Chasteberry, also called Vitex agnus-castus, is the fruit of chaste trees, a shrub-like tree found in the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. Folklore says the berry got its name because it decreased sexual desire and promoted chastity. But the peppercorn-sized berries are used today to help treat common women's health issues.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NCCAM) states that chasteberry has been used for thousands of years to treat menstrual issues and to stimulate breast milk production. The herb is still used to treat pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), acne, menopause symptoms and fertility issues. Chasteberry is believed to affect progesterone and prolactin hormones. When female baldness is caused by declining estrogen, herbalists may prescribe chasteberry.
What the Research Says
Scientific research on chasteberry is lacking but some studies support the herb's benefits:
- PubMed reports that a Japanese study on women ages 19-44 who suffered from PMS concluded that Vitex agus-castus (VAC) extract improved PMS symptoms with no negative side effects. Each woman took Prefemin, which contains 20mg of VAC extract, once daily for three menstrual cycles. By the third cycle, almost all patients reported none or mild symptoms.
- A review of pharmaceutical studies and clinical research took place to determine whether chasteberry is effective in treating menopause symptoms. The review's abstract concluded that while evidence is lacking, "emerging pharmacological evidence supports a role for V. agnus-castus in the alleviation of menopausal symptoms." More research is recommended.
- An American Family Physician's (AFP) article states that the use of chasteberry is supported for PMS and cyclical breast discomfort. However, the article also states that "data on its use for menstrual irregularities and fertility disorders are weak." The article suggests chasteberry be discouraged for use to stimulate milk production. Despite the AFP's determination, the University of Michigan Health System gives chasteberry two out of three stars for treating female fertility. They indicate that Vitex may benefit infertile women, especially those with luteal phase defect and high prolactin levels.
It is important to note that chasteberry does not have FDA approval for treating any of the above ailments.
Chasteberry does not have serious side effects, according to NCCAM. However, it may cause dizziness, acne rashes or gastrointestinal issues. Chasteberry can also affect menstrual flow. NCCAM lists the following additional cautions on its website:
- Because chasteberry affects hormones, it should not be used by women who are pregnant, take birth control or have a hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer.
- People who use dopamine drugs, including drugs taken for Parkinson's disease or some anti-psychotic drugs should avoid chasteberry.
Forms and Dosage
Chasteberry is available in tea, extract, capsules and tincture forms. Many forms are available at natural health stores and pharmacies or on the Internet.
According to AFP, dosages of chasteberry vary, but a dose of "4 mg per day of an extract standardized to 6 percent of the constituent agnuside" has been used in clinical trials, which is available as Femaprin from Nature's Way. Dosage for chasteberry fruit extract is typically 20 to 40 mg per day, fluid extract 40 drops daily, and tincture 35 to 45 drops three times a day.
If you prefer to drink your chasteberries, make chasteberry tea. Add one teaspoon fresh or dried chasteberries to eight ounces boiling water; steep up to ten minutes and sweeten as desired.
Drugs.com mentions on its website that the hormone effects of chasteberry on women may be dependent on dosage. Lower dosages result in increased prolactin, progesterone and estrogen levels and decreased progesterone while higher dosages decrease prolactin.
A Safe Herb to Try
WomensHealth.gov states that 85 percent of menstruating women suffer from at least one PMS symptom monthly with up to eight percent of those women experiencing severe, often-debilitating symptoms. Ten percent of women in the United States struggle with infertility.
Chasteberry is considered a safe alternative to prescription or over-the-counter drugs to combat PMS and shows promise for infertility and other women's conditions. Consult your physician, an herbalist or natural health practitioner to determine the proper form and dosage of chasteberry for you.