Evidence Based
13

5 Benefits of Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) + Side Effects

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

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Chasteberry

For centuries, chasteberry was believed to promote chastity by reducing sexual desire, hence its name. It has also been historically used to increase lactation during and after pregnancy. However, these traditional applications have not been clinically investigated. Read on to learn how this supplement works, its benefits, and potential risks of its use.

What Is Chasteberry?

Chasteberry, also known as Vitex agnus-castus, is the fruit of the chaste tree, which is native to western Asia and southwestern Europe [1].

This fruit is used as a dietary supplement for conditions such as menopause, infertility, menstrual problems, and a number of other conditions. It is available as a capsule, liquid extract, tablet, and essential oil [1].

Components

The chasteberry is composed of [2, 1]:

  • Flavonoids (casticin, kaempferol, orientin, quercetagetin, and isovitexin): These are plant pigments that are naturally found in a variety of nuts, fruits, and vegetables. These chemicals have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-viral properties [3].
  • Essential oils (limonene, cineol, pinene, and sabinene): These are the naturally occurring chemicals that give the chasteberry (and other fruits) its odor and flavor. Blends of essential oils are frequently used in aromatherapy for their potential effects in decreasing heart rate and blood pressure [4].
  • Anti-inflammatory compounds (iridoid glycoside): These compounds have been reported to have similar effectiveness in treating inflammation as NSAIDs with far fewer side effects [5].

Mechanism of Action

Chasteberry increases dopamine activity in the brain. This results in a reduction of prolactin release in the body [1].

When too much prolactin is circulating in the body, it can cause disturbances in the menstrual cycle as well as a deficiency in levels of estrogen (in women) and testosterone (in men) [1].

However, these hormonal changes appear to be dose-dependent. Low doses (200 mg) of chasteberry can increase levels of prolactin and progesterone (likely by the inhibition of other hormones (FSH and LH)). At high doses (500 mg) of chasteberry, levels of prolactin may be decreased (with LH and FSH levels unaffected) [1].

Additionally, chasteberry may stimulate opioid receptors. Opioid drugs are medically used as painkillers (e.g. morphine, codeine), therefore chasteberry may provide users with some pain relief by acting on similar pathways within the body [6, 7].

Chasteberry also stimulates the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the circadian rhythm (sleeping patterns) [8].

Health Benefits of Chasteberry

Chasteberry is commonly used as a supplement, especially for women hormonal issues. However, this fruit is not approved by the FDA for medical use due to the lack of solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. 

Speak with your doctor before supplementing with chasteberry and never take this supplement in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

Possibly Effective for:

1) PMS

In many clinical studies, chasteberry reduced a variety of PMS symptoms including breast pain and tenderness, edema, constipation, irritability, depressed mood, anger, and migraines [1].

In one trial on over 100 women with PMS symptoms, more than half of the patients treated with chasteberry over 6 days for 6 consecutive menstrual cycles experienced significantly reduced breast pain and tenderness, edema, constipation, irritability, depressed moods, and migraines [9].

In some cases, PMS symptoms can be caused by an excess release of prolactin from the pituitary gland. In other cases, it may be a result of an imbalance of estrogen to progesterone [1].

High doses (400 mg daily) of chasteberry may alleviate PMS symptoms by reducing circulating prolactin in the body, which restores estrogen levels. Additionally, this reduces progesterone levels, normalizing the ratio of progesterone to estrogen. These hormonal balances may provide significant relief during PMS [10].

The existing evidence suggests that chasteberry may help with PMS. You may take it for this purpose if you and your doctor determine it may be helpful in your case. Never take chasteberry instead of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

2) Female Fertility and Menstrual Cycle Disorders

In Germany, chasteberry is used to treat luteal phase disorders. This is the second half of the menstrual cycle, which is usually shortened in women with the disorder [1].

