Biomedical Updates

Berberine Improves Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a frequent reproductive and metabolic disorder associated with insulin resistance. Berberine is an isoquinoline derivative alkaloid extracted from Coptis chinensis (goldenthread), Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape), and Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), among other plants. These plants have been used for more than 2500 years in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and in the last decade there has been increased scientific interest in berberine’s effects for metabolic and cardiovascular disease in the Western world. Although berberine has a wide range of healthful applications, its most important use to date is as an insulin sensitizer. A new study conducted at the First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University in China has found that berberine may have a potential therapeutic value for PCOS.1

What the researchers set out to do was to evaluate effects of berberine in comparison to metformin on the metabolic features of women with PCOS. Metformin is the first-line drug of choice for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and has been used in PCOS because of its insulin resistance component.

In the new study, 89 women with PCOS and insulin resistance were randomized into one of three treatment groups: berberine + cyproterone acetate (n = 31), metformin + cyproterone acetate (n = 30) and placebo + cyproterone acetate (n = 28) for three months. Cyproterone is an antiandrogen, which suppresses the actions of testosterone and its metabolite dihydrotestosterone on tissues.

At the beginning of the study, metabolic and hormonal parameters were assessed in the women, and also after the period of treatment.

In comparison to metformin and placebo, berberine showed:

  • Decreased waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio

  • Decreased total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol

  • Increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and sex hormone binding globuline

  • Decreased fasting plasma glucose, fasting insulin, HOMA-IR (a measure of insulin resistance), and AUCINS (the area under the insulin curve)

In summary, the use of berberine improved an impressive number of the metabolic and hormonal derangements in a group of Chinese women with PCOS. Its principal effects were related to the changes of body composition in obesity and dyslipidemia. Berberine continues to shine brightly.


  1. Wei W, Zhao H, Wang A, Sui M, Liang K, Deng H, Ma Y, Zhang Y, Zhang H, Guan Y. A clinical study on the short term effect of berberine in comparison to metformin on the metabolic characteristics of women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Eur J Endocrinol 2011 Oct 21. [Epub ahead of print]

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