Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus), chasteberry, or simply vitex is hailed as a cure-all for women with menstrual problems, including premenstrual syndrome (PMS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), abnormal menstrual bleeding, and perimenopause. However, its use is not appropriate for all women and the majority of supplements on the US market contain much larger dosages than have been studied in clinical trials.

Chaste tree gets its name due to traditional use as an anaphrodisiac in men, particularly monks, which resulted in its alternative name monk’s pepper. In women, chaste tree berry extract inhibits prolactin from selective stimulation of dopamine receptors in the pituitary gland, resulting in increased secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This may result in stimulating ovulation and normalizing menstrual cycles and may reduce some symptoms associated with PMS and PMDD, including breast tenderness, constipation, headache, and mood alterations. Clinical trials also show that chaste tree berry extract improves uterine artery blood flow, resulting in decreased menstrual cramps.

Due to its activity on hormones and neurotransmitters, contraindications for use of chaste tree berry include hormone sensitive conditions such as cancers, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids; in vitro fertilization; pregnancy and lactation; Parkinson’s disease; schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders including major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder; hormone birth control and hormone replacement therapy; anti-psychotic medications such as chlorpromazine, clozapine, fluphenazine, haloperidol, olanzapine, perphenazine, prochlorperazine, quetiapine, risperidone, and thioridazine; and dopamine agonists such as bromocriptine, levodopa, pramipexole, and ropinirole. Side-effects may include acne, gastrointestinal discomfort (nausea, dyspepsia), fatigue, headache, insomnia, abnormal menstrual bleeding, skin irritation or itching, and weight gain.

In clinical trials, dosages of chaste tree berry extract between 4-12mg has been used for PMS either for the 6 days prior to menstruation or starting at day 16 of the menstrual cycle and stopping once menstruation begins; the luteal phase is when LH and FSH are lowest and chaste tree berry appears to be the most effective. For PMDD and perimenopause, a dosage of 20-40mg chaste tree berry extract was taken daily for up to six months. Morning is the best time to take chaste tree berry due its activity on the pituitary gland. Dosages of chaste tree berry most commonly found on the US supplement market are significantly higher than those used in clinical trials (225mg extract or 400-1000mg dried berries); higher dosages may increase adverse effects.

Disclaimer: The content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is not meant to diagnosis, cure, or treat any medical condition. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with questions regarding a medical condition and before starting new diets and dietary supplements. Not all diets or supplements are appropriate for all people or all health conditions.

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