Luteal phase disorder is primarily caused by progesterone deficiency in the first phase of the menstrual cycle. Another menstrual cycle disorder, called amenorrhea, is the absence of menstruation. This may be caused by sustained hormone fluctuations, thyroid malfunction, pituitary tumor, premature menopause, and pregnancy [11].

In both of these conditions, it is quite difficult and/or impossible to become pregnant. Patients also experience a variety of other complications, especially in their PMS cycles.

In a study of 96 women with luteal phase disorders, amenorrhea, and infertility with unknown cause, chasteberry increased pregnancy rates compared to placebo. Pregnancy occurred twice as often in patients who consumed chasteberry over a period of 3 months [1].

These effects were possibly mediated by normalizing the levels of progesterone, which helps to achieve pregnancy by alleviating progesterone deficiencies [1].

Furthermore, women taking chasteberry may experience a more regular menstrual cycle. In one study of 52 women with hyperprolactinemia (higher than normal levels of circulating prolactin), chasteberry improved irregular periods and enhanced fertility. This was achieved by normalizing the levels of prolactin [12].

Based on this mechanism, chasteberry may be effective in the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome [13].

Although limited, the evidence seems to support the use of chasteberry to promote fertility and menstrual cycle regularity in women. Consult with your doctor if it may help in your case.

Insufficient Evidence for:

1) Menopausal Symptoms

Menopause marks the end of the menstrual cycle for women. This period is associated with a natural decline in female reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone). In the time leading up to menopause, many women experience a variety of symptoms, including irregular periods, vaginal dryness, chills, night sweats, hot flashes, and dry skin.

In two separate trials (and surveys) on 75 patients, most women suffering from menopausal symptoms who used the essential oils from the leaves and fruits of chasteberry reported strong symptomatic relief [14].

Chasteberry increased progesterone at low doses (200 mg) in rat studies, which may be involved in reducing these symptoms of menopause [15].

Although promising, the evidence is insufficient to back the use of chasteberry to relieve menopausal symptoms. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to confirm these preliminary results.

2) Migraines

In a 3-month study of 100 women with PMS and migraines, chasteberry treatment reduced the frequency of monthly migraines by more than 50 % in 42 % of patients. In addition, 57 % of patients given chasteberry had more than a 50 % lower frequency of monthly days with headaches [16].

A single clinical trial cannot be considered sufficient evidence that chasteberry reduces migraine frequency. Further clinical research is required.

3) Insect Repellant

In a study, a spray developed from a seed extract of chasteberry (monk’s pepper) was successful in keeping away fleas, mosquitos, ticks, and biting flies from humans and animals for a time period of about 6 hours. Additional research is warranted to confirm this preliminary finding [17].

Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of chasteberry for any of the conditions listed in this section. Although some people take it for these conditions, the evidence supporting its use only comes from animal and cell studies or has been inferred from its mechanism of action. The studies listed should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is when the uterine-tissue lining (endometrium) begins to develop outside of the uterus. It is generally caused by genetic factors or hormonal imbalances. A common symptom of endometriosis is heavy inflammation around the uterus, resulting in pain and increased bleeding during the menstrual cycle [18].

Chasteberry may help reduce the amount of inflammation around the uterus by normalizing these hormonal imbalances, making the symptoms less painful [1, 19].

It may also relieve symptoms by decreasing pain and inflammation. In one rat study, a number of compounds in chasteberry reduced pain (possibly by stimulating opioid receptors) and inflammation in various parts of these animals [20].

In cells, chasteberry exhibited moderate anti-inflammatory activity [21].

Uterine Fibroids

A uterine fibroid is a non-cancerous tumor that develops in the uterus of many women. Most of the time, uterine fibroids are caused by hormonal imbalances (especially, high levels of progesterone). Because of this, hormone therapy is commonly used to treat and shrink uterine fibroids [22, 23].

Since chasteberry reduces progesterone levels, it may alleviate some symptoms of uterine fibroids.

