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Last modified on February 8th, 2021
If you struggle with PCOS, berberine may be a supplement you should consider. Research has found positive links between berberine and PCOS, particularly with insulin resistance.
- PCOS is a hormonal disorder thought to affect anywhere from 3-10% of reproductive-aged women
- Symptoms of PCOS can include abnormal facial and body hair growth, ovarian cysts, infertility and irregular periods
- Berberine is an herbal supplement that is often used to help symptoms of PCOS
- Studies looking at berberine and PCOS have found it compares to metformin in the treatment of metabolic and hormonal symptoms of PCOS
What is the Best Berberine for PCOS?
Based on our own experiences as well as customer reviews and feedback, the best berberine for PCOS includes:
What Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
Before exploring the association between berberine and PCOS, what is this condition?
PCOS is a hormonal disorder. Women who have PCOS may deal with either infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods.
A symptom of PCOS is excess male hormone levels, and the ovaries might develop fluid, which are called follicles, and then fail to release eggs.
For a diagnosis of PCOS to be made, someone would need to have at least two of the following symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Elevated levels of male hormone that may cause physical symptoms such as excess body and facial hair, and sometimes severe acne and male-pattern baldness
- Enlarged ovaries that contain follicles around the eggs
Doctors aren’t exactly sure of the causes of PCOS, but some of the factors that may play a role include:
- Excess insulin: Insulin is produced in the pancreas, and it lets your cells use sugar. If your cells become insulin resistant, then your blood sugar levels might go up and your body may produce more insulin in response. Excess insulin can increase the production of the male hormone, androgen.
- Inflammation: Women with PCOS tend to have low-grade, chronic inflammation. That inflammation can lead to the production of androgens by polycystic ovaries, and it can contribute to blood vessel and heart problems.
- Excess androgen
There are a number of potential complications of PCOS, some of which can be severe. PCOS complications can greatly impact your quality of life and your overall health. PCOS complications can include:
- Gestational diabetes
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Premature birth
- Nonalcohol steatohepatitis which is severe liver inflammation caused by an accumulation of fat
- Metabolic syndrome which is a cluster of conditions including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels—metabolic syndrome can significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Endometrial cancer
- Obesity is associated with PCOS and can make complications more severe
Are There Any Treatments for PCOS?
The goal of treating PCOS isn’t curing it but is instead on helping manage the individual symptoms and complications.
Lifestyle changes are often recommended if you have PCOS. Lifestyle changes might include incorporating more physical activity into your routine and following a low-calorie diet. Even losing a small percentage of your body weight can significantly improve PCOS.
There are a few medications that might be used, primarily to help with your menstrual cycle or to help you ovulate.
One commonly prescribed PCOS medication is metformin.
Metformin is a Type 2 diabetes medicine. Metformin can help lower insulin levels and improve insulin resistance, along with helping slow the progression from prediabetes to Type 2 diabetes.
Other medicines sometimes prescribed if you have PCOS are:
- Birth control pills that contain estrogen and progestin to regulate estrogen and reduce androgen production
- Progestin therapy which can help regulate periods and reduce the risk of endometrial cancer
- Clomiphene, which is an anti-estrogen medicine
- Letrozole which is a breast cancer treatment that can also stimulate the ovaries
- Gonadotropins which are injectable hormone medicines
What is Berberine?
Before exploring the relationship between berberine and PCOS, it’s worth having an understanding of berberine in general because it’s a powerful supplement.
It’s a bioactive plant-derived compound that’s classified as an alkaloid.
Berberine has long been used in Chinese medicine, but we’re increasingly finding out about the benefits it has in modern medicine.
When you take berberine orally, it’s transported to your bloodstream, and then it goes into your cells. Once berberine is in the cells, it binds to molecular targets, altering their function. The way berberine works is very similar to how pharmaceutical drugs work.
One action of berberine is the activation of an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase or AMPK. AMPK is referred to as the metabolic master switch, and it’s found in cells of most of our organs including the brain, kidney, liver and heart. AMPK plays a vital role in metabolism regulation.
Many of the potential benefits of berberine are related to the symptoms of PCOS.
General berberine benefits include:
- Reduced testosterone
- Reduced acne
- Lower cholesterol level
- Improved non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Immune support
- Reduced blood pressure
- Body fat and weight loss
- Improved insulin resistance
- Cancer prevention
How Does Berberine for PCOS Help Symptoms?
Using berberine for PCOS is becoming increasingly prevalent, and below are some of the positive benefits berberine has on PCOS.
One of the main reasons there is a positive association between the use of berberine and PCOS is because it can help increase insulin sensitivity. This is important because around 75% of people with PCOS are estimated to be insulin resistant.
If you have insulin resistance and it’s untreated, it can develop into Type 2 diabetes.
A review that looked at five separate studies recently found berberine was more effective at insulin sensitivity reduction and blood sugar reduction than a placebo.
There was a study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology in which randomly selected women with PCOS were given either 500 mg of berberine three times a day, metformin at 500 mg three times a day, or a placebo for three months.
All the women, under the guidance of a nutritionist, reduced their fat and carbohydrate intake and exercised 30 minutes a day.
After receiving treatment for three months, women with PCOS who took berberine had more body fat loss compared to those taking metformin or a placebo. Berberine also reduced insulin and glucose levels much the same as Metformin.
