What is Chasteberry?
Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-catus) is a small brown berry fruit of the chaste tree which is about the size of peppercorns and smells like peppermint. Chasteberry has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries for its health benefits. In its ripe form, the fruit is used in the preparation of herbal liquids and powdered extracts. The fruit is also known as vitex, monk's pepper, or monk's berry as it was used by ancient Romans to curb the sexual urges in monks.
What are the Benefits of Chasteberry?
Chasteberry is often used by herbalists to regulate hormone imbalances in women and lower the testosterone levels in men. It is known for its effectiveness in the treatment of menstrual disorders, PMS, menopausal symptoms such as breast tenderness, hot flashes and mood swings, infertility and decreased milk production in lactating women. Due to its anti-androgen activity, Chasteberry has been used as a natural supplement to lower testosterone levels in transgenders (in male to female), and to suppress the onset of prostate cancer which is also associated with high testosterone levels. Its anti-androgen activity may also help clear up acne, reduce Hirsutism (excessive hair growth) in women.
Uses of Chasteberry
A German company has used Chasteberry extract in the manufacturing of a medication for Mastalgia - sore breasts or breast tenderness associated with PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) and menopause. It is believed that Chasteberry extract may help stop the release of a hormone prolactin from the pituitary gland. High levels of Prolactin hormone may stimulate milk production in pregnant and lactating women causing breast tenderness and may also cause irregular menstrual cycles and missed periods. Therefore, taking one 300mg Chasteberry extract capsule daily can be beneficial to reduce breast tenderness.
Miscarriage and Infertility
Studies have found that the Progesterone hormone plays a crucial role in conception and sustaining pregnancy. Researchers have concluded that low progesterone levels may be associated with the thinning of the uterine lining during pregnancy, corpus luteum insufficiency, and luteal phase defects (which are the main causes of infertility and miscarriages). A luteal phase is a period between ovulation and menstruation during a woman's menstrual cycle which is typically 10-17 days long. However, when this period is too short, too long or irregular, it is described as Luteal Phase Defect (LPD) which leads to infertility and or unsustainable pregnancy. Corpus Luteum Insufficiency is a condition where pregnant women have an abnormally low progesterone levels around 3 weeks after the first day of menstruation. There are a number of other causes of Luteal Phase Defect, Corpus Luteum Insufficiency, infertility and miscarriage but many studies show that low progesterone levels may be a major cause of these conditions. Therefore, taking a Chasteberry capsule once daily may help with infertility and minimize the risks of miscarriage by naturally increasing the progesterone levels in the body. However, there are conflicting opinions about the use of Chasteberry during pregnancy, therefore, during pregnancy the consumption of Chasteberry in any form should be avoided unless advised by your health care provider otherwise.
PMS, Menstrual Cramps, and Menopause
It is believed that Chasteberry is a natural source of the progesterone hormone. Research shows that insufficient progesterone levels may cause all sorts of menstrual problems such as short, early, heavy, too frequent or no periods (amenorrhea), luteal phase defects, and raised levels of the prolactin-pituitary hormone (which is responsible for breast tenderness in PMS and early menopause). A few studies show that the use of Chasteberry extract may help with perimenopause (the early stages of menopause), PMS, menstrual cramps and bloating and other menstrual disorders. Simply taking one capsule of Chasteberry daily during the day for 2 months may be helpful.
Chasteberry has been used as a natural herbal remedy to help balance the body's hormones. Men have been using chasteberry for years as a natural anti-androgen to lower testosterone hormone levels to suppress the onset of prostate cancer.
What are the Side Effects of Chasteberry?
There are not any known adverse side effects of Chasteberry when taken in moderation. Chasteberry should not be taken more than 6-8 months on a regular basis. However, overdose of Chasteberry may cause headache, dizziness, nausea, upset stomach, rash, and itchiness. Since Chasteberry is considered a hormone regulator, it should be avoided when you are being treated for any kind of hormone related condition, are pregnant or lactating or are taking oral contraceptives or medications with dopamine and bromocriptine. Also anti-androgen activity of Chasteberry might affect the fertility in men. Therefore it should be taken into consideration when trying to conceive. It is recommended to consult your health care provider before taking chasteberry or its supplements therapeutically to rule any potential clash with any other medications that you may be taking.
Where and How to Buy Chasteberry
Chasteberry can be found at natural and herbal food stores in the form of powdered extract, standardized liquid extract, tinctures, capsules and supplement sold as vitex agnus castus. When buying Chasteberry and its supplements, make sure its standardized amount is stated on the package and it is from a well reputed company. The highest quality vitex/Chasteberry products can be purchased from licensed naturopathic doctors.