Popular GLP-1 drugs for weight management could mean robbing Peter to pay Paul, but for some, natural alternatives can help.
My clients often ask me about natural alternatives to Ozempic, Wagovy, Mounjarno, Rybelsus or just plain old Semaglutide. You may have heard these names if you haven’t been under a rock for the last 12 months. Chances are you either know at least one person that is currently taking this drug, or you are yourself currently taking it in some form or another.
Though these drugs have recently burst onto the scene, they have been around for a few years rather under the radar. The FDA has approved a few of them for weight management. And now, sales and prescriptions have skyrocketed. The numbers are reminiscent of the Phentermine craze from over a decade ago. Is it a miracle drug? Or is it just another in a long line of empty promises from a much-maligned FDA carousel of fat loss fad drugs?
What is a GLP-1 drug?
GLP-1 stands for Glucagon Like Peptide-1 – a peptide produced by the gut. GLP-1 inhibits Glucagon production from the pancreas and removes glucose from the blood stream when insulin is insufficient. This type of issue may be present in, for example, someone with hyperinsulinemia, aka pre diabetes or diabetes type 2. So why not just use insulin? Fair question.
Traditionally, we use insulin for both subclasses of diabetes. However, it is typically only used in those cases. Insulin alone carries a fair amount of risk to certain populations as well. GLP-1 drugs help to increase insulin, and thus clearance of blood glucose. They do so by stimulation of gluconeogenesis, an energy cascade that meets physiological demand of glucose through breakdown of protein or fat (we’ll revisit this later).
GLP-1 drugs also reduce appetite potentially by slowing the transit time of food through the intestines. Where drugs such as Phentermine have traditionally been prescribed for rapid weight loss, more practitioners are turning to GLP-1 drugs as a sustainable weight management option.
If you were thinking it is too good to be true, you may be right. As with most drugs, GLP-1 drugs come with a host of potential side effects. The short list is as follows:
- Allergic Reaction
- Bowel Obstruction
- And most notably a new Black Box Warning for Thyroid Cancer (found in animal studies)
In relation to longevity and overall mortality risk, the most problematic side effect experienced may be muscle loss. A recent study took patients out of the main weight loss group and subjected to DEXA (insert definition) scans. These participants showed an average of 60% fat loss, but also upwards of 40% muscle loss.
For comparison, the average muscle loss with drug or surgical intervention is typically half this amount. That means patients are risking losing upwards of double the amount of muscle than typical interventions such as bariatric surgery. This potentially stems from multiple side effects of the drug such as gluconeogenesis – mentioned earlier – an energy cascade that utilizes protein or fat to stimulate glucose production to meet demand.
It also dampens hunger. Since protein is highly satiating – meaning people are less likely to eat more protein to meet energy demand and muscle maintenance, it creates a high potential for muscle loss. Not to mention lack of awareness for resistance training throughout the use of these drugs.
If you don’t like these downsides, natural alternatives to Ozempic might be worth looking into. But first, lets look a bit more closely at who may still benefit despite the risks.
Who Might Benefit?
Many obese or critically insulin resistant individuals may still benefit from this type of therapy, despite the risks. The greatest body of research that shows short and long term weight loss has been seen in individuals with diagnosed type 2 Diabetes. Conversely, individuals who do not have type 2 Diabetes run the risk of gaining the weight back after stopping the drug.
These trials tracked patients in both categories for 2 years. Though both began climbing in weight post intervention at 1 year, the Diabetic group gained weight back slower and was not at the prior baseline weight by year 2. The non-Diabetic group immediately had an increase in weight gain when stopped at the end of year 1 and was trending to be back to or greater than baseline levels of weight by year 2.
The verdict at this point is mainly Diabetic or high risk metabolically unfit and obese individuals may benefit, especially when guided with proper qualified practitioner supervision consisting of both physicians and nutritionists. For other groups looking to manage weight or insulin resistance, natural alternatives to Ozempic and it’s GLP-1 cousins may be of benefit. The easiest way to stave off muscle loss in order to benefit from the drugs is to increase protein intake and if possible begin a resistance training regimen. A health coach is a fantastic tool to help guide one in this facet of the therapy.
Try Our Life Seasons Essentials Berberine HCL
Metformin and Berberine
From a professional perspective, playing the long game is most often not only the safest route, but also the most effective. There is a long-standing drug class that has shown effectiveness for years both in practice and in clinical trials. These are known as AMPK-Activators. The most famous drug in this category is long-acting Metformin.
What’s more is there is another option in this category that, like Metformin, is derived from a botanical, but lacks the need for a prescription. It also has a more user-friendly side effect list. This option is the herbal extract known as Berberine. Berberine is derived from a host of different plants and also offers a plethora of clinically studied health benefits. These include:
- Antibacterial effects
- Lipid lowering effects
- Arterial protection
- Immune boosting
- And perhaps most notably, blood sugar management
Under the right conditions, Berberine is one of the most powerful natural alternatives to Ozempic and other popular diabetes drugs. Berberine extract (more specifically in the hydrochloride form) garnered large scale attention when trialed against Metformin. In this study, Berberine closely matched Metformin in blood sugar management. Furthermore, a recent meta-analysis stated that “The effects of Berberine on HbA1C was not statistically significantly different than Metformin.”
Much like the GLP-1 drug class, by way of lower blood sugar humans are much more likely to burn stored body fat as energy. The main difference here is that Berberine acts as a more suitable long term complement to lifestyle improvements in the management of a healthy body weight and composition. Moreover, Berberine shows a much lower propensity for muscle loss which is the top predictor of all-cause mortality for individuals over the age of 65.
Also of note, Berberine improves insulin sensitivity by increasing the ability of glucose to enter the muscle cell, whereas GLP-1 drugs increase glucose uptake by way of stimulating insulin production. Both ways are effective. However, the long-term effects of elevated insulin production are known to be highly inflammatory. And inflammation is a clinically relevant risk factor for every type of metabolic disease state. These include:
- Heart disease
- Diabetes type 2
I would be remiss without stating the importance of arguably the most important factor in the successful outcome of utilization of either of the interventions mentioned above, resistance training. The muscles are, without a doubt, the most insulin sensitive, and have the highest storage capacity of glucose (blood sugar) compared to any organ/part of the body.
This elevates the act of stimulating muscle cells (i.e. resistance/weight training) to the top of the pile of interventions to drastically reduce the dependence on obesity drugs and improve the chances of staving off metabolic diseases in general.
150 minutes per week of moderate resistance training is typically enough to move the needle in the right direction. Combined with a berberine supplement, this intervention has a much higher probability of success. The bottom line is that improving muscle recruitment and staving off muscle loss is the best long term solution to metabolic disease risk. Adding a conjunctive therapy such as Berberine only stands to improve the positive outcomes.
The Bottom Line
When considering any natural alternatives to Ozempic or other GLP-1 drugs for weight management, always check with your physician. Insist on Berberine brands that have been fully tested to meet the standards necessary for optimal results. Nutrition World vets all nutraceuticals to the highest degree regarding safety and quality.
Lastly, I recommend counseling with an experienced health coach or other professional. We can show you how to set up the proper intake of protein, carbohydrates and fat for your individual needs. This is a key part in long term health and weight management success.