Berberine For PCOS: Is It A Viable Treatment Option?

Written by Angie Arriesgado
featured image for article on berberine for PCOS

PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome is an endocrine disorder that affects millions of women all over the world. To date, there is no cure for PCOS. But fortunately, symptoms can be managed with a variety of treatment options, including the anti-diabetes drug Metformin. But there’s a relatively new PCOS treatment option converting Metformin users over to its corner – the plant alkaloid, Berberine! So, is Berberine for PCOS a viable treatment option? Will this make living with PCOS more manageable? Read on to know more!

What is Berberine? Where does it come from?

Berberine isn’t a single plant or herb. It’s an all-natural compound that’s commonly found in the bark, stems, roots, and rhizomes of many different plants, such as:

Berberine source
(common name)
Scientific name
BarberryBerberis vulgaris
Tree turmericBerberis aristata
Oregon grapeMahonia aquifolium
GoldensealHydrastis canadensis
YellowrootXanthorhiza simplicissima
Amur cork treePhellodendron amurense
Chinese goldthreadCoptis chinensis
Prickly poppyArgemone Mexicana
Californian poppyEschscholzia californica

What is Berberine used for?

Berberine’s special healing powers may have been a recent discovery in modern science, but it’s actually been in use for millennia in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Historically, Berberine’s main claim to fame was its antipathogenic properties. It was mainly used to treat wounds and infections brought about by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens (1).

Upon discovery of its hypoglycemic properties, Berberine’s modern usage was extended to PCOS, diabetes, and other conditions resulting from high blood sugar and insulin resistance. Thus, the well-earned nickname “natural Metformin.”

barberry plant
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) – a rich source of Berberine

How does Berberine for PCOS work?

Women with PCOS typically suffer from poor insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance (2). This is where Berberine’s hypoglycemic properties come into play.

Berberine promotes insulin sensitivity

Berberine has insulin-sensitizing properties, that is, it helps improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood glucose levels (hence the “natural Metformin” moniker). Insulin resistance occurs when cells no longer respond to insulin, the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels.

When insulin can no longer do its job properly, it paves the way for insulin and blood sugar levels to spike up. If left untreated, consistently high insulin levels may increase the risk for various health issues, including type II diabetes, heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and yes, PCOS (3).

That said, Berberine lowers insulin resistance by activating the AMPK enzyme or the adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase. AMPK is known as the “energy burning master switch” because activating it helps the body with fat and glucose metabolism (4). But that’s not all, even if AMPK is blocked, it can still lower blood sugar levels by stimulating enzymes that break down glucose (5).

Related article: How To Increase Insulin Sensitivity Naturally

Berberine and testosterone levels

With insulin resistance comes skewed hormone levels. Testosterone levels go up and estrogen levels go down (women with PCOS typically have high testosterone levels). This is why male characteristics often present in women with PCOS, such as hirsutism, irregular or loss of menses, excessive acne, and female pattern baldness.

One study found that Berberine not only improves insulin function, but it also helps lower testosterone levels in women, thereby helping get rid of male-like characteristics in PCOS patients (6). According to another study, Berberine can do this by reducing testosterone production in the ovary’s theca cells (7).

goldenseal is a berberine PCOS source
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) – another Berberine source

Berberine weightloss for PCOS

Not all PCOS women are overweight or obese, but many are. For those who unfortunately suffer from excess weight, weight management is often the recommended first line of action. However, many women find it very difficult to do so, more so than women without PCOS (8).

Studies have shown that Berberine helps PCOS women with weight loss. It helps redistribute adipose tissue (a.k.a. body fat) and reduce visceral adipose tissue (9). Obese subjects given 500mg of Berberine 3x a day for 12 weeks showed a significant reduction in weight (average of 5 pounds!). Moreover, Berberine also significantly reduced triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the subjects (10).

Here’s how our Max Strength Berberine supplement helped our customers with their weight loss journey!

Amazon customer #1I was taking Metformin and my blood sugar was consistently in the low 200’s. Since I started the Berberine on a regular schedule I have seen my numbers drop almost 50 points. I am not as hungry all of the time and have seen a weight loss. I have just started my second bottle. I am now off of Metformin and only using the Berberine capsule.
Amazon customer #2I noticed I have lost weight taking this stuff and no bad side effects either!
Amazon customer #3Have been taking product for a couple months and it has helped suppress my appetite and stabilize my weight.

Berberine and fertility

A great majority of women with PCOS find it difficult to get pregnant. This is due to irregular menses, or in some cases, the total lack thereof caused by hormonal imbalance (high testosterone / low estrogen).

