Metformin can help you lose weight. But what about natural alternatives to metformin?

Metformin can help you lose weight. But what about natural alternatives to metformin?

Metformin can help you lose weight. But what about natural alternatives to metformin?

Many people seek natural alternatives to metformin to control diabetes, manage PCOS, and even lose weight. Do they work?

Lisa Baker, RN, BSN
Last updated:
February 23, 2024
5 min read
Table of Contents
Ready to lose weight and live your healthiest life?
Get started

Metformin is an effective FDA-approved medication that’s often prescribed to help control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It works by decreasing glucose (blood sugar) absorption and production while increasing insulin sensitivity to help your body use the glucose. 

But metformin doesn’t just control blood sugar—it’s also one of the medications used off-label to help people lose weight. And it’s beneficial for health conditions like cardiovascular disease and prediabetes. Still, many people look for natural alternatives to metformin. 

Some people have reasons to avoid prescription medication—sometimes, because of metformin’s side effects, which can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and sleepiness. You may also be leery because you have risk factors like kidney disease, are over 65, or have liver issues which can increase your risk of adverse effects.

Do natural alternatives to metformin work? 

Fortunately, for those who want something that’s not a prescription drug, there are some surprising natural alternatives to metformin—some of which may be almost as effective as the prescription drug. 

But before you take any natural alternatives for metformin, discuss your plans with your health care provider. Speaking with your clinician is especially important if you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Stopping your prescribed diabetes medications can cause elevated blood sugar levels which may lead to heart and kidney issues, diabetic retinopathy, and nerve damage. 

It’s also important to remember that herbs and supplements aren’t regulated or FDA-approved as prescription medications are. Because the FDA regulates supplements as food, you can’t always be sure of a supplement’s efficacy, quality, or purity. But if you’re looking for other ways to control your blood sugar, consider these natural alternatives to metformin. 

Berberine 

Berberine is an organic compound found in many plants in the Berberis genus, including barberry, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric. For over 3000 years, people have used berberine as a treatment in herbal medicine. Today, it’s gained a lot of attention as a weight loss aid, but its effectiveness as an obesity treatment needs further study. 

Berberine’s ability to lower blood sugar, however, is impressive. Clinical trials indicate that berberine may be just as effective as metformin for blood sugar control for people with type 2 diabetes. It also lowers HbA1c, the amount of glucose attached to the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. (An HbA1c test measures your average blood sugar over two to three months.) 

Like metformin, berberine may also help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and improve cardiovascular health. It works similarly to metformin and can lower blood sugar levels. So if you want to switch to a non-prescription medication, it’s worth talking with your doctor about whether berberine may be effective for you. 

Inositol 

Inositol, or myo-inositol, is a type of sugar that’s found in plant- and animal-based foods, especially organ meats like kidneys and liver, grains, seeds, and nuts. The body also produces it naturally, and it plays a role in creating cell membranes and influencing insulin response. Although it’s a type of sugar, it may help reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes because it decreases insulin resistance and improves glucose uptake into cells. 

It’s also helpful for reducing fasting glucose levels for people with gestational diabetes. Inositol may also improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides, lowering the risk of heart disease. 

Researchers have studied inositol as a treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine imbalance that affects many women. Care providers often prescribe metformin as a treatment for PCOS since the condition is frequently associated with insulin resistance. A recent meta-analysis of studies on inositol and metformin found that inositol was as effective as metformin at reducing insulin resistance and maintaining blood glucose levels for women with PCOS. 

Curcumin 

Curcumin is a compound in the spice turmeric that gives it its bright yellow color. People in Southeast Asia have used turmeric in herbal medicine for nearly 4000 years, and it’s known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties can also help people with type 2 diabetes. Although the relationship isn’t fully understood, inflammation is related to insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. 

A 2021 systemic review found that curcumin can significantly lower glucose levels and decrease HbA1c. However, medical science needs more research to understand how this supplement works and what the most effective dose is when using it to help treat type 2 diabetes. 

It’s important to note that curcumin taken as a supplement is not very bioavailable, meaning the body does not absorb it well. This lack of bioavailability means understanding the correct dose is crucial to getting this supplement's benefits. 

