Chasteberry, also known as Vitex Agnus-Castus is a small tree or shrub, widely known and distributed in the Mediterranean region and in Central Asia.
The term agnus-castus combines the Greek ἀ (meaning pure, chaste) and the Latin (cactus from “casitas” meaning chastity), the term chaste for “pure”, which refers to the anaphrodisiac properties of this plant and its use by monks to maintain celibacy (11). It has been used in Italy, Iran, Greece, and Egypt for over 2500 years, mainly to treat gynecologic disorders (10). In ancient Greece, Dioscorides, a known Greek physician, used to suggest Vitex Agnus Castus, to decrease libido, while Pliny the Elder, a famous Roman author, indicated that Athenian women used to scatter vitex on their beds to ensure their loyalty to their husbands that went to war (11).
Vitex is used for its medicinal properties, with ten extracts being known from this plant (1). It contains flavonoids, iridoids, and volatile oils that have been shown to have a positive effect on hormones, neurotransmitters, the opioid system, and pain and inflammatory pathways (1,3,4). The European Medicines Agency and the German Health Commission have reported many health benefits of this medicinal plant, including regulation of the menstrual cycle, treatment of premenstrual syndrome, and mastalgia (12).
Chasteberry is an effective remedy for premenstrual syndrome
Several clinical trials have shown vitex to be an effective remedy for premenstrual syndrome (PMS), with vitex being named the most effective therapeutic option for PMS. PMS is defined as a collection of physical and psychological symptoms that occur during the two weeks prior to menses (the luteal phase) and vanish after the menstrual flow starts. It includes symptoms such as mood shifts, anger, headaches, joint pain, breast fullness, food cravings, crying spells, acne, and fatigue (1-3).
A total of eight clinical trials demonstrated that Vitex agnus castus was a very well-tolerated treatment for premenstrual syndrome (2). A review of published clinical trials deemed vitex to be superior to placebo in treating hyperprolactinemia and ameliorating mastalgia, as well as normalizing the luteal phase, and increasing progesterone and 17β-oestradiol levels (5).
Similarly, seventy percent of participants in a clinical trial reported a significant benefit on PMS symptoms after receiving chaste berry extract (8). A similar percentage of participants were found to be more responsive to chaste berry than fluoxetine. Physical symptoms were significantly reduced after taking vitex than fluoxetine (9).
Ninety-one women who took part in a clinical study, reported an improvement in mood, a reduction in headaches, and breast fullness, after receiving 20 mg vitex extract daily, given for three consecutive cycles (6,7).
Vitex is beneficial for women diagnosed with PCOS
In a recent clinical trial, it was reported that the administration of Vitex agnus-castus in women with polycystic ovary syndrome reduced the level of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) and normalized their menstrual cycle (13).
Vitex administration can improve fertility
Pregnancy rate, endometrial thickness, ovulation, and fertility were increased after the administration of Vitex Agnus-castus for four months (14).
1. Verkaik, S., Kamperman, A. M., van Westrhenen, R., & Schulte, P. F. J. (2017). The treatment of premenstrual syndrome with preparations of Vitex agnus castus : a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 217(2), 150–166.
2. Cerqueira RO, Frey BN, Leclerc E, Brietzke E. Vitex agnus castus for premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder: a systematic review. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2017 Dec;20(6):713-719. Epub 2017 Oct 23. PMID: 29063202.
6. Schellenberg R. Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit extract: prospective, randomised, placebo-controlled study. BMJ. 2001 Jan 20;322(7279):134-7. PMID: 11159568; PMCID: PMC26589.
7. Schellenberg R, Zimmermann C, Drewe J, Hoexter G, Zahner C. Dose-dependent efficacy of the Vitex agnus castus extract Ze 440 in patients suffering from premenstrual syndrome. Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology. Nov 15 2012;19(14):1325-1331.
14. Hossein-Rashidi, B.; Nemati, M. Effects of Vitex agnus-castus extract on the secretory function of pituitary-gonadal axis and pregnancy rate in patients with premature ovarian aging (POA). J. Herb. Med. 2017, 10, 24–30