Can Berberine Help with PCOS?

Can Berberine Help with PCOS?

Can Berberine Help with PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common health issue that affects numerous women worldwide, often leading to hormonal imbalance and metabolic problems. It's a condition that can be challenging to manage, with insulin resistance being a significant concern for many women with PCOS. In the quest for effective treatment options, one natural compound has been gaining attention - Berberine.

Berberine, a bioactive compound extracted from several different plants, has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Recently, it has been thrust into the spotlight for its potential benefits in managing PCOS, particularly in addressing insulin resistance, a common issue for women with this condition. But how exactly does it work, and what are the potential benefits and side effects?

In this blog, we will delve into the world of Berberine, exploring its potential benefits for PCOS, from reducing insulin and improving gut health to aiding in weight loss and body fat loss. We'll also discuss the possible side effects of taking Berberine and provide guidance on the appropriate dosage.

Finally, we'll address some frequently asked questions about Berberine and its role in managing PCOS. Whether you're considering Berberine as a potential treatment option or simply curious about its potential benefits, this blog aims to provide a comprehensive overview of this intriguing natural compound.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that affects a significant number of women, particularly those in their reproductive years. It's a condition that's not only limited to premenopausal women but also affects postmenopausal women. The exact causes of PCOS remain unknown, but there are several indicators, such as chemical and lifestyle factors, that may explain the symptoms.

PCOS often begins with difficulties in ovulation, leading to the formation of ovarian cysts. These cysts produce an excess of male hormones, including testosterone, which can cause a premature degeneration of the ovarian follicles. The symptoms of PCOS can vary widely, ranging from irregular or absent periods to obesity, excess hair growth, and even infertility.

As women age, PCOS can transform from a disorder affecting only reproductive functions to a metabolic syndrome that can impact other organ functions and contribute to more severe conditions like type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Metabolic syndrome is a condition where abnormal chemical reactions interfere with the body's ability to break down food into sugars and acids for energy.

While there is no cure for PCOS, various treatments are available, including medications and herbal supplements. One such supplement that has recently been studied for its potential benefits in treating PCOS is berberine. This article will delve into the details of PCOS and how berberine can help manage its symptoms.

What is Berberine?

Berberine is an isoquinoline alkaloid, a compound found in various plants such as goldthread, Oregon grape, and barberry, among others. It has been used in traditional medicine in countries like China, India, and Iran, primarily for its digestive and immune-stimulating properties. However, berberine's potential extends beyond these traditional uses. It has been the subject of numerous studies for its potential role in regulating hypoglycemia and cholesterol, and more recently, its potential benefits for those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

When consumed, berberine is transported through the bloodstream to cells throughout the body, where it binds to molecular targets and alters their function, much like a medication would. One of its primary targets is an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which is found in various cells, including those in the brain, heart, muscles, kidneys, and liver. This enzyme plays a crucial role in controlling metabolism. When activated by berberine, it can help reduce energy storage and increase energy production.

Research has shown that berberine's activation of AMPK can lead to several beneficial effects, such as enabling the body to break down sugar inside the cells, lowering insulin resistance, and causing a significant reduction in blood sugar levels. These effects have led researchers to study berberine's potential in overcoming insulin resistance, a common issue in those with PCOS, and compare its effects to prescription medications like thiazolidinediones (TZDs) and metformin.

However, it's important to note that while berberine shows promise, it's not recommended as a standalone treatment for conditions like type 2 diabetes until more extensive clinical trials can validate these findings. As with any supplement, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before starting a berberine regimen. Despite its potential benefits, berberine can cause side effects like nausea and constipation, especially when taken in high doses, and may not interact well with other medications.

Benefits of Berberine for PCOS

Berberine, a potent supplement with a rich history in traditional Chinese medicine, is gaining recognition in the PCOS community for its potential to alleviate some of the most challenging symptoms of this condition. From reducing insulin and testosterone levels to improving gut health and aiding in weight loss, berberine's multifaceted benefits are becoming increasingly significant for women with PCOS. This section will delve into the ten key benefits of berberine for PCOS, shedding light on how this powerful herb could revolutionise the management of this complex condition.

