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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that’s estimated to affect approximately 3–10% of reproductive-aged women worldwide (1).

PCOS also affects transgender people, although there’s a lack of data regarding the exact prevalence of PCOS among those in the trans community.

That said, very early research suggests PCOS prevalence may be even higher for transgender people than it is among cisgender women (2).

The exact cause of PCOS remains unclear, but it’s likely related to a variety of genetic and environmental factors.

Certain features, such as excess insulin, increased levels of male hormones, and chronic low grade inflammation, are characteristic of PCOS and often the primary targets for symptom management (3).

PCOS can manifest in many ways, but common symptoms include irregular periods, infertility, abnormal facial and body hair growth, and the development of small ovarian cysts (1).

Although there’s currently no cure, a variety of conventional and holistic treatment options for managing PCOS symptoms are available.

Berberine is a popular herbal supplement frequently used to treat PCOS.

This article explores what berberine is and whether it’s an effective treatment for PCOS.

Berberine is an herbal supplement made from a chemical compound that naturally occurs in the roots and bark of a wide variety of plants.

It’s the primary active compound in a plant known as Rhizoma coptidis, which has been used to treat inflammation and bacterial infections in traditional Chinese medicine practices for centuries (4).

Berberine is also found in several plants that belong to the Berberis genus. B. vulgaris — commonly known as barberry — is often used in Chinese Medicine to treat issues related to the heart, liver, and digestive tract (5).

Many commercial berberine supplements are extracted from barberry, but it may also be derived from other plants, including Oregon grape, goldenseal, and tree turmeric (6).

Today, berberine is frequently used as an alternative to conventional medications for managing symptoms associated with PCOS, as well as various symptoms that may increase a person’s risk of heart disease and diabetes, such as (7, 8):

  • high blood sugar
  • insulin resistance
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • obesity

It’s also occasionally used to treat diarrhea, canker sores, and burns, but little scientific evidence is available to support its efficacy for these purposes.

Summary

Berberine is an herbal medicine derived from a variety of plants. It’s most often used to treat symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome, such as high cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Early research suggests berberine may be an effective alternative or complementary therapy for certain physiological factors that affect many people with PCOS.

May boost insulin sensitivity

It’s estimated that up to 75% of people with PCOS are insulin resistant (9).

Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that helps keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range.

Insulin resistance is a condition in which your body is unable to effectively use the insulin your pancreas produces. This can result in needing progressively higher levels of insulin to maintain your blood sugar levels.

If left untreated, insulin resistance can eventually develop into type 2 diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50% of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by the time they reach age 40 (10).

Although there are no specific diabetes risk statistics available for transgendered people with PCOS, it stands to reason that they may also be at an increased risk, especially if they exhibit signs of insulin resistance.

Research suggests berberine may play a role in treating insulin resistance by increasing your body’s production and activity of certain compounds that are responsible for aiding carb metabolism and insulin sensitivity (6, 8).

A recent review of 5 studies that included over 1,000 women found that berberine was significantly more effective at improving insulin sensitivity and reducing blood sugar than a placebo (11).

What’s more, berberine’s effects were comparable to that of a popular conventional medication known as Metformin.

May support weight management

Many people with PCOS have an increased tendency to accumulate excess body fat, particularly around the mid-section.

This characteristic is thought to be caused by a combination of increased male hormone levels and insulin resistance.

Early research suggests that berberine may promote healthy weight management due to its ability to stimulate the redistribution of fatty tissue and reduce the body’s tendency to store additional fat (11).

One small study in 89 women with PCOS found that berberine was more effective at reducing both waist-to-hip ratio and male hormone levels than Metformin (12).

Although the results are promising, more research is needed to determine how berberine may affect weight gain and fat distribution in larger PCOS populations.

May improve cholesterol profiles

People with PCOS are at an increased risk of developing heart disease, and berberine may play a role in reducing certain heart disease risk factors (10).

A 2020 review of studies on berberine’s ability to treat PCOS found that berberine lowered triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol while raising HDL (good) cholesterol (11).

Early research suggests berberine may also help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure (7).

Ultimately, more well-designed studies are needed to better understand how berberine may be used to support heart health in people with PCOS.

Summary

Berberine has been shown to treat many common symptoms associated with PCOS, including insulin resistance, obesity, and high cholesterol.

Berberine is usually consumed in capsule form but also available in liquid and powder formulations.

Due to a lack of robust data, there’s currently no consensus regarding the most appropriate dosage of berberine for PCOS.

That said, several studies have safely used daily doses between 500–1,500 mg divided into 2–3 servings, ideally taken with meals (11, 13).

If you’re interested in trying berberine to manage your PCOS symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider. They can advise you on whether it’s the right choice for you, as well as suggest an appropriate dosage.

Summary

Berberine is typically taken in daily doses up to 1,500 mg, divided into 3 servings. Speak with your healthcare provider before trying berberine to help manage your PCOS symptoms.

Berberine ranks quite well in terms of safety, yet it’s not risk-free.

The most common reported side effects are nausea, diarrhea, stomach aches, gas, and headache. However, these side effects are typically mild and transient (11).

In certain countries, such as the United States, herbal supplements are not regulated to the same degree as medications.

Thus, as an extra safety precaution, it’s best to choose high quality supplements that have been tested for purity and potency by a third-party organization like NSF International or US Pharmacopoeia.

Although berberine is often taken by women who are trying to become pregnant, it should be avoided by women who are pregnant and breastfeeding (14, 15).

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 (16, 17, 18).

Summary

Berberine is generally safe but may cause digestive side effects, such as gas, diarrhea, nausea, or stomach aches.

Berberine is a compound found in a variety of plants.

It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine practices for centuries, but modern research suggests it may help treat symptoms associated with PCOS, including high blood sugar levels, weight gain, and high cholesterol.

Several studies have found that berberine increased insulin sensitivity and improved fat metabolism in people with PCOS.

Berberine is generally considered safe, and side effects are rare. However, some people report experiencing mild digestive issues, such as nausea or diarrhea, after consuming berberine.

If you’re interested in trying berberine for your PCOS symptoms, consult your healthcare provider to make sure it’s appropriate for you.

Shop for berberine supplements online.