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Berberine and PCOS: What to Know

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine and metabolic disorder affecting approximately 8% of women of reproductive age. We all know about the variety of risk factors that have been associated with PCOS, including obesity, glucose intolerance, and dyslipidemia, which leads to a significantly increased risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. Insulin resistance is known to play a critical role in the pathophysiology of PCOS. Most individuals with PCOS are prescribed metformin as a form of insulin sensitizer for many metabolic and reproductive dysregulations. Currently researchers are looking at the benefits of berberine on fertility and insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS.

What is Berberine?

Berberine has a long history of medicinal use in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.This alkaloid is present in Hydrastis Canadensis (goldenseal), Coptis chinensis (Coptis or goldenthread), Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape), Berberis vulgaris (barberry), and Berberis aristata (tree turmeric) and has shown some promising research with PCOS.

Studies indicate that berberine possesses a wide range of biochemical and pharmacological activities in conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Immune challenges
  • Breast Cancer
  • Intestinal infections
  • Joint problems
  • Low bone density
  • Weight controlBerberine PCOS

How Does Berberine Work?

Berberine targets a very basic regulator of metabolism called AMPK-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation that works to:

  • Stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Reduces glucose production in the liver
  • Slows the release of free fatty acids, which lowers lipid levels and prevents harmful fat deposition
  • Boosts fat burning in the mitochondria
  • Stimulates the release of nitric oxide (NO), a signaling molecule that relaxes the arteries, increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, and protects against atherosclerosis

Read our other article, 10 Benefits of Berberine for PCOS

Berberine and PCOS

In a 2012 study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, researchers evaluated the effects of berberine in comparison to metformin in women with PCOS. The study showed that subjects who were on metformin and berberine had significant improvement in insulin sensitivity than the control group. The berberine group also had significant decrease in their triglycerides and increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels than that of the metformin group.

In a recent 2014 study, researchers compared the effectiveness of berberine and metformin in PCOS women scheduled for IVF treatment. Both berberine and metformin treatments prior to IVF, improved the pregnancy outcomes. What was also recorded was that berberine had much more pronounced therapeutic effect and achieved statistically significant more live births with fewer side effects than metformin.

Berberine can definitely be used in women with PCOS. As with any drug/ botanicals it is important to be vigilant about its dose and duration. Repeated use of berberine down-regulates several important liver enzymes (P450 cytochromes) that the body uses to eliminate drugs especially CYP2D6, CYP2C9, and CYP3A4. Some of the drugs that these enzymes detoxify are tricyclics, MAOIs, SSRIs, opiates, anti-arrhythmics, beta-blockers, Cimetidine, Coumadin, sulfonylureas and most steroid hormones.The use of berberine during pregnancy is contraindicated.

Berberine can result in hypoglycemic episodes, especially if taken with other medications or supplements that also lower glucose and insulin. If you are interested in taking berberine, seek guidance from a functional medicine practitioner or a health professional who is well- versed with supplements and who can determine if berberine is right for you and appropriate dosage level. To find a functional medicine practitioner in your area, click here.

 

References
Wei W1, Zhao H, Wang A, Sui M, Liang K, Deng H, Ma Y, Zhang Y, Zhang H, Guan Y.
A clinical study on the short-term effect of berberine in comparison to metformin on the metabolic characteristics of women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Eur J Endocrinol. 2012 Jan;166(1):99-105.

Li Y1, Ma H, Zhang Y, Kuang H, Ng EH, Hou L, Wu X. Effect of berberine on insulin resistance in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: study protocol for a randomized multicenter controlled trial. Trials. 2013 Jul 18;14:226.

An Y1, Sun Z, Zhang Y, Liu B, Guan Y, Lu M. The use of berberine for women with polycystic ovary syndrome undergoing IVF treatment. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2014 Mar;80(3):425-31. doi: 10.1111/cen.12294.

aarti_batavia_pic61Aarti Batavia MS, RDN, CLT, FSCP, IFMCP is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and founder of Nutrition & Wellness Consulting LLC in Novi, Michigan. Aarti is an Institute of Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner and has received advanced training in adverse food reactions and has completed a certification course (Certified LEAP Therapist-CLT) that provides a much deeper understanding of how to manage the dietary component of conditions where food sensitivities play a role. Aarti consults with patients nationally and internationally improving their health with a new approach to dietary care. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Aarti for a phone consultation. Website: http://www.aartibatavia.com

 

 

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Comments (9)
  • Amber

    July 19, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I have suffered from pcos for almost 20 years. I took berberine for two weeks and fell pregnant straight away (after 19 months of trying. I now have a healthy 16 month old boy. I stopped taking it while pregnant and for year after birth. Two ultrasounds confirmed pcos in that time. I started taking it again about 3-4 months ago and a recent ultrsound showed no evidence of pcos. My ovaries had returned to normal size and i had just ovulated normally. I had blood tests done to check my hormones and all were witin the normal range (previously my testorone was high). I believe berberine has cured my pcos!

  • Michelle

    May 25, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    I am currently taking Metformin and Ovasitol. If I were interested in trying berberine, would I take it in place of Metformin? And would I continue taking Ovasitol with berberine?

  • Angela Grassi

    May 25, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    You can take berberine along with ovasitol and metformin.

  • Nicola

    June 13, 2017 at 6:24 am

    Where do I buy it from?

  • Angela Grassi

    June 13, 2017 at 9:05 am

    If you live in the US or Canada, we sell and ship Berberine for PCOS: http://www.pcosnutrition.com/product/berberine-pcos-nutrition-center/

  • Silje Maria

    June 19, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Hey, I was diagnosed with PCOS three years ago and been struggling with my weight ever since. I do not suffer from insulin resistance. My question is; Will I benefit from this even though I do not have insulin resistance?

  • Angela Grassi

    June 19, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Hi Silje,
    Berberine has been shown to help with many aspects of PCOS, not just insulin. Here are some benefits of it: http://www.pcosnutrition.com/berberine/

  • Alexandria

    February 12, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    I also read that berberine is not recommended for long term use…. then there is that. Is this recommended in combination with metformin on and off ? I love how metformin helps woth the insulin resistance I just don’t like that it’s depleting the b12 d and folate…. oy vey it’s always something huh. Lol

  • Angela Grassi

    February 14, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Yes, you can take berberine and metformin at the same time. There is no formal guideline for taking a break from berberine. We recommend getting liver function tests done every 3 to 6 months

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