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Note - If you're a bloke you may not want to read on, I know how squeamish you get... although I've tried not to be at all graphic here.
Agnus Castus (also commonly known as Vitex) is a hormonal balancing herbal remedy which can really help women with problems caused by low progesterone/high oestrogen levels, such as premenstrual syndrome, irregular cycles, abnormal bleeding, period pains and acne.
It is a useful alternative to the ‘natural progesterone’ supplements commonly available on the internet, sometimes at a very high price, which may involve taking supplements orally or applying a cream to the body. Oral progesterone requires a high dose since something like 80% is absorbed and then excreted by the liver. From what I have seen, opinion is divided on creams such as ‘wild yam’ as to whether they actually deliver progesterone into the system or not.
Personally I believe it is far better to help the body produce its own progesterone – something like teaching a person to fish rather than giving them a fish I suppose!
The remedy is made from the dried fruit of the Agnus Castus plant, a deciduous bush or small tree belonging to the vervain family (verbenaceae) native to the Mediterranean region and central Asia. Other names you may see include Chaste Tree, Chasteberry, and Monk's Pepper. The use of Agnus Castus was recorded by Hippocrates (460-377 BC), known as the father of modem medicine (as in the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors), and has been used for over 2,000 years for maintaining a healthy female reproductive system.
One of its effects is to stimulate the production of the luteinising hormone (LH) by acting on the pituitary gland. LH is involved in the development of a small gland in the ovary called the corpus luteum where progesterone is made. If the corpus luteum does not develop properly, the luteal phase (second half) of the cycle is reduced and too little progesterone is produced.
Agnus Castus therefore increases progesterone production and so restores the balance between progesterone and oestrogen.
It also decreases secretion of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and helps to neutralise the excess testosterone occurring in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
Reduction in the unpleasant effects of too little progesterone/too much oestrogen, such as: Premenstrual syndrome - breast swelling and tenderness, bloating, headaches, irritability and depression Irregular menstrual cycles Abnormal bleeding Period pains
Fertility can be increased where difficulty in conceiving is linked with low progesterone levels during the second half of the menstrual cycle. (But see contra-indications below).
Balancing the production of LH and FSH helps to regulate the menstrual cycle, tending to shorten a long cycle and lengthen a short one.
Reducing testosterone in cases of PCOS will help to reduce the symptoms of acne and excess hair. It can also help control acne in teenagers, young women and men.
The hormonal balancing effect of Agnus Castus can also be very effective for symptoms occurring at the beginning of the menopause. (But see contra-indications below).
Agnus Castus is not recommended during pregnancy or breast feeding, so if it is being used as a fertility aid, treatment should be stopped as soon as pregnancy is suspected.
It should not be taken at the same time as other hormone treatments, such as HRT or the Pill. For use on menopausal symptoms it should be used instead of HRT, not with it.
Note that Agnus Castus is slow acting and takes an average of 25 days for symptoms to start improving and as long as 6 months to achieve the full effect. [In a German study of 1,542 women, 90% reported relief from PMS symptoms after treatment averaging 25.3 days.]
Agnus Castus is available from herbal and health food shops. I take the Good ‘n Natural branded capsules from Holland and Barrett, which contain 400mg of the dried, powdered fruit in a gelatine shell. The recommended dosage is two capsules twice a day.
Priced at £5.79 for 100, they aren’t particularly cheap, but it’s a small price to pay if it works!
Personal Experience -----------------------------
A couple of years ago I had some fertility treatment that ‘went wrong’ and left me with a major hormonal imbalance, exhibiting all the signs of a severe progesterone deficiency. After 18 months of increasingly drastic treatment (including an artificially induced menopause) the doctors had only managed to partially resolve the problem. I was so disillusioned with the medical profession by then that I told them everything was fine and started doing my own research into alternative approaches. I tried various different remedies, including wild yam cream, but hadn’t had any success until now.
I started taking Agnus Castus three months ago, and can honestly say that I find it miraculous. It took a month to fully kick in, but I have now had two fantastic ‘normal’ months. It would be worthwhile for that alone, but it has also had a great effect on my PMS - I still get a bit ratty, but no longer get the overwhelmed, 'can’t take it anymore' feelings.
Obviously it’s still early days, but all the signs are that I’ve finally found something that works.