- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects pre-menopausal females, causing symptoms like insulin resistance, weight gain, and infertility.
- Berberine is an herbal supplement often used in traditional Chinese medicine for managing type 2 diabetes. Because of its beneficial effect on insulin resistance, researchers are studying how berberine may help manage PCOS.
- Though more research is needed, berberine has been shown to improve insulin resistance, body composition, and fertility in people with PCOS. As always, talk to your doctor before starting any supplements.
If you’ve been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you may be experiencing some unpleasant symptoms, including irregular periods, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), acne, and weight gain.
Many people with PCOS find it difficult to manage their weight due to insulin resistance and other hormonal changes.
Berberine is a promising herbal supplement advertised to help with insulin and weight concerns in PCOS.
Read this article to learn what the research says about taking berberine for PCOS and how it may help support your health goals.
What is Berberine?
Berberine is a compound that is naturally present in certain plants, such as B. vulgaris (barberry) and Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal).
It is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat many ailments, including diabetes, infections, and inflammatory conditions.
Berberine is available as an over-the-counter herbal supplement.
Some research has linked berberine with benefits for cancer, heart, and metabolic conditions, including:
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS.)
- High cholesterol.
- High blood pressure.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD.)
- Cancer prevention.
However, much of this is based on promising animal studies and preliminary data.
More clinical research is needed to fully understand how berberine can be utilized in managing these conditions.
How Berberine Works
Berberine has been studied as a possible intervention for PCOS because of how it may help with insulin resistance and weight management.
Berberine works by targeting AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), an enzyme that plays a role in many metabolic processes, including blood sugar regulation.
This is similar to how metformin (a drug often used to manage PCOS and type 2 diabetes) works.
Studies have found that berberine can improve insulin sensitivity by activating AMPK.
This allows insulin to more effectively lower fasting and post-meal blood sugar levels.
Berberine works in the digestive tract as an α-glucosidase inhibitor, meaning it reduces the amount of carbohydrates that are broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Some studies also report lower cholesterol levels in people taking berberine.
This benefit is likely due to how the supplement targets cholesterol receptors in the liver.
How Berberine Effects PCOS and Weight Loss
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition affecting 5-15% of pre-menopausal females. It is characterized by:
- Cysts on the ovaries (not in all cases.)
- Irregular menstrual cycles or lack of ovulation.
- Elevated levels of androgen hormones, like testosterone.
Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS, which can contribute to high blood sugar levels and weight gain.
For many people, insulin resistance paired with elevated hormone levels makes it difficult to manage weight with PCOS.
Berberine has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which means your body’s natural insulin works better to regulate blood sugar levels.
It can also reduce the levels of androgen hormones in the body and support menstrual cycle regularity.
Together, these changes may make it easier for a person with PCOS to manage their weight and other symptoms of the condition.
How long does it take to work?
Most of the studies on berberine in people with PCOS took place across three to six months, meaning you may not see results right after you start taking the supplement.
One study from 2012 found that after taking berberine for three months, participants with PCOS experienced decreases in:
- Waist circumference.
- Fasting glucose levels.
- Insulin levels.
Benefits of Taking Berberine for PCOS and Weight Loss
Research on the subject of berberine and weight loss in PCOS is limited.
Findings show that while taking berberine doesn’t significantly change the number on the scale, it does improve body composition.
Berberine can help redistribute a person’s body fat, decreasing the amount of fat surrounding internal organs, also known as visceral fat.
Too much visceral fat is linked with various health concerns, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Some studies have found that berberine can help reduce waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index (BMI), though more research is needed.
Berberine may also boost fertility and improve live birth rates in people with PCOS by improving their ovulation rate.
Potential Side Effects
Research shows that berberine is typically well-tolerated and is considered safe for long-term use.
Mild gastrointestinal symptoms are the most common side effects reported among people on berberine.
Possible side effects of berberine include mild:
Side effects are more common with higher doses. One study found that approximately 35% of the participants experienced mild digestive side effects after taking 500 mg of berberine three times daily.
Does it impact the liver?
Though some animal studies have linked berberine with liver damage, human studies have shown that the supplement does not negatively impact liver function.
In fact, research shows that berberine may reduce liver inflammation in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
This is because berberine can reduce the amount of fat in the liver while improving liver enzymes and cholesterol levels.
Precautions and Interactions
Certain people should be cautious with berberine, depending on their health status or the medications they take.
There is limited research on the risk of taking berberine during pregnancy or lactation, so experts recommend discontinuing the supplement during these times.
Berberine may worsen jaundice (a condition common in newborns) when passed from birthing parent to baby.
Berberine may interact with or make some medications less effective, including certain:
- Oral chemotherapy drugs, like bosutinib.
- Diabetes medications, including glipizide.
- Immunosuppressant medications, like tacrolimus.
- CYP450 substrate drugs, such as codeine, ibuprofen, and statins.
How Much Berberine to Take for PCOS and Weight Loss
Because berberine is still being studied in the context of managing PCOS, clinical guidelines for dosage are not yet available.
The dose of berberine given to participants varies significantly across the studies on PCOS.
Most studies used 500 mg tablets two to three times per day. However, the berberine concentration in these tablets differed in each study.
More clinical trials are necessary to understand the effective dose of berberine for weight management in PCOS. Talk to your doctor about a safe dosage for you before starting berberine.
Where Should I Buy Berberine?
If you and your doctor decide berberine is a good option, you can find it at most pharmacies or online.
Berberine is available as an over-the-counter supplement and does not require a prescription.
When purchasing a berberine supplement, it’s important to look for brands that undergo third-party quality testing.
This will be indicated by one of the following seals on the product label:
Berberine supplements may contain additional active ingredients, so be sure to clear any product with your doctor before starting.
Other Ways to Manage PCOS and Promote Weight Loss
Managing PCOS often involves multiple interventions, including medications, lifestyle changes, and supplements.
There are numerous medication options for managing PCOS, depending on the goals of the patient. These include:
- Hormonal contraceptives.
- Infertility treatments like clomiphene citrate.
- GLP-1 agonists like ozempic or saxenda.
Work with your doctor to create a treatment plan to help you optimize your health and feel your best.
There is limited research on supplements for PCOS, so it’s important to always talk to your doctor before starting any over-the-counter products.
Myoinositol is a supplement linked with improvements in insulin sensitivity and PCOS symptoms.
More research is needed, but it has been used in some cases when a patient does not tolerate the side effects of metformin.
Chromium is a trace mineral that may improve insulin resistance and ovulation when taken as a supplement in PCOS.
It may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Many restrictive diets are advertised online to help with PCOS.
Engaging in regular physical activity can improve insulin sensitivity and help with weight management.
Berberine is an herbal supplement commonly used in alternative medicine to manage many conditions.
Because it helps improve insulin resistance, berberine has been proposed as a possible therapy for managing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Studies show that berberine may improve body composition, insulin sensitivity, and fertility in people with PCOS, but more research is needed.
Talk to your doctor about whether berberine is appropriate for your PCOS treatment plan.
Managing PCOS and Weight Loss with Nourish
Because PCOS is a complex condition, effectively managing it may involve medications, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
A registered dietitian can teach you which foods can help with PCOS and help you create a sustainable plan.
Frequently Asked Questions
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