Chaste tree (vitex agnus-castus), or chasteberry, is a plant native to Asia and the Mediterranean and has been used for centuries in herbal medicine for a variety of hormonal-related and gynecological conditions. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it to promote spleen health. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses it to support joint heath, eye health and to relieve headaches. Homeopaths use it for spleen health, dental health and to promote male sexual functioning. Turkish medicine uses it for an antifungal/digestive aid, and German physicians use it for encouraging lactation. Widely accepted as the gold standard herb for female health conditions in Western herbalism, its active constituents consist of flavonoids (castican, orientin and isovitexin), iridoid glycosides (aucubin and agnoside), essential oils (limonene, cineole and sabinene) and essential fatty acids (oleic acid, linolenic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid).
The following are the most well known uses and medicinal properties of chaste tree:
1. The management of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the most common use. In one study consisting of 1634 patients, 93% of participants reported a decrease in PMS symptoms or complete resolution after a 3 month treatment period. (1) In another study, women were given chaste tree for 3 menstrual cycles and twice as many women in the experimental group reported decrease in symptoms compared to placebo. (2) These consisted of mood swings, irritability, headache, bloating, cramps and breast tenderness. The main mechanism of this is chaste tress ability to reduce prolactin, which can rebalance hormones, thus reducing PMS. Another mechanism studied for this action is chaste trees modulation of dopamine and its ability of its essential oils to bind to opioid receptors and modulate the opioidergic system that deals with pain, anxiety, depression and mood swings.
2. Studies show that chaste tree increases luteinizing hormone, which triggers ovulation in the body. This results in increased progesterone and a more efficient luteal phase. This boosted luteal phase is the mechanism behind why chaste tree is used to increase fertility and prevent miscarriages.
3. Regulation of the menstrual cycle from amenorrhea to heavy bleeding and everything in between. This property is also largely due to the increase of progesterone that chaste tree induces. This has also helped with hormonal acne as well.
4. Chaste tree improves fertility, contrary to its historic use of chastity. It is exceptionally useful when hyperprolactinemia is an underlying etiology. This is because high levels of prolactin can inhibit ovulation and interrupt the menstrual cycle leading to infertility. In a study of 40 women, chaste tree was as effective at lowering prolactin as the pharmaceutical drug used.(3) Another study used 93 women who had difficult conceiving within a 6-36 month span. The group given chaste tree experienced improved hormones after 3 months and 26% of them became pregnant compared to 10% in the placebo group. (4)
5. Cyclic mastalgia is another common hormonal-related issue that chaste tree has shown promising results helping (5). The dopaminergic effect and reduction of prolactin is thought to play a significant role in reducing mastalgia. Since estrogenic activity in the body triggers mastalgia, the property of boosting progesterone in the body and having anti-estrogenic activity makes chaste tree a wonderful option for this condition.
6. Reduces menopausal symptoms thanks to its hormone balancing effects. Women reported having better sleep, mood and reduction in night sweats and hot flashes. Some even regained their menstrual cycles. (6)
Some of the lesser-known uses of Chaste tree are as follows:
1. Helps prevents insect bites and head lice for about 6 and 7 hours respectively (7)(8)
2. Antimicrobial effects. The essential oils of the plant in vitro have demonstrated antimicrobial effects against Salmonella, E.Coli, Candida Albicans, Strep. faecalis, and Staph. aureus among other species of microbes (9)
3. Can help prevent epilepsy as demonstrated in animal studies (10 )
4. Helps heal bones and reduce inflammation as shown in a study where women were given Chaste tree and magnesium. These participants showed an elevation of markers for bone repair compared to placebo (11)
5. Helps increase urine flow in men by helping with Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
In conclusion, Chaste tree should be considered in any patient with hormonal imbalances or where hormonal causes are suspected. These consist of but are not limited to PMS, menstrual irregularities, PCOS, polycystic breasts, migraines, joint pain, infertility, menopause, endometriosis and breast tenderness. Although usually thought of for solely female purposes, males have used this herb for centuries and it is safe for them to take. In studies, chaste tree tends to show that patients must be on it for a minimum of 3 months for many of its benefits to be experienced with 4-8 months being the most common length to notice full symptomatic help.
Dosage: 1-2 pills. 3x per day
Contraindications: Pregnancy and breastfeeding. Counteracts birth control, patients on Parkinson drugs and psychosis drugs. Caution with hormone related cancers
1. Vitex Agnus-Castus Extracts for Female Reproductive Disorders: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials. 2013, www.thiemeconnect.de/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0032-1327831.
2. Loch EG, Selle H, Boblitz N. Treatment of premenstrual syndrome with a phytopharmaceutical formulation containing Vitex agnus castus. J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000 Apr;9(3):315-20. doi: 10.1089/152460900318515. PMID: 10787228.
3. Kilicdag EB, Tarim E, Bagis T, Erkanli S, Aslan E, Ozsahin K, Kuscu E. Fructus agni casti and bromocriptine for treatment of hyperprolactinemia and mastalgia. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2004 Jun;85(3):292-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ijgo.2004.01.001. PMID: 15145274.
4. Westphal LM, Polan ML, Trant AS. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of Fertilityblend: a nutritional supplement for improving fertility in women. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 2006;33(4):205-8. PMID: 17211965.
5. Wuttke W, Jarry H, Christoffel V, Spengler B, Seidlová-Wuttke D. Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)--pharmacology and clinical indications. Phytomedicine. 2003 May;10(4):348-57. doi: 10.1078/094471103322004866. PMID: 12809367.
6. Chopin Lucks B. Vitex agnus castus essential oil and menopausal balance: a research update [Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery 8 (2003) 148-154]. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 2003 Aug;9(3):157-60. doi: 10.1016/S1353-6117(03)00020-9. PMID: 12852933.
7. Mehlhorn H, Schmahl G, Schmidt J. Extract of the seeds of the plant Vitex agnus castus proven to be highly efficacious as a repellent against ticks, fleas, mosquitoes and biting flies. Parasitol Res. 2005 Mar;95(5):363-5. doi: 10.1007/s00436-004-1297-z. Epub 2005 Jan 29. PMID: 15682335.
8. Semmler M, Abdel-Ghaffar F, Al-Rasheid K, Klimpel S, Mehlhorn H. Repellency against head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis). Parasitol Res. 2010 Feb;106(3):729-31. doi: 10.1007/s00436-009-1698-0. PMID: 20054562.
9. Mishurova SS. Essential oil in Vitex agnus astus L., its component composition and antimicrobial activity. Rastitel 'nye Resursy 1986;22(4):526-530.
10. Saberi M, Rezvanizadeh A, Bakhtiarian A. The antiepileptic activity of Vitex agnus castus extract on amygdala kindled seizures in male rats. Neurosci Lett. 2008 Aug 22;441(2):193-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2008.06.034. Epub 2008 Jun 18. PMID: 18577418.
11. Eftekhari MH, Rostami ZH, Emami MJ, Tabatabaee HR. Effects of "vitex agnus castus" extract and magnesium supplementation, alone and in combination, on osteogenic and angiogenic factors and fracture healing in women with long bone fracture. J Res Med Sci. 2014 Jan;19(1):1-7. PMID: 24672557; PMCID: PMC3963316.