What is Chasteberry?
Picture this: it’s the 14th century (just…roll with it, okay?). You’re a monk chilling out in your monastery, and you want to make sure you stay, um…monk-ish.
Enter the chasteberry tree. Monks in medieval Europe ate chasteberries religiously (ha, ha), believing it suppressed sexual desire. While science has since shown that chasteberries don’t keep your purity intact (sorry, monks), they do boast an impressive list of health benefits.
The chasteberry tree is native to Central Asia and the Mediterranean, but it’s now grown in the U.S., as well. You might see it referred to by its Latin name, Vitex (or Vitexagnus-castus).
While it’s not exactly a staple food for monks these days, the chasteberry has been studied for its positive effects on reproductive health, including problems with menstruation, menopause, and infertility.
And if your skin constantly gives you grief, good news: it could help stop acne breakouts.
Whether you’re a medieval monk or in need of a supplement to ease hormonal issues, read on to find out how chasteberry can benefit your health.
Supports Female Reproductive Health
Chasteberries interact with the pituitary gland and have two separate effects on hormones: first, they inhibit the body’s production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which lowers estrogen levels. Second, along with dopamine, chasteberries stimulate luteinizing hormone (LH), which increases levels of the hormone progesterone. In this way, chasteberries can help your body balance estrogen and progesterone levels.
This is good news for you, because unbalanced hormones can lead to a host of unpleasant symptoms–and sometimes, chronic diseases.
Prolonged elevated estrogen levels (caused by either environmental exposure to substances that mimic estrogen, or by biological issues) can cause serious health problems, including bloating, headaches, mood swings, irregular periods, and even some cancers. By lowering FSH and estrogen levels, chasteberry helps alleviate symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances.
Chasteberry for PMS and Menopause Relief
Hormonal changes occur throughout a woman’s life, causing PMS, perimenopause, and menopause symptoms.
Chasteberry might alleviate all three — in fact, in Germany, it is approved as a medication for PMS symptoms. Specifically, it reduces breast tenderness, mood swings, and headaches (common complaints during PMS, perimenopause, and menopause).
In combination with St. John’s Wort, chasteberry could ease PMS symptoms, according to the Journal of Alternate and Complementary Medicine. The combination is especially effective for easing anxiety and mood swings.
Vitex also eases symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a painful, debilitating form of PMS. Women suffering from PMDD may not be able to work, or otherwise live normally, in the week before menstruation. Chasteberry supplements may work better than fluoxetine (Prozac) to relieve symptoms of PMDD.
It could also help treat uterine fibroids, which worsen when estrogen levels increase. Taking vitex (which lowers estrogen) helps lessen fibroid symptoms and could even prevent their formation.
Women suffering from endometriosis may also benefit from taking chasteberry, which can relieve pain and cramping. It also reduces the amount of prolactin released by the pituitary gland. Too much prolactin could cause infertility and irregular menstrual bleeding—meaning Vitex could prove helpful in improving fertility.
Chasteberry supplements aren’t just for women; they could help improve prostate health in men.
Vitex slows down the proliferation of prostate cells and reduces the risk of developing an enlarged prostate. Research is ongoing, but it may also kill prostate cancer cells.
Stops Acne Breakouts
Constant acne breakouts? Blame hormones. If your hormones are out of whack, your skin can go nuts; thankfully, vitex can help by balancing out your hormones.
If you decide to take chasteberry for acne, only take it for a short time until the breakouts clear—otherwise, it may raise your progesterone levels, which can also cause acne (fun, right?). When taken in the right dosage, however, it can vastly improve the appearance of your skin.
Did You Know?
- Chasteberries smell similar to peppermint.
- Because of its popularity among medieval monks, it’s also called monk’s pepper.
- In Ancient Greece and Rome, It was sacred to the goddess Hestia, also known as Vesta. As far back as 4 A.D, people have used it to promote chastity.
- The chaste tree berry contains flavonoids, essential oils, and essential fatty acids.
- Humans aren’t the only one who benefit from chasteberry: it’s often used to treat reproductive issues in mares, as well.
Chasteberry Side Effects and Dosage
If you’re in good health, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience any serious side effects from taking chasteberry. Mild side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, headache, or fatigue.
Studies have shown that lower doses can still affect the hormones prolactin and progesterone. Due to chasteberry’s effects on hormones, you shouldn’t take it if you’re on hormone therapy, taking birth control, or have breast cancer. Because dopamine also plays a role in progesterone production, anyone taking dopamine medications such as anti-psychotics or medications for Parkinson’s should not take chasteberry supplements. Don’t take this supplement if you’re pregnant or nursing.
Forms of Chasteberry
You’ll find several options available when looking for chasteberry supplements. You can mix chasteberry powder into the juice or beverage of your choice. If you’re not a powder person, you can also try capsules.
Vitex is also available as a liquid tincture or as an essential oil. If you fancy a cup of tea, you can also find chasteberry tea — or if you’re really into horticulture and have some free time on your hands, you can even grow your own chasteberry tree, pick and dry the berries, and make them into tea.
The Bottom Line
However you prefer to take it, chasteberry may help with PMS symptoms, irregular periods, and infertility. It also helps prevent prostate issues in men.
Those medieval monks may not have completely understood chasteberry’s benefits, but they were definitely onto something—after all, what other little berry can clear up acne, relieve PMS, and ensure you don’t lose your prestigious job in the monastery?