Agnus Castus - does it work for PMS?

Agnus Castus is a Proven Herbal Treatment Option for PMS

agnus castus effective for PMS

The herb Agnus Castus in its natural state

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 2004this 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

Balanced hormones, balanced life.

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
  • bloating
  • fatigue and premenstrual lethargy
  • poor concentration
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • restlessness
  • 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.

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32 thoughts on “Agnus Castus - does it work for PMS?

  1. Great info! Thanks. I am actually in the process of weaning of my SSRI and fear the PMS symptoms will return! I will certainly try this agnus castus (which in my head will always be "angus cactus", like a beefy, sharp plant). Fingers crossed!

    • Good luck with trying the agnus castus. We women are all different and nothing is guaranteed to work, but both the anecdotal evidence and the research look good in this case. My take on SSRI anti-depressants for PMS to follow in due course.

      PS. you've now put 'angus cactus' in MY head too!

  2. Hi just recently ditched oestrogel but still have mirena coil in situ but am at wits end after 2 months mainly due to the most horrendous achy heavy legs! I know I should stick with it but just not sure if I can stand it any longer! Anyway just wanted to know if you think agnus cactus would be ok to take with mirena coil in situ?

    • Claire, that sounds awful. I can’t give advice on individual cases, but it sounds like you should speak to your doctor about your symptoms / side effects rather than just stick with it.

      In general I would counsel caution about combining any synthetic hormones with natural supplements which have an effect on hormone levels, except under the supervision of a practitioner, as these can lead to an unpredictable cocktail. So the Mirena and agnus castus are not advised to be used together unfortunately.

      Have you posted on the NAPS Forum (the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome): <a href="http://www.pms.org.uk” target=”_blank”>www.pms.org.uk? You might find it a useful resource.

  3. This is great info! I've been trying to find some info because I've been taking Agnus Castus for about 2 months now, and I am determined it will work for me.
    Normally I have to take 2 weeks off work to deal with my PMT'ing because I am so ill with it. I can't motivate myself, I end up severely depressed for 2 weeks every month, I can't sleep, I sweat really bad, my breasts are so large, heavy and sore I cant touch them never mind move around, They feel like I have mastitis and enlarge by a full cup size, the pain disturbs my sleep. I make big mistakes with work, I'm exhausted, I can't have a conversation without it turning into an argument, my children are scared of me and constantly have their fingers in their ears because they can't stand me shouting…..it's just awful. I hate being like that and I end up wishing I was dead rather than putting my family through this hell every 2 weeks.
    The thing is for the other 2 weeks I'm the complete opposite, I'm so happy and cheerful, I have a good routine, the children are happy and so is my marriage!
    I've tried everything else so if this doesn't work I'm seriously considering having my ovaries removed because I want my children to remember a happy childhood and not and endless miserable one with a psychotic mother, and the thought of living in this hell for the next 20 years terrifies me. Wish me luck! :o)

    • Hi Emma, you describe that whole Jekyll & Hyde thing very well! I will be doing a post about breast swelling and soreness soon. Do you consume much caffeine? Caffeine in cola, coffee, chocolate, and tea all aggravates this PMS symptom.

  4. I took Agnus Castus for several months – but was one of the unlucky ones and found it made my symptoms worse! Reading this post, I now wonder if that was because I have a Mirena??? It never occured to me that the Mirena might interfere with the way the Agnus Castus works.
    I also read your other post about the PMS Escape – you definitely need to invent something similar! I find an Orange Juice and a banana helps in most situations, but sometimes the OJ leaks or the banana gets bashed, it would be much easier to have a sachet that you just pour into a bottle of water when it's needed.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Kirsty.
    A banana and oatcake or wholegrain cracker is another good option (no leakage!)

  6. So glad to finally find someone who advocates agnus castus for PMS/hormonal imbalances! I only came across agnus castus out of sheer luck – even going into Holland & Barretts I was directed to evening primrose oil only, but as a woman who is currently suffering severe PMS & PCOS, with low progesterone levels, I think the agnus castus sounds like an ideal supplement (particularly as I can't take the combined pill due to history of migraines). Funnily enough I only started taking it yesterday, and found your blog today – coincidence? I think not! Thanks for the info, not many ppl seem willing to share without charging for it!

