If you're a woman, especially a woman of childbearing age, you are likely to be told that problems such as PMS and menstrual difficulties are to be expected and accepted as "part of being a woman". But do we really have to put up with all of this? There are herbal remedies that, depending on your individual needs, may be able to help, and chaste tree (Vitex angus-castus) is one of them.
In 2012, the results of an Iranian clinical trial were published in Acta Medica Iranica, which aimed to find out if chaste tree is an effective remedy for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It involved 128 women between the ages of 25 and 34 who were not pregnant or breastfeeding, and did not have serious medical conditions or issues with drug and alcohol abuse. All women answered a self-assessment questionnaire listing headache, depression, anger, irritability, breast fullness, bloating and tympani during the week before their menstrual periods. While the potency was not mentioned, treatment consisted of 40 drops of chaste tree extract before breakfast, every day for the six days leading up to their period. This is not a high dose, as 40 drops is a much smaller amount than recommended in books such as the Phytotherapy Desk Reference (Thomson & Gennat). It may help to reduce costs to the patient. After six months, the women recorded significant improvement in their PMS symptoms, both compared to the beginning of the study and compared to the placebo.
In another study, chaste tree was used alongside St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) to see if they could help "PMS-like" symptoms in perimenopausal women. Late-perimenopausal women were given either the herbal tablets or a placebo to be taken twice daily over four months. After the four months, the herbal combination was found to be superior to placebo in reducing total PMS-like symptom scores, along with the PMS-D (depression) and PMS-C (cravings) symptom clusters. Scores for anxiety and water retention clusters demonstrated relief too.
Chaste tree has a long history of use in Europe for reproductive system complaints. It has been known for many years to have effects on menstruation and pre-menstrual symptoms, but how does it work? Chaste tree works by binding to the receptors of a neurotransmitter known as dopamine, which plays a role in mood regulation. This also has effects on reproductive hormone production, smoothing out ovarian function and the menstrual cycle. Chaste tree can improve melatonin secretion at night, which helps us sleep. As some regions, such as Queensland in Australia, do not allow the sale of melatonin supplements, chaste tree could be a more accessible and possibly gentler alternative.
Chaste tree is just one of the herbal remedies that can be used to relieve menstrual complaints. You don't have to accept it as "part of being a woman", there are options, although it is always best to consult a qualified naturopath first.