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Berberine for PCOS: effects, benefits and dosage

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex endocrine disorder affecting people of reproductive age, characterised by symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, and metabolic issues. Traditional treatment approaches for PCOS include lifestyle modifications and pharmaceutical interventions aimed at managing symptoms and improving quality of life. Recently, berberine, a bioactive compound found in several plants, has gained attention for its potential role in PCOS management. Some research suggests that it may be beneficial for the metabolic and hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS. But how strong is the evidence for berberine for PCOS?

Key takeaways

  • Berberine has been explored for its potential benefits in managing PCOS symptoms, particularly insulin resistance
  • Clinical research has found that berberine may play a role in improving metabolic functions related to PCOS, but the quality of evidence is varied
  • Understanding the safety and proper supplementation of berberine is essential for its use in PCOS management as it is an emerging treatment

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder affecting people of reproductive age. It is characterised by hormonal imbalance and metabolism issues that can affect physical and mental health. PCOS typically presents with a range of symptoms and is associated with an increased risk of several conditions.

People with PCOS often experience elevated levels of androgens, also known as male hormones and menstrual disorders in PCOS can vary from absent periods to very irregular cycles. Symptoms of PCOS may include irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant, acne, oily skin, hair loss on the head, hirsutism, rapid weight gain and many other symptoms.

The risks associated with PCOS include insulin resistance, infertility, cardiovascular disease, and gestational diabetes. PCOS is also linked to long-term conditions like metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and poor mental health.

Fertility treatments can improve the odds of conception and live births, but people with PCOS may face higher rates of miscarriages and preeclampsia during pregnancy. Managing PCOS often requires a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. People with PCOS need to have regular check-ups with their healthcare provider to manage symptoms and associated risks.

What is Berberine?

Berberine is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in a variety of herbs, known for its use as an alternative medicine. Recently it has gained popularity as a supplement to support the management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Berberine has a long history of medicinal use in traditional Eastern and Ayurvedic medicine. It is extracted from several different plants including goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), and other Berberis species. The use of these plants for medicinal purposes can be traced back centuries, with berberine being one of the main compounds responsible for their efficacy. It may now be used as an herbal supplement in Chinese herbal medicine.

What are the potential benefits of Berberine for PCOS?

Berberine is becoming increasingly popular for its potential role in managing PCOS due to its promising results on glucose metabolism and hormone regulation in some research.

Regulating glucose and lipid metabolism

Berberine has been seen in some studies to play a role in glycolipid metabolism, which is crucial for those managing PCOS. Studies suggest that berberine can reduce blood sugar levels and may help lower total cholesterolLDL (low-density lipoprotein), and elevate HDL (high-density lipoprotein). This property of berberine makes it a candidate for reducing the risks associated with metabolic syndrome, often prevalent in PCOS patients. It is important to mention that the studies reviewed were often small, and blinding wasn’t carried out to reduce bias. More research is required.

Improving insulin sensitivity and resistance

One of the main drivers and symptoms of PCOS is insulin resistance, which can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes. Berberine has been suggested to improve insulin sensitivity by activating AMP-activated protein kinase, which in turn can help regulate glucose levels in the body. This action mirrors the effects of metformin, a common medication prescribed for PCOS, suggestive of berberine’s potential as an alternative treatment. Studies have underscored the effectiveness of berberine in improving GLUT4, directly impacting glucose transportation and insulin sensitivity in PCOS models.

A systematic review in the European Journal of Endocrinology indicates that berberine has comparable effects to metformin in improving the metabolic characteristics of people with PCOS. These studies frequently address berberine’s ability to improve insulin resistance—a common concern in PCOS management.

Effects on hormonal balance

Berberine may also exert a positive influence on hormonal imbalances present in PCOS, such as elevated androgen levels e.g. high total testosterone levels. By potentially modulating the release of gonadotrophins, such as luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone, berberine may promote regular ovulation. Research indicates a need for more insight into berberine’s mechanism of action in this regard, although early findings are promising.

Berberine vs Metformin for PCOS

When compared with metformin, berberine has shown similar, if not favourable, outcomes in some studies. For instance, it might offer comparative benefits for people with PCOS when considering its impact on insulin resistance and hormonal regulation without the gastrointestinal side effects often associated with metformin. Moreover, research concerning berberine’s effectiveness in PCOS patients undergoing IVF treatment adds weight to its therapeutic potential. However, more clinical trials are required to establish definitive dosages and long-term safety.

Studies on fertility, berberine and PCOS

Research focusing on fertility treatments for people with PCOS has shown that berberine can influence reproductive endocrine outcomes. A specific study examined the use of berberine in people undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, finding that berberine may have beneficial effects on ovulation and live birth rates. These findings propose that berberine could be integrated into fertility treatment options for PCOS patients.