Increased bleeding is one of the key symptoms of uterine fibroids. In a clinical trial on 84 women with heavy bleeding in their uterus during menstruation, chasteberry treatment for over a period of 4 months significantly decreased bleeding, indicating that it may reduce increased menstrual bleeding from patients with uterine fibroids [24].

Acne

One of the main causes of acne is hormonal fluctuation and imbalances, which are more pronounced during PMS. As a result, many women experience acne before their menstrual cycles. Because chasteberry may normalize these hormonal imbalances (by decreasing prolactin), it may treat premenstrual acne [25, 26, 27].

Chasteberry may also treat premenstrual acne due to its antibacterial and antioxidative properties. In a cell-based study, gel extracts of chasteberry inhibited the growth of acne-producing bacteria [28].

Prostate Health

An enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), occurs in most men as they grow older. Although it is not cancer-causing, an enlarged prostate can significantly increase the risk of prostate cancer. The likelihood of prostate enlargement increases with age [29].

Prostate cancer can occur once the prostate gland cells begin to multiply out of control. In the lab, extracts of chasteberry reduced the growth of cells and even stimulated the death of prostate cells, indicating that chasteberry may be useful for the prevention and/or treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia and human prostate cancer [30].

Supplementing with Chasteberry

Because chasteberry is not approved for any conditions, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on trial and error. Consult your doctor about the best way to take this supplement.

Dosage

For PMS symptoms, uterine fibroids, premenstrual acne, endometriosis, and female infertility, 400 to 500 mg of standardized extract (with 0.5% agnuside) per day have been taken in clinical trials [1, 31].

For menopausal symptoms, low doses of about 200 mg per day were taken in clinical trials [1].

Agnuside is the active ingredient found in chasteberry, and powder extracts of chasteberry are generally standardized to contain 0.5% agnuside [31].

Natural Sources/Forms of Supplementation

Chasteberry can be found in a number of forms in your local store and online. The fruit is found in dried capsules as well as in liquid extracts. Most of the time it is mixed with other natural herbs, but can still be found in extracts of itself only.

Side Effects

This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects. 

If used in limited amounts (not more than 1000 mg per day), this fruit tends to be very well-tolerated and there have not been many reported side effects. In rare cases, there have been reports of skin rashes and stomach discomfort, while there are also reports of increased menstrual flow [1].

Do not take chasteberry during pregnancy, as this will cause hormonal fluctuations, which may have strong effects on an individual during this period.

Drug Interactions

Drug interactions or contraindications with chasteberry are unknown. However, because it increases dopamine, it may interfere with drugs that affect dopamine levels [1].

This would mainly apply to patients taking antipsychotic drugs and those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. These individuals should consult their doctor before taking chasteberry.

Women taking other hormone-altering drugs such as birth control pills should not use chasteberry. Hormonal changes caused by chasteberry interrupt the action of these drugs. Furthermore, if you have a hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer, then chasteberry should be avoided [32].

To help avoid interactions, your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins, or herbs you’re taking. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out how chasteberry might interact with something else you are taking.

Limitations and Caveats

Chasteberry has not received FDA approval as a health product, and it’s always recommended to speak with a healthcare provider while using this as a supplement.

High-quality clinical studies on chasteberry are limited and are small or of short duration. While some evidence supports the use of chasteberry for PMS and cyclical breast discomfort, evidence for its use in other conditions remains insufficient.

User Experiences

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of chasteberry users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

One female user reported that she had elevated prolactin levels, which can prevent pregnancy. She commented on the success she had from taking vitex, “I’ve tried it before and it works. My doctor was amazed to see an $8 herb do what a $130 medication does.”

Another female user with infertility had different results, “I used it with mixed results. The first 6 months it regulated me a lot better than I would be without it. But after the 6-month mark, my periods became further and further apart. However, I never got any side effects from it as I did from vitamins.”

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About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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