Vitex agnus-castus, also known as Chaste Tree or Chasteberry is a powerhouse herb in women’s health. Indigenous to Central Asia and the Mediterranean, it has been used for thousands of years for menstrual irregularities, premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, breast tenderness, infertility, and more. The Latin root: agnus castus means “chaste lamb” purportedly alluding to the ancient culinary use of Vitex (also “monk’s berry”) to curb libido in monks!
Historical uses aside, what we DO know about Vitex is that it contains glycosides, flavonoids, essential oils, essential fatty acids (oleic and linolenic). It works at the level of the brain to decrease prolactin levels, increase progesterone levels, and bind opiate receptors — which might be how it improves anxiety, food cravings, physical discomfort associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Vitex is approved by the German Commission E for use in menstrual cycle irregularities, premenstrual disturbances, and mastodynia (breast pain).
3 Reasons To Consider Taking Chasteberry
Do you have PMS?
There are multiple studies that validate chaste tree for gynecological problems including PMS. One well-designed study of 170 women compared Vitex to a placebo pill during three consecutive menstrual cycles and women who got the herb reported 52% improvement in symptoms compared to just 24% in the placebo group. Specific symptoms looked at in this study were irritability, mood changes, anger, headaches, breast fullness, bloating and ALL had significant differences between Vitex and placebo pills1.
Many women suffer from heavy bleeding during their periods. This can be especially true for women who have a copper containing intrauterine device (IUD). One prospective study of 84 women looked at Vitex compared to mefenamic acid (an anti-inflammatory medicine) to reduce heavy bleeding in IUD users over the course of 4 menstrual cycles. Researchers found that women in both groups had significant improvement in symptoms, 52% in the anti-inflammatory group and 46% in the Vitex group2. I look forward to seeing additional studies with more subjects and that include a placebo group to fully understand the role for Vitex.
Many women have irregular periods and are often prescribed progesterone to help regulate their period, either in the form of birth control pills or sometimes progesterone alone. Since we know that Vitex increases one’s one progesterone production, it makes sense that we would use it to help regulate an irregular period. Additionally, chaste tree works by decreasing prolactin, which for some women is the culprit in causing too few periods. I always lean towards supporting your body’s ability to make its own hormones over prescribing additional ones, especially if the ones we give are synthetic progestins. After all, synthetic progestins (the type of progesterone in birth control pills) can cause side effects such as weight gain, bloating, acne, moodiness, hair loss: not what you are looking for when suffering already from period problems!
Chasteberry and Infertility: A Word of Warning
Some people take Vitex for infertility due to irregular periods since it increases progesterone. Adding progesterone during infertility treatments is quite common. The studies on Vitex for infertility are mixed, leaving us without firm conclusion that it will help you get pregnant. While historical use supports this approach, there is no safety data on Chaste tree during pregnancy or lactation. For these reasons, I do not recommend starting it specifically for fertility and I DO recommend stopping the herb if you become pregnant.
How to Take Chasteberry
Chasteberry does take time to see full impact, so stick with it for at least three months before deciding if it is working for you.The dose is usually 200-500 mg a day of dried fruit or 20-40mg/d of extract standardized to agnuside or casticin. At Blum Center for Health, we use Chasteberry Plus, at the dose of 1 tablet in the morning and 1 in the evening, with or without food. Because Chasteberry has an impact on your body’s hormone production, it is wise to avoid if you have a hormone sensitive cancer, are pregnant, or are nursing. It could potentially impact hormonal birth control. It could interfere with dopamine-related medicines, such as some medicines used in Parkinson’s and some antipsychotic medicines. Side effects are not common but include GI upset, headaches, fatigue, increase in menses, hair loss. Rarely women with a history of depression may see a worsening of their symptoms. Before starting herbal remedies, if you are taking other medications or have any hormone related health issues, remember to always check with your doctor, or come and see me at Blum Center.
Live in our neighborhood and want to learn more about using herbs for women’s health? Make an appointment with Dr. Fitz! In her practice at Blum Center for Health she takes a multi-pronged, holistic approach, a combination of medical and lifestyle considerations, to address, diagnosis and treat your condition. For more information, call 914-652-7800.
Meet Dr. Fitz: Bronwyn Fitz, M.D. is a board certified Obstetrician Gynecologist who is fellowship trained in Integrative Medicine. In her practice she melds traditional medicine with non-Western approaches, nutrition, botanicals, mind/body therapies and lifestyle interventions to help women address their gynecological and reproductive health concerns. Her interest in mindfulness and meditation led her to pursue a two-year Fellowship at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, under the leadership of world-renowned Integrative physician, Dr. Andrew Weil.
- Schellenberg R BMJ. 2001 Jan 20;322(7279):134-7.
- 2. Yavarikia P, Shahnazi M, Hadavand Mirzaie S, Javadzadeh Y, Lutfi R. J Caring Sci. 2013 Aug 31;2(3):245-54.