One study found that Berberine helped improve women’s ovulation rate per cycle, overall fertility, and live birth rates (9). Even anovulatory (non-ovulating) PCOS patients benefited from Berberine – it helped improve their menstrual pattern and ovulation rate too (11).

prickly poppy is another berberine PCOS extract source
 Prickly poppy (Argemone Mexicana) – a Berberine source

Beyond PCOS: Other benefits of Berberine

Berberine’s benefits go beyond PCOS. We’ve written an in-depth article on other research-backed Berberine benefits, but to give you an idea, here’s a summary:

  • Berberine can help manage type 2 diabetes symptoms
  • Berberine can reduce cholesterol levels
  • Berberine can reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Berberine can help with candida
  • Berberine can help with small intestine bacterial overgrowth
  • Berberine can help with UTI and other infections
  • Berberine can help with acne
  • Berberine may help slow down or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease
  • Berberine can help with depression
  • Berberine can benefit lung health
  • Berberine helps with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Berberine can help with arthritis and joint health
  • Berberine can help boost the immune system

Should you take Berberine supplements for PCOS?

Yes, you should! Taking Berberine supplements is far more convenient than consuming the various Berberine plant sources as tea. High-quality Berberine supplements are measured in exact doses, so you know exactly how much of the plant alkaloid you’re getting with every serving. That said, in this section, we’ll list down relevant Berberine supplement info:

Dosage

The scientifically recommended dosage for Berberine for PCOS is to take 2-3 500mg capsules per day. That’s 1x capsule with a carb-containing meal. So, that’s about 1000mg to 1500mg per day. This dosage is enough for most PCOS patients to benefit from Berberine’s insulin-sensitizing action (6).

Berberine supplement ingredients

Our Intelligent Labs Berberine HCL supplement is made with 100% natural Berberine derived from plants grown in both India and China.

californian poppy
Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica) – another Berberine source

How long does it take to work? And how long should I take Berberine?

As with any dietary supplement, it is important to speak with your doctor before taking Berberine. They would know your medical background and can give you better advice regarding how long you should take Berberine.

But since it can take up to 3 weeks or a month of 2-3 Berberine capsules daily before you see any results, we recommend you at least supplement for this duration. As for long-term safety, no studies thus far have shown adverse effects when taking Berberine long-term. But it’s still better to err on the side of caution, so do speak with your doctor about this.

Possible side effects of Berberine

You may experience a few gastrointestinal side effects, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, or constipation in the first couple of weeks. To reduce the chance of side effects, try taking 1000mg (equivalent to 2 capsules) per day for the first week to let your body adapt to the compound. Then add another 500mg capsule to your routine on the second week. Take note, however, that when using Berberine with Metformin (or some other medication), the side effects may be more pronounced.

Related article: 5 Natural Supplements That Help With PCOS

Conclusion

Metformin may have proven itself effective against PCOS and diabetes, but its side effects leave much to be desired. Fortunately, when it comes to natural Metformin alternatives, Berberine is at the top of the list. As you’ve learned in this article, many recent studies support the use of Berberine for PCOS. Do let us know in the comments section below if you’ve tried taking our Berberine and how it worked out for you!

References

(1) Neag, Maria A et al. “Berberine: Botanical Occurrence, Traditional Uses, Extraction Methods, and Relevance in Cardiovascular, Metabolic, Hepatic, and Renal Disorders.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 9 557. 21 Aug. 2018, doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00557

(2) Diamanti-Kandarakis, Evanthia, and Andrea Dunaif. “Insulin resistance and the polycystic ovary syndrome revisited: an update on mechanisms and implications.” Endocrine reviews vol. 33,6 (2012): 981-1030. doi:10.1210/er.2011-1034

(3) Legro RS. Evaluation and Treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. [Updated 2017 Jan 11]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278959/

(4) Winder WW, Hardie DG. AMP-activated protein kinase, a metabolic master switch: possible roles in Type 2 diabetes American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. 1999; 277(1): E1-E10.

(5) Xu M, Xiao Y, Yin J, et al. Berberine promotes glucose consumption independently of AMP-activated protein kinase activation. PLoS ONE. 2014; 9(7): e103702.

(6) Wei W, Zhao H, Wang A, et al. 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

(7) Zhao L, Li W et al. Berberine reduces insulin resistance induced by dexamethasone in theca cells in vitro. Fertil Steril. 2011 ;95(1):461-3.

(8) Lim, Siew et al. “Barriers and facilitators to weight management in overweight and obese women living in Australia with PCOS: a qualitative study.” BMC endocrine disorders vol. 19,1 106. 23 Oct. 2019, doi:10.1186/s12902-019-0434-8

(9) Rondanelli, M et al. “Polycystic ovary syndrome management: a review of the possible amazing role of berberine.” Archives of gynecology and obstetrics vol. 301,1 (2020): 53-60. doi:10.1007/s00404-020-05450-4

(10) Hu, Yueshan, et al. “Lipid-lowering effect of berberine in human subjects and rats.” Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy & Phytopharmacology. 2012; 19(10): 861+.

(11) Li, Lin et al. “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 vol. 10,12 e0144072. 8 Dec. 2015, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144072