If you suffer from symptoms related to pre-menstrual syndrome, menstrual irregularities, infertility, or menopause, chasteberry may be the natural answer you are looking for to help balance hormones. Also known as vitex, chasteberry is a small brown berry about the size of a peppercorn, that comes from a tree by the name of Vitex agnus-castus.
It has been referred to as the "chaste" tree for centuries because it was thought that chasteberry would help calm sexual desire. While at one time it was used to curb the sexual urges of monks, today it’s regularly used to treat menstrual irregularities and reproductive issues.
Chasteberry is believed to work by suppressing the release of prolactin from the pituitary gland. Elevated prolactin levels can also cause an irregular menstrual cycle or even the absence of periods.
The Menstrual Cycle
Herbalists believe chasteberry is a natural source of progesterone. It helps normalize the ratio of progesterone to estrogen, and subsequently provides relief from the monthly symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome including bloating, cramps, acne, breast tenderness, and mood swings.
Insufficient progesterone levels in women can cause many different types of menstrual problems, which include irregular menstrual cycles, luteal phase defects, and increased levels of the prolactin-pituitary hormone, and chasteberry has long been used to treat these issues. Chasteberry can be a great way to balance your hormones naturally, rather than turning to synthetic forms of hormones. It is especially helpful for women who are coming off the birth control pill, as this is a common cause of irregular periods. Chasteberry may be just what you need to jumpstart your regular menstrual cycle.
Miscarriage and Infertility
Since progesterone plays a crucial role in conception and sustaining pregnancy, chasteberry may also be a first step before trying infertility treatments. Progesterone is needed to thicken the uterine lining, and help with luteal phase defects—the period between ovulation and menstruation during a woman's menstrual cycle which is typically 10-17 days long. When there is an insufficient luteal phase, it can lead to problems with conception and miscarriage.
As with any herb or pharmaceutical drug, it is best to check with your doctor prior to beginning a regimen of taking chasteberry.
Some studies have shown that the use of chasteberry extract may also help with the symptoms of perimenopause, the earliest stage of menopause. The hormone balancing qualities of chasteberry make it ideal for counteracting hot flashes and other symptoms. It can also be combined with other herbs such as black cohosh or dong quai for maximum effect.
The flowers of the chasteberry plant are also thought to have a boosting effect on the libido, which can be reduced during menopause.
Other Health Benefits
Chasteberry is not just for women. It has also been used as a natural remedy to help balance hormones in men. It has a natural anti-androgen that lowers testosterone levels and may suppress the onset of prostate cancer.
Chasteberry also has antioxidant properties for removing free radicals as well as anti-inflammatory qualities. It can be effective for digestive problems, and can be useful in reducing overall cholesterol levels.
The Side Effects of Chasteberry
When chasteberry is taken in moderation, there aren’t any known side effects, though it should not be taken for more than 6 to 8 months at a time. An overdose may cause headache, dizziness, nausea, upset stomach, rash, and itchiness.
Taking chasteberry is not recommended if you are being treated for any kind of hormone related condition, including taking birth control pills. It is recommended to consult your health care provider before taking chasteberry therapeutically to rule any potential conflict with any other medications that you may be taking.
Because chasteberry may affect the dopamine system in the brain, people taking dopamine-related medications, such as certain antipsychotic drugs and Parkinson’s disease medications, should avoid using chasteberry.
How to Buy Chasteberry
Chasteberry can be used in the form of powdered extract, liquid extract, tinctures, and capsules. It can be found at any health food or supplement store, as well as at many local supermarkets, You can also purchase Chasteberry directly from a licensed naturopathic physician.
Please consult your personal physician before starting any health regimen to find out if it is right for you.
Image: Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil