Plant medicines have provided support for women’s health issues for thousands of years – and one herb that holds exceptional benefits for women in all stages of life is chastetree.
Chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus) is also called chasteberry, Abraham’s balm, lilac chastetree, and monk’s pepper. A deciduous shrub that is native to the Mediterranean area, the berries of the chastetree plant have been used in preparations for supporting women’s health since classical antiquity when Greek physician Dioscorides, recommended it for inflammations of the uterus and for stimulating mother’s milk.
Today, chastetree is valued for its well-known balancing effects on women’s hormonal health, and research has examined the therapeutic effectiveness of chastetree berry for many gynecological problems, including premenstrual syndrome (PMS), cyclic mastalgia (painful, tender breasts), and sexual dysfunction.
Chastetree is known to work as a great hormone “normalizer” (i.e., a Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator) for women. Throughout the childbearing years, chastetree works at the level of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain and signals to the ovaries to develop a follicle and to ovulate, both of which are important to maintain and restore normal hormonal fluctuations throughout the cycle. Later in life, once menstrual cycles have ceased, similar balancing effects can help to ease the physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
PMS and Menstrual Health
Up to 40% of women are affected by PMS – uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms experienced over the days leading up to her period – and some women experience the more severe condition of PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder).
An underlying factor of these conditions is latent hyperprolactinaemia (LHP). It is speculated that higher levels of prolactin inhibit corpus luteal development, which results in a reduction of the secretion of progesterone in the luteal phase (second half) of the menstrual cycle, resulting in pre-menstrual symptoms of irritability, breast tenderness and even contributing to difficulty in conceiving.
In vitro studies point to chastetree’s hormone modulating properties as a factor in regulating the symptoms of PMS through its effects on dopamine receptors that lower levels of thyrotropin releasing hormone and prolactin – helping to alleviate PMS symptoms, as well as providing pain-relief.
In a recent review (2017) of 8 randomised, controlled trials conducted with chastetree in relation to PMS and PMDD, chastetree was found to be more effective than placebo in the trials involving a placebo control, and, in trials involving an active comparator, the chastetree was found to be more effective than pyridoxine (vitamin B6) in alleviating PMS symptoms.
Several studies, including clinical trials, point to the effectiveness of chastetree in terms of corpus luteum insufficiency when it comes to fertility disorders. The herb’s effect on lowering prolactin levels and balancing hormones helps to stabilize both the follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle supporting an optimal cycle length.
In short, chastetree can help to regulate cycle length, optimize fertility, and ease emotional and physical pre-menstrual symptoms.
Learn more: Herbal Support for a Healthy Pain-Free Cycle
Chastetree and Menopause
Menopause marks the end of a women’s fertile years, bringing a decline in endocrine function, where hormone changes can cause night sweats and hot flashes, as well as mood and sleep disruption.
The estrogen-balancing effects of chastetree can help to ease common menopause symptoms, with studies indicating its ability to reduce oxidative stress as well as positively influence hormone deficiency in the transitional period – easing symptoms with its beneficial effects on prolactin levels.
Cognitive decline and memory loss are other side-effects of menopause. Another study concluded that chastetree improved learning and memory, an effect possibly associated with Estrogen Receptor gene expression in the hippocampal formation.
Chastetree and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age where menstrual periods are infrequent or prolonged and there can be an excess of male hormone (androgen) levels.
Chastetree’s effects on women’s hormones levels have made it a promising plant medicine for helping to rebalance the estrogen dominance combined with a progesterone insufficiency found among women with PCOS as well as helping to reduce prolactin levels.
In a triple-blind, controlled trial conducted in 2015 with 70 women suffering from PCOS, it was found that chastetree was effective in normalizing the menstrual cycle and reducing DHEA-S (a hormonal marker – elevated levels of which are typically associated with PCOS).
St. Francis Herb Farm Chastetree Formulas
We offer chastetree in both 5:1 concentrated capsules, as well as a traditionally-crafted tincture, both made using Certified Organic chastetree berries. You can also find chastetree in our Menopause Support, Regular Flow and PMS Support women’s health tonics.
Learn more about how plant medicines can benefit women: Women’s Health – Herbs to Balance and Support
Note: Before taking a chastetree product, consult a health care practitioner if you are taking hormone-containing medications such as progesterone preparations, oral contraceptives, or hormone replacement therapy, or if symptoms worsen or persist.