1. Reduces Insulin

Berberine's role in reducing insulin resistance is a significant benefit for those dealing with PCOS. As insulin resistance is a common issue in PCOS, berberine's ability to improve insulin sensitivity can be a game-changer. By activating the AMPK enzyme, berberine significantly lowers the body's insulin levels, reducing the need for the pancreas to overproduce insulin. This action helps to normalise blood sugar levels, preventing the excess sugar from being stored as fat. Therefore, berberine supplements can be a valuable addition to a PCOS management plan, helping to combat one of the root causes of this condition. However, it's essential to remember that while berberine improves insulin sensitivity, it should not be used as a standalone treatment for PCOS, but rather as part of a comprehensive approach.

2. Improves Gut Health

Berberine's role in improving gut health is a significant benefit for those dealing with PCOS. It's been found that berberine supplements can increase the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which in turn boost the presence of good bacteria in the gut. This is crucial as an imbalance of bad bacteria can lead to a leaky gut, causing uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, and constipation. By promoting a healthier gut environment, berberine significantly reduces these symptoms and contributes to overall well-being. Furthermore, the increase in SCFA levels in the intestine has been linked to berberine's ability to lower insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders, all of which are common concerns for those with PCOS. Therefore, berberine's gut health benefits extend beyond just digestive comfort, making it a valuable supplement for those with PCOS.

3. Improves Fatty Liver Disease

Berberine significantly improves fatty liver disease, a common issue in individuals with PCOS. This is backed by a review of six randomized control trials involving 500 participants, which found that berberine supplements effectively reduced fatty liver in those with metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD), formerly known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The study revealed that berberine lowered triglycerides, the primary form of fat in the body, and liver function enzymes, thereby enhancing overall liver functioning. Furthermore, berberine prevents liver fat buildup and promotes fatty acid oxidation, the breakdown of fatty acids, which is crucial as it releases energy. Thus, for those with PCOS, berberine can be a potent ally in combating fatty liver disease.

4. Fights Cancer

Berberine's potential as an anti-cancer agent is another compelling reason for its use in managing PCOS. Research has shown that berberine can inhibit the replication and invasion of cancer cells, making it a promising tool in the fight against cancer. It targets free radicals, preserving the integrity of DNA and RNA binding, which is crucial in preventing the mutation of healthy cells into cancerous ones. Specifically, berberine has been identified as a potential agent for improving adipose breast tissue and decreasing breast cancer risk. This is particularly relevant for women with PCOS, who may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Therefore, incorporating berberine supplements into a PCOS management plan could potentially offer significant protective benefits against cancer.

5. Lowers Cholesterol

Berberine's potential to lower cholesterol is a significant benefit for women with PCOS. It works by slowing the release of free fatty acids and enhancing fat burning in the mitochondria, which in turn reduces cholesterol levels. Additionally, berberine inhibits lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme responsible for producing cholesterol and triglycerides. It also promotes the excretion of cholesterol from the liver to bile. Interestingly, berberine has been shown to lower c-reactive protein, total and LDL cholesterol levels in women whose cholesterol was increased by oral contraceptive pills. Furthermore, when combined with oral lipid-lowering drugs, berberine significantly improved the effectiveness of these medications in reducing total and LDL cholesterol and raising HDL levels. Therefore, berberine supplements could be a valuable addition to the management of PCOS.

6. Fights Inflammation

Berberine's anti-inflammatory properties are a significant asset in the fight against PCOS. It has been observed to suppress proinflammatory cytokine responses, which are typically stimulated in response to stress and inflammation. This suppression can be particularly beneficial for those with PCOS, as inflammation is often a contributing factor to the condition. Furthermore, berberine's use in treating irritable bowel disorder by reducing inflammation in the intestines suggests its potential in managing inflammation-related symptoms in PCOS. Therefore, berberine supplements could be a valuable addition to a PCOS management plan, given their potential to combat inflammation.