Cinnamon 

Another common spice that’s almost certainly in your cabinet is cinnamon, which has anti-inflammatory effects and may lower glucose levels. Some studies show it can reduce fasting glucose and decrease insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes. However, there are other studies in which it didn’t reduce fasting glucose or insulin resistance, so more research is needed. Cinnamon may affect cells that mimic the action of insulin, helping them take glucose out of the bloodstream to use or store for energy. 

Should you use natural alternatives to metformin?

Although all of these natural alternatives to metformin seem to positively affect glycemic control, remember that none are a substitute for a medication your doctor has prescribed. 

Combining these supplements with metformin may increase the risk of hypoglycemia since they have similar effects on blood glucose levels. If you have concerns about side effects, cost, or other issues with a prescribed diabetes drug, talk with your doctor before you try to swap it out for a more natural alternative. 

Natural supplements have potential side effects and interactions, just like prescription medications. It’s important to get medical advice even when taking over-the-counter supplements. 

The verdict: Should you use natural alternatives to metformin?

If you do take metformin, it’s important to know about its side effects. Metformin has a “black box warning” because of a serious risk of lactic acidosis. This rare but potentially fatal condition is caused by a buildup of too much lactic acid in the blood. Lactic acidosis can lead to low blood pressure, breathing issues, heart failure, and even death. People who drink alcohol regularly may have an increased risk of developing lactic acidosis if they also take metformin. 

Additionally, metformin may stimulate ovulation in those with PCOS or who are premenopausal, so that it may increase the risk of an unintended pregnancy. If you’re in a sexual relationship that can result in pregnancy, use at least one form of birth control unless you’re planning on getting pregnant. Find detailed side effect and risk information on our dedicated metformin page

Are there other alternatives to metformin for weight loss?

If you’re unsure what type of support you need to help with blood sugar control, weight loss, or other wellness concerns, the best way to decide is to talk with your health care provider. 

More medications are available now than ever to help people lose weight. And now, clinicians can personalize weight loss prescriptions to target the root causes of each person’s weight issues. Weight isn’t just about calories in and calories out. Scientists now estimate that 40% to 70% of obesity is linked to genetics—and they’ve identified over 300 genes associated with this disease. So, different genes may affect weight from one person to the next. At Found, members get personalized prescriptions to target the root cause of their weight gain or inability to lose weight. Found-affiliated clinicians use MetabolicPrintTM, our proprietary assessment, to understand each person’s unique biology. Found’s providers work with a broad portfolio of medications that can be used alone or combined to help people reach their weight loss goals. 

At Found Health, you can connect one-on-one with a Found provider easily and conveniently to discuss the best medication to support your weight loss. 

About Found

To discover your MetabolicPrint and start your journey with Found, take our quiz. Found is among the largest medically supported weight care clinics in the country, having served more than 200,000 members to date.

Published date:
February 23, 2024
Meet the author
Lisa Baker, RN, BSN
Freelance health journalist

