Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is an abnormality of young women’s hormonal balances linking insulin resistance to relatively high androgens (male hormones) and menstrual irregularities plus subsequent infertility. The prevalence of PCOS has increased over recent years possibly due to the obesity epidemic and the consequence of obesity and insulin resistance. Approximately 7% of women within “reproductive age” suffer from PCOS. The syndrome has traditionally been defined by “Rotterdam Criteria”, meaning two of three abnormalities including menstrual irregularities (decreased frequency or absent periods), excess androgens (or clinical evidence by facial hair, acne, etc), or polycystic ovaries found on imaging. The recent consensus, however, is that all three should be identified and actual biochemical evidence of androgens be documented instead of just clinical evidence.
Since PCOS has a strong correlation to obesity and insulin resistance, treatment has focused on weight loss via improved diet/exercise with metformin treatment to combat the “metabolic syndrome” which is common place for these women. Oral contraceptives and anti-androgens are used to control the symptoms overall. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can be a very physically and emotionally taxing problem to many people. It is important to understand and know all methods of fighting this “disease.”
Berberine has been successfully used and studied in the treatment of obesity-related insulin resistance and diabetes plus the dyslipidemia (bad cholesterol) which accompanies metabolic syndrome. What is interesting is that this potent natural plant alkaloid is revered in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, but not really anywhere else. With such a powerful potential, it is a shame more clinicians have not heard of it. In fact, its effects don’t stop at blood sugar and cholesterol regulation. This potent herbal supplement has been shown to have properties that might eventually make it useful in cancer and even Alzheimers!
A new study compared the benefits of berberine treatment vs metformin treatment with placebo in eighty-nine young women with PCOS who also had evidence of insulin resistance for three months. The results showed that berberine outperformed metformin in terms of all tested cardiometabolic parameters including waist circumference, cholesterol, and sex hormone-binding globulin (related to abnormal levels of androgens vs estrogens). These findings are encouraging to those overweight or obese women who have PCOS and/or metabolic syndrome and would like naturopathic treatment as opposed to metformin treatment because berberine improves all aspects of metabolic syndrome. Further studies will need to be conducted to evaluate the effects on androgen levels and menstrual irregularities as well as physical finding of androgen excess (hair growth, etc).
As always, it is recommended to start intensive lifestyle changes first and foremost to improve diet and exercise in order lose fat and improve health. Along with berberine, focusing on a whole foods diet that emphasizes lean proteins and healthy fats plus a good structured exercise plan will go far in treating PCOS. If you feel you have symptoms of PCOS, be sure to discuss the possible diagnosis and treatment options with your physician.
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