7. Boosts Fertility and Pregnancy

Berberine's potential to boost fertility and pregnancy rates in individuals with PCOS is a promising area of research. Studies have shown that berberine supplements can improve ovulation rates and menstrual patterns in anovulatory women with PCOS, leading to higher pregnancy rates. This is particularly significant for those undergoing IVF treatment, where berberine has been found to outperform metformin and placebo in terms of pregnancy outcomes. The mechanism behind this is believed to be berberine's ability to lower insulin and testosterone levels, as well as promote fat loss. However, it's important to note that while berberine significantly improves the chances, it doesn't guarantee pregnancy. Nonetheless, it offers a proactive approach for those dealing with PCOS-related fertility issues, potentially reducing stress associated with conception efforts.

8. Reduces Testosterone

Berberine's role in reducing testosterone levels in women with PCOS is significant. Studies have shown that berberine significantly lowered total testosterone and free androgen index levels, similar to the effects of metformin. Furthermore, berberine supplements were found to increase levels of sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a protein that binds to testosterone, more effectively than metformin. This reduction in androgen levels can be beneficial for women with PCOS, as it helps to balance hormones and alleviate symptoms. Therefore, for PCOS sufferers, berberine's testosterone-lowering properties can be a game-changer.

9. Lowers Blood Pressure

Berberine's potential to lower blood pressure is another noteworthy benefit for women with PCOS. This is primarily due to berberine's ability to inhibit the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which is responsible for producing cholesterol and triglycerides. By slowing the release of free fatty acids and boosting fat burning in the mitochondria, berberine significantly reduces the levels of these substances, which are known to contribute to high blood pressure. Furthermore, berberine promotes the excretion of cholesterol from the liver to bile, further aiding in the regulation of blood pressure. Therefore, berberine supplements could be a valuable addition to a PCOS management plan, particularly for those also dealing with hypertension.

10. Aids in Weight Loss and Body Fat Loss

Berberine supplements have been shown to significantly aid in weight loss and body fat loss, particularly in women with PCOS. By improving insulin resistance, berberine allows body tissue cells to absorb and convert blood sugar into energy, reducing the need for fat cells to store excess sugar. This process not only aids in weight loss but also helps shrink belly fat. Furthermore, berberine specifically targets fat cells, reversing fat storage, especially in the central part of the body. Studies have shown that PCOS berberine users experienced weight loss and reduced BMI. Additionally, berberine lowered the secretion of leptin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, which is often impaired in women with PCOS. This reduction in leptin levels further contributes to weight loss.

Side Effects of Taking Berberine

Berberine, a compound found in a variety of plants, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Modern research suggests it may help treat symptoms associated with PCOS, including high blood sugar levels, weight gain, and high cholesterol. However, like all supplements, berberine's effects can be difficult to trace and it's not without its side effects.

When taken in high doses, berberine is known to cause nausea, abdominal distension, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, slow heart rate, and flatulence. These adverse effects can be relieved by taking berberine after meals. If constipation occurs, reducing the dosage may help.

While many people tolerate berberine well, it can cause nausea and constipation, particularly when taken in high doses. It may also not interact well with other medications, such as antidepressants, MAOIs, blood thinners, and beta blockers. Regular monitoring of liver function tests is recommended for those taking berberine.

Berberine is an insulin sensitizer, which means it may cause low blood sugar, especially when combined with other insulin-lowering medications, such as metformin, or supplements like inositol or n-acetylcysteine.

Berberine is not intended for long-term use. No data are available regarding the safety of berberine among young people assigned female at birth or in early pregnancy. And nobody should take berberine while they're pregnant, breastfeeding, or chestfeeding.

If you’re considering adding berberine — or any other supplement — to your wellness routine, consult your healthcare provider to ensure it’s right for you. Berberine can interact with many medications, including antibiotics, immunosuppressants, and blood thinners.

Berberine is generally safe but may cause digestive side effects, such as gas, diarrhea, nausea, or stomach aches. If you’re interested in trying berberine for your PCOS symptoms, consult your healthcare provider to make sure it’s appropriate for you.