Sources

  • What Causes Obesity? (n.d.). Obesity Medicine Association. Retrieved February 7, 2024. https://obesitymedicine.org/blog/what-causes-obesity/
  • Neag, M. A., Mocan, A., Echeverría, J., Pop, R. M., Bocsan, C. I., Crişan, G., & Buzoianu, A. D. (2018). Berberine: Botanical Occurrence, Traditional Uses, Extraction Methods, and Relevance in Cardiovascular, Metabolic, Hepatic, and Renal Disorders. Frontiers in pharmacology, 9, 557. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00557
  • Singh G, Krauthamer M, Bjalme-Evans M. Wegovy (semaglutide): a new weight loss drug for chronic weight management. J Investig Med. 2022 Jan;70(1):5-13. doi: 10.1136/jim-2021-001952. Epub 2021 Oct 27. PMID: 34706925; PMCID: PMC8717485. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8717485/
  • Asbaghi, O., Ghanbari, N., shekari, M., Reiner, Ž., Amirani, E., Hallajzadeh, J., Mirsafaei, L., & Asemi, Z. (2020). The effect of berberine supplementation on obesity parameters, inflammation and liver function enzymes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, 38, 43–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2020.04.010
  • DiNicolantonio, J. J., & H O’Keefe, J. (2022). Myo-inositol for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome and gestational diabetes. Open Heart, 9(1), e001989. https://doi.org/10.1136/openhrt-2022-001989
  • Dong, H., Wang, N., Zhao, L., & Lu, F. (2012). Berberine in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/591654
  • Fatima, K., Jamil, Z., Faheem, S., Adnan, A., Javaid, S. S., Naeem, H., Mohiuddin, N., Sajid, A., & Ochani, S. (2023). Effects of myo-inositol vs. metformin on hormonal and metabolic parameters in women with PCOS: a meta-analysis. Ir J Med Sci, 192(6), 2801–2808. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11845-023-03388-5
  • Hewlings, S., & Kalman, D. (2017). Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Foods, 6(10), 92. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods6100092
  • Hsu, W.-H., Hsiao, P.-J., Lin, P.-C., Chen, S.-C., Lee, M.-Y., & Shin, S.-J. (2018). Effect of metformin on kidney function in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus and moderate chronic kidney disease. Oncotarget, 9(4), 5416–5423. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.23387
  • Lashen, H. (2010). Review: Role of metformin in the management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 1(3), 117–128. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042018810380215
  • Marton, L. T., Pescinini-e-Salzedas, L. M., Camargo, M. E. C., Barbalho, S. M., Haber, J. F. dos S., Sinatora, R. V., Detregiachi, C. R. P., Girio, R. J. S., Buchaim, D. V., & Cincotto dos Santos Bueno, P. (2021). The Effects of Curcumin on Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review. Front. Endocrinol., 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2021.669448
  • Moridpour, A. H., Kavyani, Z., Khosravi, S., Farmani, E., Daneshvar, M., Musazadeh, V., & Faghfouri, A. H. (2024). The effect of cinnamon supplementation on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: An updated systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Phytotherapy Research, 38(1), 117–130..
  • Luo, Y., Zeng, Y., Peng, J., Zhang, K., Wang, L., Feng, T., Nhamdriel, T., & Fan, G. (2023). Phytochemicals for the treatment of metabolic diseases: Evidence from clinical studies. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 165, 0753-3322. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2023.115274.
  • Pintaudi, B., Di Vieste, G., & Bonomo, M. (2016). The Effectiveness of Myo-Inositol and D-Chiro Inositol Treatment in Type 2 Diabetes. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2016, 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/9132052
  • Rena, G., Hardie, D. G., & Pearson, E. R. (2017). The mechanisms of action of metformin. Diabetologia, 60(9), 1577–1585. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-017-4342-z
  • Silva, M. L., Bernardo, M. A., Singh, J., & de Mesquita, M. F. (2022). Cinnamon as a Complementary Therapeutic Approach for Dysglycemia and Dyslipidemia Control in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Its Molecular Mechanism of Action: A Review. Nutrients, 14(13), 2773. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14132773
  • Varjabedian, L., Bourji, M., & Pourafkari, L. (2018). Cardioprotection by Metformin: Beneficial Effects Beyond Glucose Reduction. Am J Cardiovasc Drugs, 18, 181–193. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40256-018-0266-3
  • Related articles

    Skip the typical weight loss advice: Here’s what it’s like to work with Found’s providers

    Skip the typical weight loss advice: Here’s what it’s like to work with Found’s providers

    Found providers are not your typical health care provider. They’re specifically trained in obesity medicine and consider your unique biology.

    Zepbound vs Wegovy: What’s the difference between the latest drugs approved for weight loss?

    Zepbound vs Wegovy: What’s the difference between the latest drugs approved for weight loss?

    Of the few drugs FDA-approved for weight loss, Zepbound and Wegovy are powerfully effective. So which is best for you?

    Do GLP-1s cause muscle loss?

    Do GLP-1s cause muscle loss?

    Science shows GLP-1 muscle loss is no different from other weight-loss methods, but you can still maintain your muscle–here’s how.

    Ready to break the cycle and live your healthiest life?

    Link copied!

    Get Found newsletter and offers!

    Access articles featuring weight care tips from experts and exclusive offers to join Found.

    Thanks for submitting this form!