Metformin can have side effects such as nausea and stomach cramping, and long-term use of the medication may interfere with vitamin B12 absorption, which is why some people might want a natural Metformin alternative.
Berberine helps with insulin sensitivity by activating the AMPK pathway.
Primarily, berberine for PCOS is used as a way to help with metabolic symptoms, but it can have other benefits as well.
It may improve fertility, for example.
A pilot study looked at women with PCOS who were given berberine. On average, ovulation improved by 25% after four months.
There was also a study that showed women with PCOS randomly selected to take berberine had higher rates of pregnancy compared to metformin or placebo. The berberine group also experienced fewer side effects when it was taken 12 weeks before starting IVF.
Losing weight is incredibly challenging with PCOS, yet at the same time can lead to more complications.
Some of the reasons that weight loss is hard with PCOS include insulin resistance and problems with appetite regulation.
Berberine may have positive effects relating to weight loss. For example, it can reduce the secretion of leptin, which is an appetite-stimulating hormone.
Berberine can also inhibit lipoprotein lipase, which is an enzyme that’s responsible for storing fat.
Berberine leads to weight loss, specifically in the midsection, and it can reduce body mass index in women with PCOS.
If you have PCOS, you may be at increased risk of developing fatty liver, largely because of the condition’s effects on insulin. Berberine is an excellent supplement to reduce fatty liver.
There were six randomized control trials looking at 500 people, each finding a significant reduction in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with berberine administration. Berberine also improved liver function overall.
Berberine may be helpful with fatty liver because it can stop fat buildup in the liver and help with the oxidation of fatty acid.
Other Benefits of Berberine
Along with helping the specific symptoms related to PCOS, berberine has many other potential health benefits.
Berberine may help inhibit the growth of certain bacterial infections. For example, there was a lab study in which berberine was found to help stop the growth of a particular type of bacteria called S. aureus, which can cause pneumonia, sepsis, and skin conditions.
There was a separate study in which berberine was found to damage the DNA and protein of specific types of bacteria.
Chronic inflammation is one of the most pressing health issues for people in the modern world. Inflammation is linked to serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Berberine has anti-inflammatory properties, however.
Reducing High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a top cause of heart disease, but berberine, when used with a blood pressure drug has been found more effective than using the drug alone. An animal study also found berberine could prevent high blood pressure and reduce its severity if it does occur.
Even for people who are obese but don’t have PCOS, berberine has benefits.
There was a review that reported people taking berberine doses of 750 mg twice a day for three months had a significant weight decrease.
A double-blind study of people with metabolic syndrome who took 200 mg three times a day saw decreases in their body mass index.
There’s some research showing berberine may activate brown adipose tissue, which helps your body turn food into body heat. Activating the brown adipose tissue may help with metabolic syndrome and obesity.
There is a lot of promising research regarding berberine and cancer. Because of how berberine changes the molecules of cells, it’s being looked at as a potential cancer-fighter.
One review concluded that berberine has inhibitory effects on:
- Colorectal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Liver cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Prostate cancer
In a separate study, it was found that berberine may help kill cancer cells and may interfere with its progression.
Of course, keep in mind that these are laboratory studies and not human studies to this point.
Berberine and PCOS—Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some of the most common questions you may have about berberine for PCOS.
How Does Berberine Help PCOS?
Berberine can help PCOS in multiple ways. Berberine may boost insulin sensitivity, which is important because an estimated 75% of people with PCOS are insulin resistant. Untreated, insulin resistance can turn into type 2 diabetes.
PCOS can help with weight loss and management. It can redistribute fatty tissue and help reduce the body’s storing of additional fat.
Berberine can lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol.
Berberine may also help with fatty liver, may reduce inflammation, and has been shown in studies to lower blood pressure.
How Much Berberine Should I Take for PCOS?
Most studies that look at berberine for PCOS include dosages of anywhere from 1000 to 1500 mg a day. You might want to start with a lower dosage and then work your way up to 1500 mg per day. You can also divide your dose of berberine for PCOS, so you might take 500 mg, three times a day so you maintain a consistent level in your body.
How to Take Berberine for PCOS
The easiest way to take berberine for PCOS is to use it in capsule form. Berberine capsules for PCOS are widely available and relatively inexpensive.
How Long Should I Take Berberine for PCOS?
There’s not a certain amount of time it will take berberine to work for PCOS, but for most people, it may take six weeks to start seeing the maximum benefits. It’s something that even when you see benefits, you should continue taking.
Are There Any Side Effects of Taking Berberine for PCOS?
What’s great about berberine for PCOS is the fact that it has very few if any symptoms for most people, while most pharmaceutical drugs do have a risk of side effects.
The most common side effects, which tend to be mild, are nausea, diarrhea and headaches.
Speak to your doctor before taking berberine for PCOS, however, because supplements can interfere with other medicines you might be taking.
Summing Up—Taking Berberine for PCOS
Berberine is an amazing supplement with a wide body of research to back it up. As far as for PCOS, berberine can help many of the symptoms that accompany this condition. Taking berberine for PCOS can lower insulin resistance, help with weight loss, reduce blood pressure, and combat inflammation. Using berberine for PCOS can also improve fertility and reduce fatty liver.
Always speak to your doctor before trying berberine for PCOS or taking any supplement.