Agnus Castus is a Proven Herbal Treatment Option for PMS
Agnus castus is an alternative to the two main choices offered by doctors to women with PMS, namely synthetic hormones (usually oestrogen and progesterone) or SSRIs anti-depressants.
Agnus castus is the most studied one of the herbal alternatives for PMS, and is considered to be safe and effective and without the side effects associated with pharmaceuticals.
Agnus castus has been used to restore hormonal balance and help make menstrual cycles more regular over many generations. It seems to have a balancing effect on female hormones in the second half of the menstrual cycle which alleviates PMS (something we’re all grateful for!)
What’s The Evidence for Agnus Castus’ Effectiveness?
Unlike some alternative therapies, there’s plentiful research evidence to back up the age-old use of agnus castus. A randomised controlled study involving 170 women in Germany in 2001 showed a significant improvement in symptoms compared to a placebo (dummy pill):
Over half the women had a 50% or greater improvement in their symptoms
Patient acceptance was high and side effects were few and mild
Another study in Germany in 2004 – this time involving more than 1,600 women – showed that four out of five of the women rated their PMS as ‘much better’ or ‘very much better’ as a result of taking agnus castus. More recently still (2010), a research study in China again showed significant improvements in women with PMS symptoms using agnus castus compared to a placebo. And there are numerous other studies around the world which all show remarkable consistent results. It’s pretty impressive stuff.
How does Agnus Castus Work?
Here’s the science bit. Your hormones make up a finely balanced system. Although the causes of PMS are still not fully understood, two factors seem to be key:
- Hormone levels being out of balance with each other (e.g. too much oestrogen and not enough progesterone), and / or
- A hyper-sensitivity to the monthly fluctuations in your body’s hormone levels (and since hormones going up and down is the very essence of the monthly menstrual cycle, this hormone rollercoaster is hard to avoid)
Although agnus castus doesn’t actually contain any hormones itself, it has properties which act on the body’s endocrine (hormone) system and seems to work on the pituitary gland in the brain which produces the hormones which regulate those secreted from your ovaries which then determine your menstrual cycle. It’s all interrelated.
Agnus castus seems to help the pituitary gland to produce more luteinising hormone (LH) which is what tells your ovaries to produce progesterone – and you need progesterone in the second half of your monthly cycle (called the luteal phase) to head off PMS.
Agnus castus also seems to mildly inhibit the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and reduce the level of prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone which is naturally produced when we breastfeed, but it also increases with stress. It’s thought that women with PMS generally have high levels of prolactin. High prolactin contributes to PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness and swelling, and anxiety and irritability. Too much prolactin in the system can also disrupt the balance of the other hormones, in particular leading to too little progesterone. As progesterone balances the oestrogen, this can lead to what’s called oestrogen dominance’ or ‘progesterone deficiency’, which is a likely factor in PMS.
So agnus castus works on balancing all the hormones which women with PMS need help with. By acting on the pituitary gland which releases the hormones that regulate the function of your ovaries, it also helps to regulate the length and timing of the menstrual cycle, including ovulation, and so improves fertility.
Who Benefits Most from Agnus Castus?
Judging by the research, the vast majority of women with PMS can see their symptoms improve using agnus castus. It seems to be effective on many of the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS including:
- sore breasts
- fatigue and premenstrual lethargy
- poor concentration
- mood swings
It may not be as effective in managing symptoms like food cravings, headaches, shakiness and dizzyness – but then, I would argue that the best way to manage these symptoms is by balancing your blood sugar. That means kicking the junk food and eating a high ratio of whole plant-based foods in your diet and complex carbohydrates.
Agnus castus is very effective as a supplement for PMS, there’s no doubt about that – but it’s not a magic bullet. Nothing is. The key word is ‘supplement’: lifestyle changes such as exercise, stress management and eating well are still also very important if you want to beat PMS over the long term. (And are good for your overall health, not just your PMS)
How to TAKE Agnus Castus
Fortunately, agnus castus is available without a prescription and can easily be found over the counter at chemists and health food shops and from reputable online suppliers.
It comes as a tincture (suspension in liquid which you mix into a few drops into water (warning: it tastes foul) or as dry powder capsules in a cellulose shell (much more palatable in my view).
Be patient. Using herbal remedies takes time to build up an effect in the body and the improvements in symptoms thanks to PMS seem to appear after one to three months’ usage.
When Not To Take Agnus Castus
Agnus castus is suitable for long term use at normal does. But don’t take it without speaking to your doctor first if you think you may be pregnant, are taking any progesterone pills, the contraceptive pill or HRT.
Obviously, agnus castus is not recommended if you have stopped having PMS. The aim with all supplements is to take only the minimum amount that’s needed to restore balance and only for as long as need. (But always come off any supplement that affects your hormones gradually – don’t shock your body by going ‘cold turkey’).
I hope agnus castus works for you. I will also be covering other supplements soon.
Thanks for reading.