10 Benefits of Berberine for PCOS

While berberine may be new to the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) community, nothing is new about the numerous benefits of this potent supplement. Used for thousands of years in China as a treatment for diabetes and infertility, berberine is an herb that is showing great promise for treating -and preventing- many of the difficult and frustrating symptoms and complications associated with PCOS.

Here are 10 of the many benefits of berberine for women with PCOS.

1. Reduces Insulin

Berberine is a potent insulin sensitizer that rivals that of metformin. (1-3)

It is believed that women with PCOS have a problem with proper insulin signaling which results in too much insulin being secreted. Berberine improves insulin signal transduction by stimulating glucose intake via the activation of the AMP-activated protein kinase pathway.  By doing so, it reduces glucose and insulin.

The effects of berberine have been compared to metformin in women with PCOS. In their study, Wei and colleagues randomly selected 89 women with PCOS to receive either berberine (500 mg, 3x daily), metformin (500mg, 3x daily), or a placebo for 3 months.  (2)

All women were instructed by a nutritionist to reduce carbohydrate and fat intake. No calorie range was provided. Women were also instructed to exercise 30 minutes each day of moderate to intense exercise.

After 3 months of treatment, women who took berberine saw greater reductions in body fat loss than metformin or placebo.

Berberine lowered insulin and glucose levels similarly to metformin.

Women with PCOS who took berberine saw significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol levels), and triglycerides and a significant improvement in HDL (good cholesterol levels), more than metformin.

Berberine lowered total testosterone levels similar to that of metformin.

Berberine users reported much less side effects (mild GI discomfort) than metformin.

2. Improves Gut Health

Too much bad bacteria in the gut is linked to intestinal permeability or leaky gut, contributing to GI symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. Berberine has been found to provide a gut barrier-protecting function by increasing the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA) which increase good bacteria in the gut. Raising SCFA levels in the intestine contributes to the beneficial effects of berberine to lower insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. (4)

3. Improves Fatty Liver Disease

Berberine has been shown to be an effective option to reduce fatty liver. A review of 6 randomized control trials involving 500 individulas found that berberine significantly reduced fatty liver in those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  Berberine lowered TG and liver function enzymes, and overall improved liver condition. It has been found that berberine improves NAFLD by preventing liver fat build up and promoting fatty acid oxidation in skeletal muscle. (5)

4. Fights Cancer

Beberine has been regarded as an anti-cancer treatment. Berberine has shown promise to prevent cancer cells from replicating and invading other cells. Berberine has also been shown to target free radicals and preserve DNA and RNA binding. Berberine has been regarded as potential agent for improving adipose breast tissue and decreasing breast cancer risk. (6)

5. Lowers Cholesterol

Berberine is showing great promise in its ability to lower cholesterol levels. Berberine slows the release of free fatty acids while boosting fat burning in the mitochondria to lower cholesterol levels. Berberine also inhibits the enzyme lipoprotein lipase which is responsible for producing cholesterol and triglycerides. Berberine has also been shown to promote cholesterol excretion from the liver to bile. (7-9).

Kong et al found that patients with high cholesterol who took berberine for 3 months saw a 29% reduction in cholesterol, 35% reduction in TG, and a 25% reduction of LDL (the bad kind). (7)

Berberine also reduced cholesterol, TG, and LDL in patients with metabolic syndrome. (3)

When compared with metformin in women with PCOS, berberine reduced total cholesterol, TG, and LDL significantly more than metformin did. Berberine also increased HDL (the good kind) significantly more than metformin. (2)

A side effect of taking oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) (birth control), is that they can increase cholesterol, TG, and c-reactive protein levels. Berberine was shown to lower c-reactive protein, total and LDL cholesterol levels in women with and without PCOS whose cholesterol was increased by OCPs. (8)

Berberine when combined with oral lipid lowering drugs was better than lipid lowering drugs alone in reducing total and LDL cholesterol and raising the level of HDL. (9)

6. Fights Inflammation

Berberine possesses anti-inflammatory properties. Berberine has been shown to suppress proinflammatory cytokine responses (stimulated in response to stress and inflammation). Berberine has been used as a treatment for irritable bowel disorder by reducing inflammation in the intestines. (10)

