Effectiveness of a Chinese Medicinal Herb on Metabolic Characteristics in Women with PCOS

Berberine as a PCOS Treatment

Normal ovary and Polycystic ovary syndromeInsulin resistance (IR) is associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is a reproductive and metabolic disorder.  There is an extract of a Chinese medicinal herb that has been used as an insulin sensitizer; it is berberine (BBR), which is an isoquinoline derivative alkaloid. Chinese researchers posited that BBR may be a potential treatment for PCOS.

Therefore, they ran a study to compare the effects of BBR to metformin (MET), specifically the effects on metabolic features of women with PCOS.

The results of their study were published in the January 2012 edition of the European Journal of Endocrinology in an article called “A clinical study on the short-term effect of berberine in comparison to metformin on the metabolic characteristics of women with polycystic ovary syndrome.”

There were 89 women in the study, all of whom had PCOS and IR.  They were randomized into 3 treatments groups:

  • BBR + compound cyproterone acetate (CPA):  n=31
  • MET + CPA:  n=30
  • Placebo + CPA:  n=28

Before treatment started, researchers assessed clinical characteristics and metabolic and hormonal parameters of the study participants.  Then after 3 months of treatment, the same assessments were done.

Researchers found that BBR treatment caused a greater decrease in waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) than treatment with MET (p<0.01).

BBR also showed a decrease in total cholesterol (TC), triglycerides (TG), and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDLC; p<0.05).

Additionally, BBR caused an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDLC) and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG; p<0.05).

When compared to placebo, BBR had a decrease in WHR, fasting plasma glucose, fasting insulin, homeostasis model assessment for IR, area under the curve of insulin, TC, LDLC, and TG (p<0.05).  It also showed an increase in HDLC and SHBG (p<0.01).

This study suggest that using BBR improves some metabolic and hormonal derangements caused by PCOS; these effects could be connected to changes in body composition in obesity and dyslipidemia.  The researchers suggest that more studies are needed to better assess the potential beneficial effects of BBR in women who have PCOS.

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