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The Benefits of Berberine for Women with PCOS

Posted by Allie on 18th November 2016

Berberine may help improve some PCOS symptoms.
Photo: Pixabay.com

PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders affecting women of reproductive age. Increased insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia are believed to play a key role in the pathogenesis of the condition. Insulin-sensitising medications, such as metformin, have traditionally been used to treat the metabolic and reproductive imbalances in women with PCOS. In addition to conventional medicine, lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, have been shown to also improve insulin resistance (1). Now an increasing body of evidence has found that supplements, such as inositol and berberine, can improve some PCOS symptoms.

What is berberine?

Berberine is a natural plant alkaloid isolated from a number of Chinese herbs, such as Coptidis Rhizoma (Huanglian), Hydrastis Canadensis (goldenseal), and Cortex Phellodendri (Huangbai). It has traditionally been used in Chinese herbal medicine for its anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory properties (1).

How can berberine help with PCOS?

There is some encouraging research looking at the effects of berberine on PCOS however, it is limited and further studies are needed.

A randomised control trial was completed in 2012 (1) looking at the effects of berberine compared with metformin in 83 Chinese women with PCOS over a three month period. The participants were randomised into three different groups: 1) 500mg of berberine three times daily and compound cyproterone acetate (CPA), a combined birth control pill 2) metformin and CPA 3) placebo and CPA.

The study found that both berberine and metformin decreased androgen concentrations similarly. Compared with metformin, participants taking berberine showed reduced total cholesterol levels, waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference. In comparison to the placebo group, the women taking berberine had decreased levels of testosterone.

Participants taking berberine showed reduced total cholesterol levels, waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference

It’s worth noting that the study used small subgroups of participants and they were all taking an oral contraceptive which can limit the applicability of findings to other women with PCOS.

Another study examined the effect of berberine on 102 anovulatory Chinese women with PCOS (2). The women took 0.4g of berberine 3 times daily over four months. Researchers found that the participant’s menstrual pattern and ovulation rate improved. Insulin resistance, total cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of fat found in blood, also decreased in the non-overweight women with PCOS taking berberine.

In summary, there is some research indicating that berberine can improve hormonal and metabolic irregularities such as ovulation, menstrual pattern and insulin resistance in women with PCOS. Further research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of berberine in PCOS.

If you’re considering taking berberine...

Berberine is contraindicated in pregnancy. It can react with some medications with potentially serious effects and high doses can result in stomach upset, diarrhea and stomach cramps. It’s therefore important to speak with a relevant health professional or your GP/medical practitioner before taking berberine supplements to discuss whether it is suitable for you and appropriate dosage.


Note that referenced or mentioned authors, websites and organisations are not affiliated with, nor endorsing, the content published on Positive PCOS.

1: Wei, W. et al. (2012) A clinical study on the short-term effect of berberine in comparison to metformin on the metabolic characteristics of women with polycystic ovary syndrome. European Journal of Endocrinology. 166 (1): 99-105

2: Li, L. et al. (2015) 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 10 (12): e0144072. doi: 10.1371/journal. pone.0144072

Li, Y. 2013. Effect of berberine on insulin resistance in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: study protocol for a randomized multicenter controlled trial. Trials. 14: 226