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chasteberry

What Is It?

Health Benefits
Forms
Dosage Information

Guidelines for Use

General Interaction

Possible Side Effects

Cautions

References
Evidence Based Rating Scale


 

What Is It?

In medieval times, the chasteberry (botanically known as Vitex agnus-castus) was thought to suppress the libido of both males and females. Legend has it that monks once chewed on the dried berries in an effort to adhere to their vows of celibacy. Today, it's clear that the Herb does not affect sexual drive, but chasteberry does have an important role to play in treating women's reproductive-tract disorders and menstrual-related complaints. In Europe, chasteberry is now recommended more often than any other herb for relieving the symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome).

Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, the chaste tree--actually a small shrub that bears violet flowers and reddish black berries--is now found in subtropical climates around the globe. In the fall, its ripe berries are dried and used medicinally. Similar to peppercorns in shape, chasteberries also have a peppery taste. Other common names for this herb include vitex, monk's pepper, and chaste tree berry. 

Health Benefits

Since the time of Hippocrates, chasteberry has been recommended for menstrual complaints. Although it contains no hormones or Hormone-like substances, the herb influences hormonal activity by stimulating the pituitary gland at the base of the brain to produce more luteinizing hormone (LH). This, in turn, signals the ovaries to produce more of the hormone progesterone. Chasteberry also acts to lower elevated levels of a second pituitary hormone, prolactin, which is involved in breast-milk production.

Specifically, chasteberry may help to:

·    Reduce PMS symptoms. Before their periods, many women find themselves irritable, depressed, and bloated. These typical PMS symptoms may occur because of an insufficient production of progesterone in the two weeks prior to menstruation. Chasteberry helps to normalize the ratio of progesterone to estrogen, thus providing relief from these monthly discomforts (1,2). In a recent study of premenstrual women, 93% of those who took the herb reported that they experienced a reduction or cessation of PMS symptoms (3). Chasteberry may be as effective as another common PMS supplement--Vitamin B6, which clears excess estrogen from the body--in controlling symptoms. While a German study actually found chasteberry to be superior to vitamin B6 for resolving PMS symptoms, it's worth trying the two together for maximum relief (4).

·   Minimize fibrocystic breast symptoms. Many women suffer from the premenstrual breast tenderness and pain associated with fibrocystic breasts. Chasteberry's ability to lower prolactin concentrations as well as to restore the estrogen-progesterone balance may offer significant relief.

·  Regulate ovulation and promote fertility. A woman with too much prolactin and too little progesterone in her body may not ovulate regularly. Obviously, it would be difficult to become pregnant under these conditions. Chasteberry can help to lower prolactin levels and aid in the normal functioning of the ovaries, thus providing opportunities for conception. High prolactin levels can also cause amenorrhea (absent menstrual cycles). In such cases chasteberry may be useful in reestablishing a normal monthly cycle. The herb works best for women whose progesterone levels

are mildly or moderately low, which can lead to a condition known as luteal phase defect. In a 1988 study, 48 women (ages 23 to 39) with infertility due to luteal phase defect were given chasteberry once a day for three months. Of the 45 women who completed the study, seven became pregnant during the study. And in 25 of the women, progesterone levels returned to normal, a situation that improved the chances for future conception. More recently, researchers are looking at the benefits of using chasteberry as an important supplement that can complement conventional fertility treatment. In a small pilot study, women receiving a supplement containing chasteberry, green tea extracts, L-arginine, vitamins (including folate) and minerals showed a 33% pregnancy rate after five months compared to 0% pregnancies for the women in the control group (5). More research is needed to define optimal dosing strategies for female infertility, but it would be a good idea to talk to your provider about its utility as an adjunctive therapy to conventional infertility treatments.

·   Treat menopausal difficulties. Declining hormone levels in the years up to and after menopause can cause hot flashes, sweating, vaginal dryness, and even mild depression. Chasteberry (alone or combined with herbs such as dong quai or black cohosh) works to stabilize these hormone levels and can be beneficial in controlling symptoms (6,7).

·   Relieve the pain of endometriosis. Chasteberry acts to restore hormonal imbalances responsible for endometriosis-related pain, which can be severe. It's commonly taken in combination with the herb dong quai for this purpose. Both herbs help to relax the uterus.