Berberine, a potent supplement, has been the subject of numerous studies due to its potential benefits for those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). The dosage of berberine is a crucial aspect to consider when incorporating it into your health regimen. Typically, the recommended dosage is 500 mg, taken three times a day, similar to the dosing of metformin, a common medication for PCOS. However, to avoid stomach upset, it's advisable to gradually increase the dosage over a few weeks.

In a study involving patients with type 2 diabetes, a condition often associated with PCOS, participants were treated with 500 mg of berberine three times daily for 13 weeks. The results were promising, with no significant changes in liver enzymes, indicating no inflammation or damage to liver cells. However, it's important to note that high doses of berberine administered over days in animal studies led to altered liver function and liver tissue damage.

While berberine is commonly used between 900 and 1500 mg per day, it's always best to consult your healthcare provider to determine the safe and effective dosage for you. This is particularly important as berberine may not interact well with other medications, such as antidepressants, MAOIs, blood thinners, and beta blockers.

When purchasing berberine, ensure to check the label for a product tested by a third party, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab, as supplements aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Remember, while berberine has shown potential in managing PCOS symptoms, it's not intended for long-term use and should be avoided during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or chestfeeding. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

Frequently Asked Questions

Berberine, a supplement extracted from certain herbs, has been gaining attention for its potential benefits in managing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This section aims to address some of the most common queries about the use of berberine for PCOS, including its impact on weight loss, hormonal balance, and its comparison with metformin, a commonly prescribed medication for PCOS.

We'll delve into the specifics of how berberine works, how long it takes to see effects, where to find it, and the recommended dosage for PCOS. We'll also explore potential side effects, such as liver damage, and discuss whether berberine can be used in conjunction with metformin or as a replacement.

Does berberine help with weight loss PCOS?

Yes, berberine may assist with weight loss in individuals with PCOS. This is attributed to its potential to stimulate the redistribution of fatty tissue and reduce the body's propensity to store additional fat. A small study involving 89 women with PCOS found berberine to be more effective at reducing both waist-to-hip ratio and male hormone levels than metformin. However, these findings are preliminary and further research is required to confirm berberine's effects on weight loss and fat distribution in larger PCOS populations.

How long does berberine take effect for weight loss?

The duration for berberine to take effect for weight loss can vary from person to person, largely depending on individual metabolic rates and lifestyle factors. However, research suggests that noticeable changes can be seen within three months of consistent use. In a study involving 37 men and women with metabolic syndrome, participants took 300mg of berberine three times a day for three months. The results showed a significant decrease in their body mass indexes (BMIs) and waist measurements.

It's important to note that while berberine can aid in weight loss, it should be used in conjunction with a balanced diet and regular exercise for optimal results. Also, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, especially for individuals with underlying health conditions or those on other medications.

Where can I find berberine?

Berberine, a compound found in various plants worldwide, is readily available for purchase. You can find berberine supplements in pharmacies, vitamin stores, and even in the pharmacy aisle of your local supermarket. These supplements are typically located in the health and wellness section, alongside other dietary aids and vitamins.

If you prefer shopping online, berberine supplements are also available on various e-commerce platforms. This allows you to compare different brands, read reviews, and choose the product that best suits your needs. Always remember to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

Does berberine affect hormones?

Yes, berberine does have an impact on hormones, but it's important to note that this effect is generally positive, particularly for women with PCOS. Berberine has been shown to decrease androgen levels, which are male hormones that can be elevated in women with this condition. This reduction in androgens can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with PCOS.

In addition to its effect on androgens, berberine also influences the hormone leptin. Leptin is known as an appetite-stimulating hormone, so when its levels are reduced, it can help with weight loss. This dual hormonal action makes berberine a potentially beneficial supplement for women with PCOS.

Can berberine damage the liver?

While berberine has been linked to liver damage in animal studies, it's important to note that these findings may not directly translate to humans. In a study involving patients with type 2 diabetes, no changes in liver enzymes were observed, suggesting no inflammation or damage to liver cells. However, this doesn't completely rule out the possibility of liver damage, as the study was limited to a specific dosage and duration.

