by Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
Berberine is one of the few herbal supplements that doctors, both traditional and naturopath, agree upon.
Countless studies stand behind its effectiveness in treating insulin sensitivity as well as a host of other PCOS symptoms such as acne, anxiety, and excessive androgen production. It has the added advantage of holistic application, which means that berberine may regulate the functions of the body by targeting several mechanisms and organs, therefore alleviating metabolic disorders (obesity, hypertension, and dyslipidemia) by getting to the root causes. Much of berberine’s efficacy is due to its powerful anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and androgen-inhibiting functions.
I have taken berberine for many years, and I am very happy with the results, particularly on my skin. The acne that I battled since my teenage years is gone- even PMS breakouts are a thing of the past. I have also noticed improvements in my digestion since beginning my berberine regimen. Certainly, together with a healthy PCOS Diva lifestyle, berberine has been a key component in treating my PCOS.
Don’t take my word for it. Researchers near and far (and as far back as the ancient Chinese, Japanese and Native Americans) agree that berberine is powerful, safe, and effective medicine.
Berberine is a compound which can be extracted from many different plants including goldenseal, Oregon grape, barberry, yellow root, and phellodendron (not to be confused with the houseplant). Due to its bitter taste, it is typically taken in capsule form.
What does it do?
Insulin- Berberine may be best known for its ability to manage insulin levels. Research shows that it reduces blood glucose levels in several ways including reducing production in the liver. Berberine works in your body on a molecular level. One of its main functions is to activate AMPK, an enzyme which regulates metabolism. Tests show that berberine consistently lowers fasting glucose, fasting insulin, post-prandial glucose, and HbA1c. In addition, berberine outperforms Metformin at regulating insulin without many of the gastrointestinal side effects that come with the drug. In fact, berberine also out performs Metformin in the reduction of cardiovascular risk factors including waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, and dyslipidemia , triglycerides, total and LDL cholesterol, and increasing HDL cholesterol. What’s even better is that berberine is normoglycemic, which means that it only reduces blood sugar levels if they are elevated.
Androgen Regulation- Berberine has been shown to improve insulin resistance in theca and granulosa cells in a similar way to Metformin, and therefore, researchers believe, it has the same androgen production regulation effects without the side-effects of Metformin. This is of particular concern to women with PCOS because hyperandrogenism is responsible for many of PCOS’s most challenging symptoms including hirsutism (excessive hair growth), acne (particularly on the face, back and chest), and acanthosis nigricans (areas of hyperpigmented, velvety plaques typically found in the underarm, neck, and groin areas).
Acne- Research demonstrates that due to its antilipogenic effect on the sebaceous glands, berberine is considered a safe, well-tolerated, and effective choice in people with moderate to severe acne. Studies have shown an improvement in acne by as much as 45% after only 4 weeks. In fact, use of berberine is proven to speed the healing of scars and prevent future outbreaks of acne.
Gut Health- Berberine has demonstrated significant capabilities in improvement of gut health due to its antimicrobial activity against bacterial, viral, and fungal infections as well as parasites and worms. Studies demonstrate that the supplement will enrich short-chain fatty acid (SCFA)-producing bacteria which leads to improvement in gut barrier functions, alleviating inflammation, or creating an unwelcoming environment for pathogens, which may also help to improve obesity and insulin resistance-related metabolic abnormalities.
Check with your doctor to verify the correct dosage for you. Typically, doctors recommend 500 mg. once or twice daily for 8-12 weeks, followed by a one month break. Many suggest that patients take berberine only 6 days per week. Due to berberine’s anti-microbial properties, take berberine with a probiotic, but space them out. If you are taking berberine in the morning, take your probiotic in the evening.
A Word of Caution
Berberine is generally considered to be safe and well tolerated, but there are a few cautions to consider.
- High doses of berberine may cause poor intestinal uptake resulting in cramping and diarrhea. To prevent discomfort, take the recommended daily dosage throughout the day, not all at once.
- Berberine may interact with antibiotics such as azithromycin and clarithtomycin.
- Berberine may limit uptake of Metformin.
- Berberine is not safe to take during pregnancy. It likely crosses the placental barrier and may harm the baby.
- Berberine is not safe to take when nursing because it can be transferred to the baby in breast
- Be certain that you choose a high quality brand of supplement which is verified by a third party laboratory for contents and quality. PCOS Diva Berberine Plus supplies high potency berberine combined with alpha lipoic acid to help support optimal blood sugar and insulin levels, cardiovascular health, and liver health.
- Be cautious if you take other prescription medication such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, or immunosuppressants because berberine can alter the levels of those medications in your bloodstream.
Amy Medling, author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.
Cicero, A. F., et al. “Antidiabetic properties of berberine: from cellular pharmacology to clinical effects.” Hospital Practice (1995) 40, no. 2: 56-63.
Dong, H., et al. “Berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systemic review and meta-analysis.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2012).
Fouladi, RF. “Aqueous Extract of Dried Fruit of Berberis Vulgaris L. in Acne Vulgaris, a Clinical Trial.” J Diet Suppl. J Diet Suppl, Dec. 2012. Web. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23038982>.
Frank, Kurtis. “Berberine – Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects.” Examine.com. Examine.com, n.d. Web. <https://examine.com/supplements/berberine/>.
Karnath, Bernard M., MD. “Signs of Hyperandrogenism in Women.” Hospital Physician (2008): 25-30. Web. <http://www.turner-white.com/pdf/hp_oct08_androgenism.pdf>.
Li, Yan, Hongli Ma, Yuehui Zhang, Hongying Kuang, Ernest Hung Yu Ng, Lihui Hou, and Xiaoke Wu. “Effect of Berberine on Insulin Resistance in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Study Protocol for a Randomized Multicenter Controlled Trial.” Trials. BioMed Central, 18 July 2013. Web. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3722087/>.
Pang, B., et al. “Application of Berberine on Treating Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” International Journal of Endocrinology (2015).
Wei, W., 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.” European Journal of Endocrinology 166, no. 1 (2012): 99-105.
Yin, J., et al. “Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.” Metabolism 57, no. 5 (2008): 712-717.
Zhang, H., et al. “Berberine lowers blood glucose in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients through increasing insulin receptor expression.” Metabolism 59, no. 2 (2010): 285-292.
Zhang X., Zhao Y., Zhang M., et al. Structural changes of gut microbiota during berberine-mediated prevention of obesity and insulin resistance in high-fat diet-fed rats. PLoS ONE. 2012.
Zhang, Y., et al. “Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 93, no. 7 (2008): 2559-2565.