It’s a herb, it’s a lavender flower and it’s a potent medicament. Its formal Latin name is “Vitex agnus-castus,” but a more commonly used name is chasteberry. It’s one of the earliest-known phytomedicines, having been used for centuries. The ancient Greeks used it to aid wound healing, spleen problems and also for child birth. Nineteenth century physicians in the United States thought it to promote menstruation. Hippocrates, the early medical authority whose name appears in the “Hippocratic Oath” taken by most modern physicians, specifically mentioned it.
In modern times, physicians in Europe have used chasteberry for over fifty years right from 1950s to treat menstrual irregularities. The researches has heightened interest in treating female infertility with the traditional medicine made from the berries and leaves of this temperate-zone flowering shrub. Published studies are still sparse, but results have been promising. Additional studies are likely for this potential fertility aid.
In a study in Germany, for treating amenorrhea, chasteberry was successful for ten out of fifteen women. These ten women returned to having regular periods, after six months of daily ingestion of standardized chasteberry extracts. Blood analysis showed increase in their levels of Luteinizing hormone(LH) and progesterone. Other European research suggests that chasteberry can help to renormalize progesterone and prolactin levels, thereby correcting menstrual irregularities and possibly increasing the chances of pregnancy in women who are distressed by difficulties with conceiving children.
Women have also long used chasteberry as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome, which exhibits as anxiety, irritability and depression, and may include physical problems such as severe headaches, breast tenderness and fluid retention. The British Medical Journal has supported this remedial use with a study that shows dried chasteberry extracts to be effective and well-tolerated for the alleviation of premenstrual syndrome symptoms. As per the study more than half of the women involved had improvement in symptoms by 50% or more. Another important point was that there wasn’t any significant side effects.
Chasteberry has a good record of safety in humans, only occasionally causing side effects such as skin rashes and gastrointestinal upset. Chasteberry extract is available in the open market as tablets or capsules. While buying make sure it is standardized to contain a minimum of 0.5% agnuside and 0.6% aucubin. These are the primary active ingredients that give the extracts their effects. The recommended dosage is 175 to 225 milligrams of this standardized extract, taken once a day over a period of five to seven months for the fullest effect on restoring regular menstrual periods. Some clinical experience indicates that up to eighteen months of treatment may be necessary for amenorrhea that has persisted for more than two years.
Liquid formulations of chasteberry extract are available as well, but less commonly used. Women who are pregnant, lactating, taking oral contraceptives or using other medications which alter dopamine levels should discontinue chasteberry supplements. In pregnant women chasteberry may stimulate the uterus so it shouldn’t be taken during that time.