7. Boosts Fertility and Pregnancy

Berberine has been shown to improve ovulation in women with PCOS as well as improve pregnancy rates with IVF treatment. (11) Berberine alone improved the menstrual pattern and the ovulation rate in anovulatory women with PCOS in 3 months. (12)

Women with PCOS were randomly selected to take berberine, metformin, or placebo for 12 weeks prior to IVF treatment. Both overweight and average weight women who took berberine showed greater pregnancy rates than metformin or placebo and with fewer side effects. It was believed that berberine’s actions to lower insulin and testosterone levels as well as fat loss, contributed to the higher pregnancy rates. (11)

8. Reduces Testosterone

Berberine has been shown to reduce levels of androgens in women with PCOS. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology found that berberine significantly reduced total testosterone and free androgen index levels as well as increased levels of sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) (which binds to testosterone) in 3 months of use. (11)

Berberine was found to significantly reduced total testosterone and free androgen index, similarly to metformin in women with PCOS. Levels of SHBG were increased more with berberine than metformin. (2)

9. Lowers Blood Pressure

A review of 27 studies involving 2569 patients found that berberine with lifestyle intervention lowered blood pressure more than the lifestyle intervention alone or placebo did.

Berberine when combined with blood pressure lowing medications lowered blood pressure better than medications alone. (9)

10. Aids in Weight Loss and Body Fat Loss

A big benefit of berberine is that it specifically targets fat cells to reverse fat storage, especially in the central part of the body. (3) The majority of studies have shown weight loss and reduced BMI from taking berberine. Berberine has also been shown to reduce secretion of the appetite hormone leptin which stimulates appetite. Levels of leptin as well as ghrelin, another appetite hormone, have been shown to be impaired in women with PCOS. (3) Berberine PCOS

The PCOS Nutrition Center Berberine Plus is is an enhanced bioavailability form of berberine that can help with weight loss, fertility, and improving metabolic aspects associated with PCOS.

 

For more information about berberine, read PCOS and Berberine: What to Know

References

  1. Berberine improves insulin resistance in granulosa cells in similar way to metformin. Fertility and sterility.2006; supplement S459-S460.
  2. Wei W, 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.
  3. Yang J et al. Berberine improves insulin sensitivity by inhibiting fat store and adjusting adipokines profile in human preadipocytes and metabolic syndrome patients. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:363845.
  4. Zhang X. Structural changes of gut microbiota during berberine-mediated prevention of obesity and insulin resistance in high-fat diet-fed rats. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42529.
  5. Zhao L et al. Berberine improves glucogenesis and lipid metabolism in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. BMC Endocr Disord. 2017 Feb 28;17(1):13.
  6. Tan W et al. Berberine hydrochloride: anticancer activity and nanoparticulate delivery system. Int J Nanomedicine. 2011;6:1773-7.
  7. Kong W et al. Berberine is a novel cholesterol-lowering drug working through a unique mechanism distinct from statins. Nature Medicine 2004;10(12): 1344-1351.
  8. Arrigo F. Berberine and Monacolin effects on the cardiovascular risk profile of women with oestrogprogestrin-induced hypercholesterolemia. High Blood Press Cardiovasc Prev. 2014;21:221-226.
  9. Lan J et al. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Feb 23;161:69-81.
  10. Zou K. Advances in the study of berberine and its derivatives: a focus on anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects in the digestive system. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2017 Feb;38(2):157-167.
  11. An Y, 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.
  12. Lin L. A Single Arm Pilot Study of Effects of Berberine on the Menstrual Pattern, Ovulation Rate, Hormonal and Metabolic Profiles in Anovulatory Chinese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PLoS One. 2015; 10(12): e0144072
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Comments (30)
  • Julie

    March 30, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    How much berberine does one take to see benefits?

  • Angela Grassi

    April 3, 2017 at 9:15 am

    The recommended dosage of berberine in studies is around 500mg, 3x daily. We recommend starting with one capsule of PCOS Nutrition Center Berberine Plus daily for a full week before adding another capsule and again, wait another week before adding another. Berberine is best taken with food.

  • Megan

    April 2, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Would one be able to continue Ovasitol and add Berberine or is this over-treating?

  • Angela Grassi

    April 3, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Yes, you can take berberine and Ovasitol together. They work differently in the body.

  • Amy G

    April 2, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Is it safe to take with ovasitol?

  • Angela Grassi

    April 3, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Yes, berberine is ok to take with Ovasitol.

  • Susan Nightingale

    April 5, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    Why if the recommended dose is 500mg multiple times a day do you package the supplement in a 400mg capsule? Is using the 400mg capsule sufficient?

  • Angela Grassi

    April 6, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Yes, 400 mg is pretty close.

  • Sara

    April 8, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    Will it cause any side effects?

  • Angela Grassi

    April 9, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Berberine is well tolerated-much more than metformin!

  • Joanna

    April 9, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Could you take this with metformin?

  • Angela Grassi

    April 9, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    yes, you can take berberine while taking metformin.

  • Grace Snow

    May 25, 2017 at 1:16 am

    I see you have said that berberine is not to be taken long-term. What is the recommended duration? Can you stop and start it? If so, how long should you take it, and how long should you take off in between?

  • Angela Grassi

    May 25, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Grace, Berberine with long-term use can increase the risk for liver damage. We recommend getting your liver function tests (liver enzymes) every 6 months. If you tolerate berberine fine and it’s not affecting your liver, you can continue on it for perhaps a year or so. You can also stop and start it giving a few months in between.

  • Nora

    June 22, 2017 at 9:50 am

    Is Berberine good for all types of PCOS or just the insulin- resistance one, in terms of helping with the symptoms??
    Thanks.

  • Angela Grassi

    June 22, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Nora, Every woman with PCOS is unique. That’s why we recommend consulting with a regestered dietitian such as ourselves to find out what supplements may be best for you. Berberine can help with many of the issues we mention in this article, not just insulin resistance. We do offer a 45 minute supplement assessment if you are interested you can email us at info@PCOSnutrition.com.

  • Odalys

    August 28, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    What would be the daily recommended dose of Berberine to obtain results as the ones mentioned in this article?

  • Angela Grassi

    August 29, 2017 at 8:53 am

    400 to 500 mg of berberine taken two to three times per day.

  • JD

    October 16, 2017 at 10:20 pm

    HiI

    I’ve just stared taking Diane35 oral contraceptive pills and have been reading about Berberine and really want to try as I have PCOS and bad acne… is it safe to take Berberine whilst on oral contraceptive pills?

  • Angela Grassi

    October 25, 2017 at 10:58 am

    yes, you can take berberine with oral contraceptives.

  • Daniel

    October 21, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    Even though my ovaries have long since descended, I’m loving your articles!–specifically all the research into supplements. Great information!

    Thanks,

    Dan

  • Joanna

    November 10, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    Why did you stop it after a year? Do the effects sustain? Or when you start back up again?

  • Angela Grassi

    November 13, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Everyone is different. It is good from time to time to take a 2 week break from berberine to give your liver a break. Some women tolerate berberine just fine and can continue on it longer than others.

  • Chelsea

    March 10, 2018 at 7:55 am

    I have bought Berberine with much hope. Unfortunately, I had such severe diarrhea with it that I ultimately had to stop taking it. 🙁 I tried taking imodium with it but it honestly didn’t help too much. I now bought Ovasitol and just started it yesterday. I have been having the same issue but I’m praying that it clears up. My PCOS has been out of control and metformin can only help so much.

  • Angela Grassi

    March 15, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    Chelsea, sorry to hear about the side effects. We recommend starting slow with these supplements. So for berberine, take 1 capsule with breakfast for the first week, the 2nd week add another capsule to dinner, and the third week, add another to lunch. You may be fine taking 2 capsules per day. For the Ovasitol, take 1 dosage with 1 meal for the first week before adding a 2nd dose to a different meal the next week. Hope that helps!

  • ronilyn

    June 18, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    how much is berberine?where can i buy it?

  • Angela Grassi

    June 22, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    We have berberine in our PCOS Nutrition Center Store: http://www.pcosnutrition.com/product/berberine-pcos-nutrition-center/

  • Kelly

    August 16, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Is it wise to take both berberine and glutamine for carb cravings/weight loss, or would berberine help with both on its own?

  • Angela Grassi

    August 20, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Everyone is different. You could start with berberine and see how it helps you and if you need to add another supplement.

  • Rinkey Rawat

    October 18, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    My Dctr suggested me obimet, berberine and omnacortil. Is this safe?

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