The fruit of Vitex agnus-castus, known as the chaste tree or chasteberry, is an herbal remedy with benefits primarily for women. Unlike many other herbal remedies, the whole-fruit extract appears to be necessary for medicinal benefits, rather than any individual component. The health benefits of agnus castus result from its actions on the pituitary gland, according to the University of Michigan Health System.
Premenstrual Syndrome Symptom Relief
Reliable scientific evidence indicates a substantial health benefit for women with premenstrual syndrome who take agnus castus, according to the UMHS. By affecting the pituitary gland, this herb decreases prolactin secretion, an action that can prevent breast tenderness and pain that some women experience before menstruation. The UMHS cites research in which women taking 20mg of a concentrated agnus castus extract daily for three menstrual cycles experienced significantly reduced PMS symptoms. Effects included decreases not only in breast tenderness but in irritability, mood swings and headaches.
Menstrual Cycle Regulation
Supplementation with agnus castus may be beneficial for women with irregular periods, a condition known as oligomenorrhea. Agnus castus causes the pituitary gland to increase production of luteinizing hormone, according to the UMHS. This leads to an increase in progesterone production, which helps regulate the menstrual cycle. Women tend to have irregular periods during perimenopause, resulting from a decrease in progesterone levels. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome also may benefit from taking agnus castus, according to nutrition therapist Marilyn Glenville. This condition involves benign cysts on the ovaries that cause menstrual irregularity, infertility and other problems.
Agnus castus is beneficial for preventing miscarriages in women with certain health conditions, Glenville says. Some women have a shortened second half of the menstrual cycle, known as a luteal phase defect, which can be corrected with agnus castus supplementation. Women who have miscarriages due to inadequate progesterone levels also may benefit from taking agnus castus. Glenville cautions women to consult a qualified health-care practitioner before taking any herbs during pregnancy.