A few weeks ago I was reading the transcript of a training call I attended a few months back and my attention was caught by a snippet in which the herb Vitex Agnus Castus was mentioned as having progesterone-like effects that are beneficial for women suffering from bad PMS, PCOS and those approaching menopause.
Having suffered all my life from fairly severe PMS symptoms including breasts so sore that somebody waving a hand a foot away would make me wince I decided to investigate this further as this herb sounded like it had superhero potential during a difficult time each month.
Surprising Agnus Castus benefits
My research lead me to discover that in addition to being a well known folk remedy for thousands of years there is a substantial body of evidence to support the theory that Vitex Agnus Castus benefits those who are managing infertility, menopause, PCOS, PMS and more specifically to bring relief for cyclical mastalgia (sore breasts).
Vitex Agnus Castus, also known as Chasteberry, is a deciduous shrub that is native to Mediterranean Europe and Central Asia.
Traditionally, the fruit extract has been used in the treatment of many female conditions, including menstrual disorders (amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea), premenstrual syndrome (PMS), corpus luteum insufficiency, hyperprolactinaemia, infertility, acne, menopause and disrupted lactation.
The female menstrual cycle
But before I dive into the research findings let’s quickly remind ourselves how the female menstrual cycle works (in simple words).
There are two distinct phases to the menstrual cycle: the first phase (follicular phase, estrogen dominant) starts on day 1 of the menses and lasts approximately 14 days during which a follicle inside one of the ovaries matures under the influence of FSH (Follicular Stimulating Hormone) and eventually culminates with the release of the egg (ovulation) into the womb. This is when the second phase (luteal phase) of the menstrual cycle begins. After the egg is released the follicle is transformed into the “corpus luteum” which in turn becomes the major source of progesterone.
Two things can happen at the beginning of the luteal phase: either the egg gets fertilized and pregnancy occurs or the egg doesn’t get fertilised and the corpus luteum gradually degrades and both estrogen and progesterone levels drop leading to the beginning of the menses and the repetition of the cycle.
The reasons for women experiencing discomfort during the luteal phase of the cycle are thought to be due to elevated levels of prolactin, a protein secreted from the pituitary gland that enables female mammals to produce milk. The increase in prolactin levels can have a negative impact on the correct development of the corpus luteum thus also reducing progesterone levels during the luteal phase. This is believed to lead to the problem of sore breasts and even infertility.
Research on how Agnus Castus benefits those with disrupted menses
Double blind controlled studies conducted over the years with many groups of women in different countries have demonstrated that regular consumption of Vitex Agnus Castus berries extract over the course of 3 months resulted in the normalization of progesterone levels and the gradual elimination of luteal phase defects. This is thought to be due to the fact that compounds found in the Chasteberry can inhibit prolactin production by influencing the pituitary gland.
In reality, it appears that this mechanism isn’t completely understood but a review of 13 double blind controlled studies (1) has demonstrated that women taking Vitex Agnus Castus extracts over three cycles were overall better off than those receiving a placebo when experiencing a reduction in the symptoms of PMS with hardly any side effects.
Admittedly the studies leave a lot of room for improvement but nevertheless they all seem to come to a similar conclusion. It also appears that Vitex Agnus Castus can affect the secretion of melatonin suggesting that it might help women sleep better especially as they go through perimenopause.
Furthermore, although there isn’t much research available on this, based on what is known of the mechanisms that make Vitex interact with the endocrine system, it has been postulated that Agnus Castus can be useful in the management of PCOS and in particular with issues surrounding hirsutism (too many androgens in the bloodstream) and low progesterone levels.
My personal experience with Vitex Agnus Castus
Personally, I have been taking Vitex from the day of ovulation up to the first day of the menses for a very long time now and have experienced many of the Agnus Castus benefits mentioned before. Perhaps, as a consequence of my hormones being in better balance, I also had a few additional pleasant surprises.
At last, in the two weeks leading up to my period I don’t feel (or think I look) like a beached whale from the ridiculous amount of water retention I used to suffer from. I only have very faint mastalgia and the excruciating tummy pain has been replaced with very mild discomfort.
The first surprise is that I definitely have softer hair and fresher looking skin that doesn’t require moisturisers. Not to mention the world is now safe from my irrational outbursts of pure anger for no reason other than “it’s coming up to that time of the month”. 😉
Agnus Castus benefits for fat loss
Does this help with fat loss? Yes it does. Indirectly, but it does. Both estrogen and progesterone have a say on the way in which fuel is used or stored and how our body reacts to stress.
Estrogen in particular has a gentle influence on both insulin and cortisol, whereas progesterone only influences cortisol. If estrogen and progesterone are being released in the correct amounts then our bodies will be well equipped to support our fat loss efforts by inhibiting the fat storage properties of insulin and opposing cortisol.
So if you too are a member of the “Terrible PMS” Club, the next time you walk by your local health food store why not give Vitex Agnus Castus a try? It’s inexpensive and it might make a whole world of difference to you keeping you sane and pain free during those days.
Obviously, using this herb is only a tiny part of managing the discomfort of PMS, PCOS or the onset of the menopause. There are many more things that you can do to keep the symptoms under control and, in fact, use your cycle to program your nutrition and workouts with fat loss in mind. If you would like help with this get in touch by booking a complimentary, no obligation, call using the form below.