  7. Agnus castus has changed my life. After coming off the pill after many years my hormones were all over the place and I was having really long menstrual cycles, up to 50 days sometimes. For 2-3 weeks of those cycles I’d have hellish pms symptoms, very bloated, water retention, anger, mood swings, anxiety and depression. Once my period started all these symptoms would disappear but I never knew when or if it was going to come. After researching the whole Internet for ideas on managing I found out about agnus castus and it helped me from month one. I have had 28-31 day cycles for the last 4 months and feel like the real me all of the time. I highly recommend it. I take it first thing in the morning with breakfast as it apparently is the best time for it to work on your pituitary gland

  8. I do not take hormones of any kind and do not have a Mirena, but even a very small dose of AC (5 – 8mg/day) makes my periods much lighter and more regular. However, if I take a higher dose, it makes my PMS worse to the point where I have severe PMS throughout the month.

    Most commercial forms are sold in high concentrations, especially the tincture which seems to be very potent. Anyone considering taking AC for the first time should be careful and start with a low dose.

  9. Really good point, Snuffelgraag. This applies to most supplements in fact: always start with the minimum dose and work up gradually.

    Also, as your case illustrates, women all have individual responses so it's important to observe your reactions (a symptom diary always helps here) and 'tweek' any intake to make it right for you.

    Thanks for commenting.

  10. I have been taking agnus castus for 3 weeks now for infertility. I’ve had 2 miscarriages. For the first time ever I had the textbook ewcm! Thrilled! And my bbt is much more stable. I spot in early pregnancy and then miscarry and am worried about low progesterone. I’m 10 dpo and an having symptoms; tender breast, achy uterus. I don’t normally get these symptoms before a period, I’m symptom free normally! I’m wondering if I’m pregnant or if the agnus castus has stimulated me in to producing more progesterone hence the pms type symptoms? Can it have an opposite effect? ie alleviate bad pms symptoms and increase symptoms of symptom-free cycles? Just a thought! I’d appreciate anyone’s thoughts….

  11. Hi Elizabeth,

    Agnus castus can help with regulating the menstrual cycle, but it normally takes more than three weeks for significant changes to take place. Symptoms like tender breasts are usually a symptom of oestrogen dominance in PMS – and I've never heard of anyone having an achy uterus as part of PMS.

    Good luck with trying to get pregnant.

    Diet and nutrition can be very powerful in increasing fertility; you might be interested in this page from Marilyn Glenville who writes a lot about the natural approach to infertility. &gt <a href="http://;http://www.marilynglenville.com/infertility.htm” target=”_blank”>;http://www.marilynglenville.com/infertility.htm

    Good luck with getting pregnant.

    • Thank you for your reply. I’ve never has tender breasts before a period so I thought it might be down to the agnus castus ‘kick starting’ my body in to doing what it’s supposed to do before a period. But perhaps I am pregnant and that’s why I’m feeling the tenderness. I never had this with my failed pregnancies so hopefully it’s a good sign. So there’s no chance the agnus castus could be working already! ie ewcm for the first time ever?

      • Fingers crossed it's the pregnancy you're hoping for.

        It's interesting that you mention breast tenderness in the context of "your body doing what it's supposed to do before a period". You could well say that breast tenderness is a sign of your body preparing for a pregnancy – unless, or until, you have a period and the egg is discharged with the womb lining, unfertilised.

        Breast tenderness is common in early stages of pregnancy – but of course shouldn't be relied on as an indicator.

        And in case anyone who was wondering, "ewcm" = egg white cervical mucous. It's a sign that you're ovulating (and are therefore fertile), and happens mid-cycle.

        The factors involved in ovulation and fertility are many and varied and depend on lots of things that are beyond the scope of this blog which focuses on PMS and other hormonal problems.

        Good luck Elizabeth!

  12. Hi

    I have been taking Agnus Castus for about a week now& noticed a difference already though wondering if I am imagining it. I have just read your forum re not taking it if you have a coil fitted. Does that go for all coils? I have the NovaT380 which I thought had no hormones in it so I was hoping it would be ok to use AG.

  13. Hi Fiona,

    The Nova is an IUD – not to be confused with the IUS (Mirena).

    You're absolutely right that the Nova doesn't dispense any hormones. It's just made of copper and silver and the shape and position of it delivers contraception.