Safety profile and potential side effects

When considering berberine for the management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it is essential to understand its safety profile and potential side effects, some of which are common, while others are dependent on interactions with certain medications or specific populations.

Common side effects of berberine

Berberine is known to cause several common side effects including nauseadiarrhoea, and constipation. A controlled study indicated that berberine phytosome, a form of berberine, may lower the incidence of gastrointestinal adverse effects compared with traditional berberine. Even so, individuals should monitor the dosage closely to minimise these side effects.

Berberine and drug interactions

Individuals taking blood thinnersantidepressants, or beta-blockers should exercise caution with berberine as it may interact with these medications. Berberine can influence blood pressure and blood sugar regulation, potentially necessitating adjustments in medication and close monitoring by healthcare professionals.

Advice for specific populations

Berberine should be used cautiously in pregnancy due to limited studies on its safety in this population. While berberine may have positive effects on pregnancy rates in people with PCOS, concerns about its impact on miscarriage risk require careful consideration and healthcare advice. It is also not recommended for individuals with health conditions that contraindicate its use without a healthcare provider’s supervision.

Long-term efficacy and safety

Concerning long-term use, clinical studies have been cautious about definitive conclusions. To properly understand the long-term safety and efficacy of berberine for PCOS, we need ongoing research to fully establish berberine’s role in PCOS management.

Practical considerations for berberine supplementation

When considering berberine supplementation for PCOS, there are a few factors that must taken into account including the correct dosage, the quality of the supplement, and the importance of complementary lifestyle choices.

Recommended dosage and administration

Berberine is commonly recommended at a dosage of 500 mg taken two to three times a day with meals to mitigate gastrointestinal discomfort, which is a common side effect. Individuals need to adhere to the guidelines due to the potent nature of berberine. Overconsumption could lead to adverse effects, such as gastrointestinal upset or interference with certain medications.

Considerations for quality and purity

To ensure the maximum benefit and reduce the risk of contaminants, individuals should source berberine from reputable suppliers. Products certified by organisations such as NSF International attest to their quality and purity. If you choose to take berberine you should also verify that the berberine supplement does not contain unnecessary fillers or additives that may reduce its efficacy.

Lifestyle factors and other therapies

For best results, berberine should be paired with a varied diet, regular movement, sleep hygiene improvements and stress management techniques because berberine isn’t a magic bullet – PCOS should be managed holistically.

Key Takeaways: Berberine and PCOS

Berberine appears to be an interesting supplement for PCOS management. Clinical studies appear to have promising early results, particularly for its use in improving insulin sensitivity and the potential to influence the gut microbiota. However, it is important to note that studies on berberine for PCOS are generally of low quality and are short-term. More high-quality, longer studies on a variety of different populations are required to understand its use as a supplement for PCOS.

Patients and professionals must remain informed about the evolving evidence base surrounding berberine’s use in PCOS to ensure safe and effective integration into treatment regimens.

Frequently Asked Questions: Berberine and PCOS

We answer your commonly asked questions about berberine for PCOS.

Can berberine and myo-inositol be taken together to manage PCOS symptoms?

There is no evidence to suggest that berberine and inositol cannot be combined to manage PCOS symptoms. Although, as they are both insulin sensitisers this may result in unfavourable outcomes like hypoglycemia. It is imperative to work with a healthcare professional when deciding whether to supplement or not.

Is it advisable to continue berberine intake while attempting to conceive?

You should consult your healthcare provider before continuing the intake of berberine while trying to conceive, as its safety for use during the conception stage isn’t well-established.

At what point should berberine use stop before pregnancy?

It is generally recommended to stop using berberine as you prepare for pregnancy, especially by the time of conception, due to insufficient evidence of its safety during pregnancy.

How does berberine compare with inositol in the treatment of PCOS?

Berberine has been seen in some studies to improve metabolic and hormonal disorders in people with PCOS, potentially offering an alternative to inositol, which is known for its insulin-sensitising effects. Although inositol is also an emerging supplement for PCOS, there are more robust studies highlighting the positive effects compared to berberine.

Does berberine have a beneficial effect on hormonal balance in PCOS patients?

Berberine has been reported to improve hormonal balance in PCOS patients in some small studies, indicating its potential but more high-quality studies are required and individual results may vary.

Are there any concerns regarding berberine affecting menstrual cycles in people with PCOS?

There could be concerns about berberine affecting menstrual cycles in people with PCOS; however, some studies suggest berberine may contribute to the regulation of menstrual cycles by improving insulin resistance and hormonal status. More research is needed to understand the effects of berberine on menstrual cycle regulation in people with PCOS.

Alex Okell ANutr Founder and Editor

Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist

 

Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.

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