Berberine: what’s the deal?

PCOS, although affecting up to 10% of the population, is more prevalent in health and fitness, most probably because managing many of its confounders, namely relatively high levels of body fat, insulin resistance, poor body image and disordered eating habits, is so closely enveloped within this space. And much like most people with chronic health perturbations, those with PCOS are vulnerable to misinformation and money-making supplement fads, because by and large, PCOS can be incredibly challenging to manage.

So when a promising supplement comes along, I understand the dichotomy of hope and scepticism. I don’t sell supplements, but I’m recommending that some of you read into the topic of todays’ article: berberine.

Berberine — what is it?

Berberine, although sounding like a lesser-known member of X-men, is in fact a supplement of great potential for those managing PCOS. It’s a botanical compound, an isoquinoline alkaloid, which has many potential targets including, but not limited to, AMPK (an enzyme involved in cellular energy homeostasis, fat and glucose oxidation and insulin resistance, amongst others), oestrogen and insulin receptors.

What does it do for those with PCOS?

There’s evidence that berberine attenuates insulin resistance, and given that 95 and 75% of those with overweight/obese-PCOS and lean-PCOS, respectively, experience insulin resistance, this offers great potential. Supplementation may support the relative attenuation of androgens (although PCOS is both morphological and biochemical, is it predominantly hyperandrogenic), whilst hyperandrogenism itself may further impact insulin sensitivity.

PCOS is a major contributor to infertility, and berberine may support improvements in the regularity of the menstrual cycle as well as ovulation rates (there is no evidence to support that berberine directly impacts fertility).

Supplementation may also support the redistribution of adipose tissue even in the absence of weight loss, reducing the relative abundance of visceral fat with PCOS, which itself contributes to the worsening of metabolic and reproductive outcomes.

What are the side effects?

Given the minimal reported side effects, berberine provides excellent potential for therapeutic use, although more research is needed in regards to its use alongside other anti-inflammatories and treatments of PCOS, I’m hopeful that this is coming.

Recommended dosage.

3 x 500mg / day.

Should you take it?

This article does not directly recommend you take any nutritional supplement. It is merely a direction for you to discuss supplementation with your Doctor or supporting Dietician / Registered Nutritionist.

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