    We shouldn't really even call them coils. IUDs used to be coil shaped – but are t-shaped now, to better fit into the uterus (womb).

  14. I too am a PMS witch. I scream and shout at my kids and am soooo overly sensitive. When my husband tells me I am PMSing I shout at him for being so insensitive! :(
    Luckily he knows and forgives me.
    I agree with many above that you cannot live a life like this. I have PMS 5 days per cycle. It's getting worse by the month. Before having kids I had no problems. I'm not on any contraception and tomorrow morning I start with 1000mg of AC. I did it before and it took a month to work. I also thought I might be imagining it or that it was just a coincidence, but I was just perfectly ok for half a year. Then it started again…..

    Thank you all for sharing. It's such a comfort to know one is not alone..

  15. I am breastfeeding a 6 month old and just last month and now again I'm experiencing terrible PMS symptoms of irritability, anxiety, and fatigue. I have not gotten my period back yet since childbirth. How would the use of Agnus Castus affect breastfeeding?

    Thank you so much for all of the work that you do!

  16. Hi Katie,

    In principle, taking agnus castus while you're breastfeeding isn't a problem. In fact, agnus castus stimulates the hormone prolactin (as well as working on progestrone levels) and prolactin encourages milk production, which is good news for you and your baby.

    Agnus castus is also traditionally used to help regulate hormones and therefore promote a regular menstrual cycle.

    However, although you say you have PMS-type symptoms, you mention that you haven't got your period back since having your baby (which suggest you're not ovulating and it's not 'premenstrual' mood swings, as such).

    It's not unusual tp not ovulate or not to get your periods back straightaway while you're breastfeeding – basically, breastfeeding works as a contraceptive (not a full-proof one though!). Ovulation will return when you decrease the feeds most likely, or when you stop breastfeeding, though the timing is different for every woman.

    Keep a diary of how you're feeling, and when, so that you can be sure it's a consistently monthly pattern you're experiencing. Also, keep an eye on your ovulation returning.

    Having a young baby is draining and life-changing, so how you're feeling may be down to hormones, or stress and tiredness may be playing a part. Make sure you are looking after yourself – lots of plant-based whole foods (especially those rich in B vitamins and iron for energy), rest (difficult I know!), sunlight and keep moving.

    If you continue to feel rotten on a monthly basis I'd advise you to have a chat with your Health Visitor or GP.

    This may not apply in your case, but if women in your situation start to feel worse and worse all through the month, it may be more Post Natal Depression rather than PMS. People often think Post Natal Depression only happens immediately after the birth of your child – in fact, it can affect some women at anytime in the first year. Here's a really good article from MIND about it: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditi

    Best wishes,
    PMS Warrior

  17. what a great site, i have just started taking agnus castus 1 week ago due to me and my partner ttc and im having 40-50 day cycles. Was wondering if it would have any effect on my medication? Im taking prescribed ssri (citolaphram) for anxiety and panic disorder which i think also does something to something in the brain sorry not alot of info, should i carry on?

  18. Hi Paula, thanks for visiting.

    Agnus castus has a reputation for regulating menstrual cycles, so it will be interesting to see if you find that you ovulate and your periods become more regular. Obviously stop taking it if you think you might have succeeded in getting pregnant ('ttc' = trying to conceive, for anyone who doesn't know the term).

    You might find it interesting to read my blogpost on antidepressants, if you haven't already: http://www.pmswarrior.com/antidepressants-for-pms

    In principle, agnus castus is fine to take with antidepressants as it works on hormone balance, particularly progesterone, whereas SSRIs work on neurotransmitters.

    But as with any supplement / medication, be aware of how you are feeling and responding – keeping a symptom diary is a good idea.

    Good luck!

  19. Hi, great article very helpful thanks. I suffer badly with pms and I’m going to try Agnus CastuS, I know it regulates your periods but I don’t have an issue with irregular periods. Does this matter? Bit of a silly question but it confuses me. Also Can I take it with my primrose oil that I already take? Is there much difference between primrose and starflower? thank you.

  20. Hi Hollie,

    Not a silly question at all. It's good that your periods are regular and agnus castus can be taken even when they are.

    Hopefully it will give you some relief from your PMS symptoms, but don't neglect the other advice on PMS Warrior about eating a varied whole foods diet, reducing stress, increasing exercise etc. They are as important.

