I’ve written numerous other blogs and given many lectures on natural medicine and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). I consider this a strong area for natural medicine in the areas of addressing the underlying endocrinologic disorder and improving the many manifestations of PCOS. In the not so distant past, I’ve written about N-acetyl cysteine, myo-inositol vs. d-chiro-inositol, black cohosh, licorice root, and Maitake mushroom, all in the treatment of PCOS, which are posted on this website.
Here we have yet another new botanical study, using berberine to improve menstrual patterns and rates of ovulation in women with PCOS. Berberine is a compound found in the roots and stem bark of many plants, including goldenseal, goldenthread, barberry and my local favorite, Oregon grape root. Berberine has some compelling research in the areas of improving cholesterol profiles, improving cardiac function in those with congestive heart failure, improving blood sugars in those with type 2 diabetes, treating H pylori, inhibiting candida albicans and E coli and more.
In the current study, 102 women with an average age of 22, who had infrequent menstrual periods or anovulation, clinical and/or biochemical hyperandrogenism or ultrasound features of polycystic ovaries, were recruited for the study and 98 completed the study. Approximately 70% of the women were normal weight and 29% were overweight or obese. Women were given berberine hydrochloride tablets, 400 mg three times daily for 4 months. Women recorded their menstrual cycles, and blood levels of progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin were collected weekly to confirm ovulation and to assess pregnancy status, along with lipid profiles, sex hormone binding globulin and measures of insulin resistance. All of these were also repeated after 4 months of treatment.
Fourteen of the women regained a regular menstrual cycle after the berberine treatment which was similar in the normal weight and overweight/obese women. The ovulation rate improved with a result of 25% of the women over the 4 months, with more improvement in the overweight group of 31% and 22.5% in the normal weight group. Other parameters improved in the normal weight group only: sex hormone binding globulin, insulin resistance, triglycerides, total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol. The only laboratory change in the overweight/obese women was a decrease in total cholesterol.
Commentary: This is the first study to my knowledge that has evaluated the effects of berberine as a single agent on the menstrual pattern, rates of ovulation, and hormonal and metabolic profiles in women with PCOS. While this study did not include a placebo group, and did not assess pregnancy rates, I would still want to consider the addition of berberine in women with PCOS. In addition, I especially use berberine in treating dyslipidemia, pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, and in Candida albicans and E coli infections.
Li L, Li C, Pan P, et al. 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. Dec 8, 2015;10(12)