PCOS and Berberine: What Women Should Know

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Berberine is an ancient supplement that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat diabetes, diarrhea, and infertility. Research on its use in women with polycystic ovary syndrome ( PCOS ) is beginning and the results so far are very encouraging .

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What is berberine?

Berberine is an alkaloid extracted from Chinese herbs such as hydrastis cacadensis (yellow root), berberis aquifolium ( Oregon grape ), berberis vulgaris ( barberry ), berberis aristata (tree turmeric), and coptidis rhizome (Huanglian). It can be taken in capsules or in liquid form.

Taking berberine has been shown to help improve a number of conditions. The benefits associated with berberine can include:

Berberine and PCOS

Berberine may offer many benefits for women with PCOS, including improving fertility, helping with weight loss, and reducing the risk of metabolic complications associated with the condition. These complications can include type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and fatty liver disease.

Powerful insulin sensitizer

Perhaps the most important role berberine plays is as a potent insulin sensitizer. Women with PCOS have been shown to have higher levels of insulin compared to women of the same weight without the disease.

Metformin is an insulin sensitivity medication that is often prescribed to women with PCOS to control insulin and glucose levels. However, many women with PCOS experience gastrointestinal side effects associated with metformin, such as diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. Long-term use of metformin has also been shown to affect vitamin B12 absorption.

Berberine has been shown to improve insulin resistance in a similar way to metformin. Berberine improves insulin signaling by stimulating glucose uptake by activating the AMP-activated protein kinase pathway.

The benefits of berberine have been compared to metformin in women with PCOS. In a study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology , researchers randomly selected 89 women with PCOS to receive berberine (500 mg three times a day), metformin (500 mg three times a day), or placebo for 3 months.

The dietitian instructed all women to reduce their carbohydrate and fat intake. Calorie range was not provided. Women were also advised to get 30 minutes each day with moderate to vigorous exercise.

After 3 months of treatment, women with PCOS who took berberine saw a greater reduction in fat loss than metformin or placebo. Berberine lowers insulin and glucose levels in a similar way to metformin.

Women with PCOS who took berberine also experienced significant reductions in total cholesterol , LDL (bad cholesterol), and triglycerides, as well as significant improvements in HDL (good cholesterol), more than with metformin or placebo. Additionally, taking berberine lowers total testosterone levels, as does metformin.

Improving fertility

While berberine helps improve the metabolic complications of PCOS, it can also improve fertility . In a pilot study, 98 anovulatory women with PCOS were administered berberine. Ovulation improved by an average of 25 percent after 4 months of taking berberine.

A study published in the journal Clinical Endocrinology found that women with PCOS who were randomly selected to take berberine had higher pregnancy rates than metformin or placebo and had fewer side effects when taken 12 weeks before IVF treatment .

Help to lose weight

Almost any woman with PCOS can tell you that losing weight is more difficult because of her condition. Losing weight is more difficult for many reasons, including increased insulin resistance, high carbohydrate cravings , and poor appetite regulation.

Berberine may offer hope to women with PCOS who struggle with their weight. Berberine has been shown to reduce the secretion of appetite-stimulating leptin .

Berberine has also been shown to be effective in weight and fat loss by inhibiting the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which is responsible for fat storage. The observed effect of taking berberine in most studies is weight loss, especially in the midsection, and a decrease in body mass index (BMI).

Decreased liver fat.

Women with PCOS also face an increased risk of fatty liver due to the association with high insulin levels. Berberine has been shown to be effective in reducing liver obesity.

A review of six randomized controlled trials involving 500 people showed that berberine significantly reduced liver obesity in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Berberine reduces triglyceride and liver enzyme levels and improves overall liver function. Berberine has been found to improve NAFLD by preventing fat accumulation in the liver and promoting fatty acid oxidation in skeletal muscle .

What You Need To Know About Berberine Intake

Berberine is generally well tolerated, but it can sometimes cause unwanted gastrointestinal effects such as nausea and constipation, especially when used in high doses.

The therapeutic dose of berberine for improving insulin and other proven health benefits is 500 mg three times a day (similar to the dose of metformin). To avoid gastrointestinal upset, it may be best to gradually reduce your dose to 1500 mg per day, taking 500 mg during the first week and adding another 500 mg in the second week until reaching 1500 mg in the third week.

Berberine is not intended for long-term use. No data are available on the safety of berberine in young women or in early pregnancy. Berberine is not recommended during pregnancy and lactation.

Berberine can interfere with the liver cleanse of certain medications. Caution is advised if you are taking other prescription medications, such as antidepressants , MAO inhibitors, blood thinners, and beta-blockers. Periodic liver function tests are recommended for those taking berberine.

Because berberine is an insulin sensitizer, it can cause low blood sugar levels, especially when combined with other insulin-lowering medications such as metformin or supplements such as inositol or n-acetylcysteine. That is why it is important to check with your doctor before taking berberine.

Frequently asked questions

  • You can buy berberine without a prescription online or in retail stores in the supplement section.

  • Typical instructions are to take the 500 mg tablet with meals three times a day. Check with your healthcare professional to find out how much and how often you should take berberine.

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