On the other hand, berberine has shown potential in reducing fatty liver, a common issue in individuals with PCOS. It's been found to lower liver function enzymes and prevent liver fat build-up. Despite these promising results, it's crucial to monitor liver function regularly when taking berberine. As with any supplement, it's always best to consult with a healthcare provider before starting a regimen.

How much berberine should I take for PCOS?

The optimal dosage of berberine for PCOS is still a subject of ongoing research. However, several studies have indicated that daily doses ranging from 500 to 1,500 mg, divided into 2 to 3 servings, can be safely consumed. It's recommended to take these doses with meals. It's crucial to remember that individual responses to berberine can vary, and what works best for one person may not necessarily be the same for another. Therefore, before starting a berberine regimen for PCOS, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider. They can provide guidance on whether berberine is a suitable choice for your specific situation and suggest an appropriate dosage.

Is berberine better than metformin for PCOS?

Berberine has been shown to be a potent insulin sensitizer, similar to metformin, but with additional benefits. It not only helps with insulin resistance, a common issue in PCOS, but also lowers cholesterol, aids in weight loss, and reduces androgen hormone levels. This makes it a more comprehensive treatment option for PCOS.

In a study comparing the effects of berberine and metformin, participants with PCOS who took berberine experienced greater reductions in body fat and similar drops in insulin and glucose levels as those on metformin. They also saw significant improvements in their cholesterol profiles. Therefore, berberine could potentially be a better choice than metformin for managing PCOS, given its wider range of benefits and fewer side effects.

Can you take berberine and metformin together for PCOS?

While berberine and metformin both have beneficial effects on insulin and glucose levels in individuals with PCOS, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before combining these treatments. Both substances work to lower blood sugar levels, so taking them together could potentially lead to hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by dangerously low blood sugar levels.

Moreover, both berberine and metformin can cause gastrointestinal side effects, such as nausea, stomach cramping, and diarrhoea. Combining them might intensify these side effects. Therefore, it's essential to discuss any potential medication changes or additions with a healthcare provider to ensure safe and effective treatment.

Can you replace metformin with berberine?

If you're dealing with insulin resistance or intolerance to metformin, a common treatment for PCOS, you might be considering alternatives. Berberine, a natural supplement, has shown promise in clinical studies and could be a potential substitute. It's been observed to not only increase tolerance but also minimise side effects associated with metformin.

However, it's crucial to remember that any changes to your medication regimen should be made under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Abrupt alterations, especially in insulin medications, can have serious, even life-threatening consequences. So, if you're contemplating replacing metformin with berberine, ensure you have a comprehensive discussion with your physician first.


Berberine, a potent insulin sensitizer, has shown promising results in the treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It has been found to be as effective as metformin, a commonly prescribed medication for PCOS, in managing insulin and glucose levels. This is particularly significant as up to 75% of individuals with PCOS are insulin resistant, a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes if left untreated.

The benefits of berberine extend beyond insulin regulation. It has been associated with improved fertility, weight loss, and a reduced risk of metabolic complications in individuals with PCOS. Furthermore, it has been found to lower cholesterol levels, fight inflammation, and aid in weight and body fat loss. These benefits make berberine a promising supplement for managing the symptoms and complications of PCOS.

However, it's important to note that while berberine shows promise, more research is needed to fully understand its effects and potential side effects. It's always recommended to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement or treatment.

In conclusion, berberine could be a valuable addition to the treatment plan for women with PCOS, particularly those struggling with insulin resistance. Its numerous benefits, coupled with its comparable effectiveness to metformin, make it a supplement worth considering. However, as with any treatment, it's important to discuss its use with a healthcare provider to ensure it's the right choice for your individual needs.


Researched and reviewed by Dr Elena Seranova, Ph.D.

Dr Seranova holds an M.Sc in Translational Neuroscience from the University of Sheffield, UK, and a Ph.D in Stem Cell Biology and Autophagy from the University of Birmingham, UK. She is a published author in multiple peer-reviewed journals, including Cell Reports and Developmental Cell.