Chaste tree is a small shrub that produces berries that have a peppery taste. Since the days of ancient Greece, people have dried and used these berries as medicine to treat health problems related to menstruation. According to folklore, chaste tree (also known as chasteberry) got its common name centuries ago because it helped keep people "chaste"—that is, not wanting to have sex. Today, there’s no evidence that chaste tree actually has that effect, but there is some evidence that it may help with menstrual problems, especially PMS.
In Europe, chaste tree is the herb most often recommended for treating premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. One German study of more than 1,500 women with PMS found that after taking chaste tree for three months, 90 percent said they had fewer symptoms (such as depression, anxiety, food cravings, and bloating) or even complete relief from their symptoms. Research also suggests that chaste tree may help relieve the breast tenderness that happens just before you get your period. In the United States, chaste tree is not as well known as it is in Europe, although more people here are starting to learn about this herb.
Scientists are not exactly sure how chaste tree works. They believe that chaste tree helps control the hormones that affect your menstrual cycle. Studies on animals suggest that the herb acts on the pituitary gland and that it causes the gland to reduce the body’s levels of prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone that may be related to PMS and breast pain.
Chaste tree products are sold in health-food stores. Chaste tree is often taken as a liquid tincture, although it also comes in tablet or capsule form. A common dose for chaste tree is 30 mg to 40 mg of standardized extract a day. But chaste tree products vary in strength, and you should always check the label to find out what dose a manufacturer recommends. If you use any form other than a standardized extract (such as a tincture), make sure you talk to a health professional or herbal expert first.
People who take chaste tree to treat PMS generally take it every day, not just when they have symptoms. Many women find that it takes more than three months of using chaste tree regularly before they see any change in their PMS symptoms.
In studies, the number of people who develop side effects while taking chaste tree is pretty small. The most common known side effect is an itchy rash: if you develop one after taking chaste tree, you should stop taking it. Other reported side effects include nausea, stomach upset, and heavier blood flow during your period.
If you’re thinking of trying chaste tree to treat PMS symptoms, it’s important that you talk to your health professional first. Although chaste tree has a good safety record so far, it’s an herb that appears to affect the hormone levels in your body. Be sure to tell your health professional that you are taking it so that he or she can keep an eye on its effects on you. In addition, chaste tree may interfere with birth control pills and other drugs. It should definitely not be taken during pregnancy or breast-feeding.
If you are having problems with your menstrual cycle, including PMS and breast soreness or swelling, you should talk to your health professional. These may be signs of a more serious problem. Be sure to get a medical diagnosis for your symptoms. Don’t rely on self-treatment with chaste tree alone.
Do not take chaste tree at all if you are taking birth-control pills. Chaste tree may alter the effects of these drugs. Chaste tree may also interfere with other medicines, including the digestive stimulant Reglan and certain major tranquilizers, including Haldol, Prolixin, and Thorazine.
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