One of my favourite herbs for this condition is Chaste Tree – or Vitex Agnus- castus, either alone or in combination with other supportive herbs. It’s the fruit part of the plant which is used.
Chaste Tree is indicated for symptoms such as pre-menstrual syndrome and its accompanying aches and pains – sore breasts, irregular ovulation (hence getting cycles into a rhythm again), and can be helpful with hormonal acne cases, or if there is an excess of oestrogen – think polycystic ovaries, endometriosis or uterine fibroids- it can also be very helpful in menopausal times when you are dealing with the exaggerated symptoms of PMS in perimenopause. We use it for enhancing fertility and painful ovulation too.
In a study conducted by Schellenberg it was found that dry extract of agnus castus fruit is an effective and well tolerated treatment for the relief of symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. To compare the efficacy and tolerability of agnus castus fruit (Vitex agnus castus L extract Ze 440) with placebo, for women with the premenstrual syndrome, 178 women were screened and 170 were evaluated (active 86; placebo 84). Mean age was 36 years, mean cycle length was 28 days, mean duration of menses was 4.5 days. (Schellenberg, 2001) and it was found that those taking the herb and not the placebo had a positive and effective action as far as premenstrual symptoms.
PMS refers to a multitude of symptoms women may go through during a regular monthly cycle. Symptoms include bloating, depression and low mood, sore breasts, feeling very emotional, tearful, irrational, unreasonable or angry. You can get it the week before your period, or 3 weeks out of 4. Every woman is different in the way her body copes with hormonal change. There is no doubt that the symptoms are very real -and they are all related to mood, emotions and physical symptoms.
For the purposes of this blog post I am talking about your run of the mill PMS – although we know that PMS can now be separated into several classifications if you suffer from anxiety, depressions etc. as well. These more severe forms of PMS should be taken seriously and be under the care of your health provider whether GP or Nat Med.
I am sure you have all heard jokes like this one: Have you heard the latest PMS joke? You know the one – “The chain on my mood swings just snapped – RUN!” One hapless guy once left a message on my Facebook page under an article on PMS where he very helpfully copied in his female’s friend’s names with the message “this sounds like you lot” - Their replies were very comical, but he wasn’t very popular – and I do wonder if he is still living??!! And of course, we get those daft comments “it’s all part of being a woman” Oh Joy! To my mind anything that makes you feel downright miserable for a certain part of each month is not a normal state of affairs and is where natural medicine can be so helpful.
This time of the monthly cycle is when we most feel like sugar, chocolate and caffeine which gives a short burst of energy but truly doesn’t do anything much else for us healthwise right now.
Some things that can really help you get through these weeks are : eating as healthily as you can, exercising moderately, taking supplements like magnesium, zinc and the B Group vitamins. Iron levels can be low too so it’s good to get these checked and take a non constipating version either pre period or just for the duration of the period. Essential fatty acids like Evening Primrose Oil can be helpful. And of course, a good herbal combination taken regularly throughout the month may just do the trick!
Bone, K. (2007). Herbal Compendium. Warwick: Phytotherapy Press.
Schellenberg, R. e. (2001). British Medical Journal. Retrieved from BMJ: http://www.bmj.com/content/322/7279/134
Contraindications and cautions:
It is not recommended to take Chaste Tree if you are on the contraceptive pill or taking hormone or progesterone replacement therapy.