·   Control menstrual-related acne. Monthly periods involve hormonal shifts that can lead to acne. By helping to stabilize hormone levels, chasteberry may help to keep skin clear.

Note: Chasteberry has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. (For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Chasteberry.

Forms

  • Tincture
  • tablet
  • liquid
  • dried herb/tea
  • capsule

Dosage Information

Special tips:

·  The ripe, dried fruit of the plant is used in medicinal preparations. It is frequently sold in combination with other hormone-regulating herbs.

·  Select a powdered Extract standardized to contain 0.5% agnuside, the active ingredient in chasteberry.

·  Capsules are available in 225 mg and 400 mg dosage forms.

·   For PMS, menstrual disorders, and menstruation-related acne: Take 400 to 500 mg of Standardized extract (containing 0.5% agnuside) once a day. In addition, consider taking chasteberry in a "women's combination supplement" that also includes such herbs as dong quai, wild yam, and dandelion; follow the

In addition, consider taking chasteberry in a "women's combination supplement" that also includes such herbs as dong quai, wild yam, and dandelion; follow the manufacturer's dosage directions. There may be less chasteberry in these combination products, but you will have the advantage of several herbs in one capsule.

·   For fibrocystic breasts: Each morning, take 400 to 500 mg of standardized extract (containing 0.5% agnuside).

·   For female infertility: Try chasteberry alone at 400 to 500 mg a day, or in combination with false unicorn root, a native American herb with a long history of treating infertility. Take 1/2 teaspoon of chasteberry tincture and false unicorn root tincture twice a day.

·   For menopausal symptoms: Take either 400 to 500 mg of standardized extract (containing 0.5% agnuside) or 40 drops of a tincture added to an 8-ounce glass of water once a day.

·   For endometriosis: Take 400 to 500 mg of powdered extract (containing 0.5% agnuside) once a day. Alternatively, take 40 drops of the tincture daily.

Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Chasteberry, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

·   Take the capsule or tablet form before meals to maximize absorption.

·   Chasteberry tincture may cause stomach irritation if taken on an empty stomach because of the solution's alcohol content. This will probably not occur if you dilute the tincture in a glass of water, however. You can always split the dose, taking half after breakfast and half after lunch. Or try a capsule instead.

·   PMS can respond quickly to chasteberry; you may notice a reduction in symptoms during your next menstrual cycle, even if you've taken it for only 10 days. However, it usually takes three months for the herb's benefits to become apparent.

·   To initiate ovulation or menstruation, you will need to use chasteberry for at least six months for the herb's benefits to become apparent.

General Interaction

·   Avoid taking chasteberry with hormone replacement medications and oral contraceptives; it will interfere with hormone production.

·   Avoid taking chasteberry with bromocriptine, a drug in the dopamine-receptor antagonist category, also used to reduce prolactin levels. Chasteberry may interfere with the way the bromocriptine works.

·   Patients undergoing treatments for Parkinson’s disease should consult their physician before beginning any treatment with chasteberry. Chasteberry raises dopamine levels in the body and may adversely affect conventional Parkinson’s care.

·   If you suffer from schizophrenia or other serious mental disorders, you should also consult a physician before incorporating chasteberry into your supplement routine. Its effects on dopamine levels may worsen some psychiatric conditions.

 

For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealthMD Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.

 

Possible Side Effects

·   In general, chasteberry does not cause adverse reactions.

·  In rare cases, women develop an itchy skin rash or complain of stomach discomfort.

·   Chasteberry may increase menstrual flow.

 

Cautions

Because of its ability to dramatically shift hormone levels in the body, Whole Health MD recommends its use only under the guidance of a health care clinician. Further, we recommend caution in using it due to its potential effects on anti-psychotic medications, hormone-related conditions, hormone therapies, contraception and possible pregnancy.

·  Some herbalists suggest that a woman taking chasteberry to promote fertility should stop taking the herb during her menstrual period to generate as normal a hormonal pattern as possible. Others contend that there's no problem in taking chasteberry continuously for infertility or any other condition.

