What Is Chasteberry And Can It Really Help Menstrual Problems?

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What Is Chasteberry?

Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-catus) or monk's pepper, is the fruit of the chaste tree. It is thought that the name chaste berry comes from the middle ages when monks reportedly used this fruit to decrease their sexual desire. This would help them avoid sex so they could remain chaste. Although there may not be a lot of evidence to support this use of chaste berry it points to the potent hormonal effects of this plant.

 

Chasteberry contains many phytochemicals including flavinoids that are thought to have many positive effects on your health. Several different types of flavonoids have been found in chasteberry. It has been shown that some of these flavonoids can influence certain hormone levels in your body especially prolactin, progesterone and to a certain extent estrogen. 

 

How Does Chasteberry Work?

Chasteberry has been used for centuries to treat several menstrual problems. It works mainly by its ability to influence certain hormone levels in your body.

Prolactin

At low doses chasteberry may increase your body's production of prolactin. Chasteberry has traditionally been used in women who are breastfeeding to increase their milk supply. However, there is not enough evidence to support this use and some authorities strongly recommend against its use in breastfeeding women.

At higher does, studies suggest that chasteberry can decrease your prolactin levels.

 Even a slight increase in your prolactin levels (which commonly happens in response to stress) is thought to contribute to cyclic breast pain. It can also cause changes in your menstrual cycle that can affect your ovulation and your period.

Progesterone

Chasteberry is thought to increase the level of progesterone in your body.

Certain conditions result from an improper balance of estrogen and progesterone.

What Conditions Does Chasteberry Help?

There has been considerable research mostly from Europe suggesting the effectiveness of chasteberry in treating the symptoms of:

Chasteberry has also been used to treat:

  • Painful periods
  • Menopause symtoms

For each of these conditions the therapeutic effect of chasteberry is due to its ability to either decrease prolactin or increase progesterone to restore proper hormonal balance in your body.

How Much Chasteberry Should I Take?

The therapeutic dose of chasteberry depends on the brand and the formulation you chose. Chasteberry is available in liquid, capsules, and tablets. Most clinical trials used a dose of 20-40 mg/day although some clinical trials have used doses as high as 1800 mg/day. Problems associated with elevated prolactin may need higher doses.

You should discuss the use of chasteberry with your healthcare provider.

What Do I Need To Consider Before Trying Chasteberry?

While chasteberry is not associated with any serious side effects, it can cause dizziness, abdominal cramping, nausea, fatigue, dry mouth and skin reactions. It is also possible to see some changes in your period when you start taking chasteberry.

Because chasteberry can alter progesterone and possibly estrogen levels in your body, women with hormone-related conditions such as breast cancer should not use chasteberry. Also, because chasteberry affects your dopamine system if you are taking medications for Parkinson's disease such as selegiline, amantadine, and levodopa should not use chasteberry. If you are pregnant it is recommended that you do not use chasteberry. 

It is also very important to understand that chasteberry may decrease the effectiveness of the combination hormonal contraceptives.  In other words, taking chasteberry while using the oral contraceptive pill, the contraceptive patch, or Nuvaring for birth control increases the chance that you could get pregnant.

Always tell your doctor about any herbs, OTC medications, and vitamin or supplements you are taking.

 

Updated by Andrea Chisholm MD

Source:
Chasteberry NCCAM Herbs at a Glance; NCCAM; http://nccam.nih.gov/health/chasteberry/; accessed 11/19/2015

Diana van Die M. et al, Vitex agnus-castus Extracts for Female Reproductive Disorders: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials; Planta Med 2013; 79 (07): 562-575

Roemheld-Hamm,B. Chasteberry. Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(5):821-824

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