damaged by oxidative stress and mutations. As you grow older, your body produces fewer mitochondria. Berberine protects the mitochondria from oxidative damage and promotes the growth of new mitochondria.
The bottom line? More mitochondria = more energy production = more weight loss.
Another finding relates to brown fatty tissues. The brown color comes from the fat being loaded with mitochondria We already know that berberine stimulates mitochondria growth. Brown fat is usually associated with adapting to cold environments. Rather than being stored, brown fat is burned to produce heat. Berberine also contributes to the conversion of white fat cells to brown fat cells.
Dosage and How to Take Berberine
The general recommendation is 200mg – 500mg, 3 times per day, not on an empty stomach, so with a meal or up to 20 minutes before a meal. Lower the dose if you have any stomach cramps or constipation. Be careful of long-term use, as it can have an impact on your liver. Take it for up to 2 months and then stop for at least 2 weeks.
Be careful that you don’t drop your blood sugar levels too low. It is best to start with less and build up as you see how your body responds.
Taking berberine is not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Check with your doctor about drug interactions if you are taking any medications.
Absorption is improved if you take berberine with milk thistle, turmeric extract or quercetin.
There are several chemical forms of berberine, including berberine hydrochloride, berberine sulfate, berberine citrate or phosphate. Berberine hydrochloride is the most common form.
You can buy it in capsules, pills, dried powder, oil, tincture or in topical ointments. If you can get the whole plant you can make your own tinctures or teas.
Goji Berry can drink like a tea, Goji tea
Criteria That I Used to Select Brands for Review
There are so many varieties of plants that yield berberine that it is difficult to say which is the best. We do know that berberine from coptis plants, traditionally used by the Chinese, and known as Huang Lian Su Pian, is the most expensive.
Because of risks associated with herbicides and extraction methods, I thought it would be best to stick with reputable brands or those that could show some sort of quality control in the processing.
I also looked for brands that had more than just berberine in the formulation. This is because the research shows how well berberine works as an additive, so you can get additional benefits when combined with certain other ingredients. Also, bioavailability is improved if you take berberine with some other compounds.
Of course, although this article has been about berberine for weight loss, there are other proven benefits of berberine for general health, so these supplements may be great for you, even if you are not overweight.
I have arranged the reviews in the order in which I rated them, top pick first.
Top 5 the Best Berberine Supplements for Weight Loss
My Ranking for the Best Berberine Supplement for Weight Loss
My top rating went to the Mercola product because of its focus on mitochondrial activity, which is known to boost fat loss. The next two ranked pretty close, especially considering their interesting formulations and quality controls. The Metagenics product came in third only because of the price, but you will probably be getting good value for your money.
I hope that you will try some of these products, and let me know whether you agree with my picks for the best berberine supplements for weight loss.
Supplements on their own are not magic bullets. Lifestyle changes, including exercise, diet and proper sleep are vital. However, it helps to know that your efforts will be supported by an effective supplement.
Berberine really does work quite well for weight loss and especially fat loss and it is very safe when taken correctly.
Remember that berberine is good for you even if you are not overweight. You can read more about the powerful benefits of berberine here.
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