·   Because of its effect on hormones and the uterus, never take chasteberry during pregnancy. And if you're taking chasteberry for infertility, stop immediately after your first missed period.

·   Don't take chasteberry indefinitely (for more than four to six months for PMS or for longer than a year for infertility); you need to give your ovaries a rest and avoid overstimulating them.

·   Don't take chasteberry if you breast-feed.

·   Stop taking chasteberry if a rash appears.

 

References

  1. Tesch BJ. Herbs commonly used by women: an evidence based review. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2003; 188(5 Suppl): S44-55.
  2. Berger D, Schaffner W, Schrader E, Meier B, Brattstrom A. Efficacy of Vitex agnus castus L. extract Ze 440 in patients with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2000; 264: 150-3.
  3. Loch EG, Selle H, Boblitz N. Treatment of premenstrual syndrome with a phytopharmaceutical formulation containing Vitex agnus castus. J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000; 9(3):315-20.
  4. Leigh E. Vitex more effective than pyridoxine in PMS. HerbalGram. 1998;42:16.
  5. Westphal LM, Polan ML, Trant AS, Mooney SB. A Nutritional supplement for improving fertility in women: a pill study. J Reprod Med. 2004; 49(4):289-93.
  6. Liu J, Burdette JE, Sun Y, et al. Evaluation of estrogenic activity of plant extracts for the potential treatment of menopausal symptoms. J Agric Food Chem. 2001; (49)5:2472-79.
  7. Lucks BC, Sorenson J, Veal L. Vitex agnus-castus essential oil and menopausal balance: a self-care survey. Comp Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery. 2002; 8:148-54.

Evidence Based Rating Scale  

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 A Warning  

 

WholeHealthMD recommends use of this supplement only under the guidance of a licensed clinician.

 

 

 

 

Acne

 

 

 

  

 

 

Conflicting evidence regarding efficacy. More research is needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endometriosis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorable results in patients indicates efficacy in reducing pain, especially when combined with dong quai.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fertility

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some effectiveness in regulating ovulation and increasing occurrence of pregnancy. More research is needed to confirm or refute these results.

 

 

Fibrocystic breasts

 

Insufficient clinical evidence for this. Patients report efficacy in reducing pain. Research is needed to confirm or refute efficacy.

 

 

Menopause

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preliminary evidence and favorable results in patients indicates efficacy in reducing symptoms, especially when combined with dong quai or black cohosh. More research is needed to confirm or refute these initial findings.

 

 

PMS

 

 

 

 

Several large studies have shown efficacy in reducing symptoms. Some studies indicated up to twice as effective as Placebo.

 

Ailments Dosage
Depression if symptoms occur with PMS use 400-600 mg a day of chasteberry on days when you're not menstruating.
Endometriosis
200-225 mg of the crushed fruit, standardized to contain 0.5% to 1.1% agnusides, or 1/2 tsp. liquid extract three times a day
Fibrocystic Breast Changes
The chasteberry formulation used should be either 30-40 milligrams dried fruit per day or 0.5-1.0 milliliter per day of the concentrated liquid herbal extract.
Infertility, Female
200-225 mg of the crushed fruit, standardized to contain 0.5% to 1.1% agnusides, once or twice a day; or 40 drops liquid extract added to one glass of water once a day
Menopause
200-225 mg of the crushed fruit, standardized to contain 0.5% to 1.1% agnusides, once or twice a day; or 40 drops liquid extract added to one glass of water once a day
Migraine
200-225 mg of the crushed fruit, standardized to contain 0.5% to 1.1% agnusides, a day or one teaspoonful of liquid extract added to one glass of water once a day
Perimenopause
200-225 mg of the crushed fruit, standardized to contain 0.5% to 1.1% agnusides, once or twice a day; or 40 drops liquid extract added to one glass of water once a day
PMS
200-225 mg of the crushed fruit, standardized to contain 0.5% to 1.1% agnusides, twice a day; or 40 drops liquid extract added to one glass of water twice a day

Drug/Nutrient Interactions
View Drug Interactions



Date Published: 10/13/2005
Date Reviewed: 10/23/2009



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Healing Centers
Acne
Endometriosis
Fibrocystic Breast Changes
Infertility, Female
Menopause
Perimenopause
PMS
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