    Yes, you can take primrose oil at the same time as agnus castus, but have you found my blogpost about why starflower (also called borage) oil is actually BETTER for PMS? It's here: http://www.pmswarrior.com/there-are-better-altern

    Good luck!

  21. Hi, thank you so much for this artical, i feel im at the end of my tether, ive been to my doctor & feel they dont take me seriously, my moods are so bad im a compleatly different person for two weeks of the month, im considering having my ovaries removed as i cant handle this much longer, my doctor has said this isnt a good option for me as i am only 34 years old, i am going to try agnus castus, thanks again,x

  22. Tammy, so sorry to hear you're having such a rough time with your PMS.

    I can imagine that having a hysterectomy seems appealing to you right now, but it's a major operation – even if you're not planning any (more) children. It would be better to sort out the underlying hormone balance problem.

    Keep talking to your GP about the options (or ask to see another GP or a gynaecological specialist). All GPs should have (or be able to obtain) the clinical guidelines for PMS produced by the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome (NAPS).

    By all means try the agnus castus, but please don't neglect the other lifestyle and nutrition tips throughout PMS Warrior. They all work together to get hormones back into balance.

    Good luck!

  23. Hi, I have been on agnus custus for about four months now along with landi f and klimakt. This is prescribed by a homeopath for the treatment of menaupause. I get terrible headaches though and I am not sure what is causing it. I am a migraine sufferer but these headaches are much worse as nothing takes it away. Any suggestions?

  24. Hi Madeleine,

    Sorry to hear you're suffering.

    I can't prescribe for individual cases over the internet and you provide little information, but my general thoughts are:

    1. Did you find my separate post on migraines? http://www.pmswarrior.com/how-migraines-are-linke… It may not be much comfort, but migraines are quite common during perimenopause (i.e. until periods stop)

    2. Are you keeping a symptom diary? It's really advisable when you're taking such a cocktail of supplements to monitor how you are feeling. A few women get worse headaches using progesterone cream during perimenopause and it may be that the agnus castus is not working for you. I find it's easier to introduce one supplement at a time and monitor the results for a couple of months.

    3. Klimakt? Do mean klamin (a type of wild blue-green algae – sometimes sold as klamin)? This has been shown to be effective in reducing perimenopausal symptoms in some women. But like anything, what works for one woman may not work for all. It's very expensive (as you know!) and unless it's making you feel better I would consider dropping it to see how you feel without it.

    3. I don't have much faith in 'pure' homeopathic remedies – the research evidence consistently finds that they don't perform at all well, expect for via the placebo (positive expectation) effect. I don't believe there is any evidence to show that landi f is effective for the uses it's prescribed, namely increasing fertility and balancing hormones.

    4. What about your diet and lifestyle? These factors are REALLY important in perimenopause, just the same as in PMS. I thoroughly recommend the Marilyn Glenville book New Natural Alternatives to HRT – available from the recommended books in the sidebar to the right. You might find it useful to see a nutritionist experienced in menopause for an MOT of your diet.

    5. Exercise often falls away in our 40s and 50s, the perimenopausal years. Yet research shows that it reduces a number of perimenopausal symptoms.

    6. Lastly, there may be other causes for headaches in women in their 40s/50sapart from hormonal imbalance, such as adrenal imbalance or thyroid imbalance.

    Hope those thoughts help! Good luck.

  25. Hi, _Good to hear all the comments. My situation is different, I have fibroids and experience heavy flow during my periods, especially 2n, 3rd and 4th day, periods take a week (7days). quite exhausting. This has affected my blood levels very much and my HP went to 7.8 the other day. I have been on ranferon capsules for a while as prescriped by my GP, however, stopped taking them a few weeks back and now on Wheat grass, I am yet to see a marked change. I recently walked into a store that sells suppliments and they told me a combination of Agnus Castus and Evening primrose should help balance my hormones and finally the fibroids will shrink and blood levels will be back to normal.. Whats your take?

  26. Hi there,

    How awful for you to feel so bad for such a long time, and with a young child to look after too.

    It would be inappropriate for me to give individualised advice over the internet, but I can make some general comments based on your story:

    Firstly, having a hysterectomy (removing the ovaries and womb) of a woman in her child bearing years is a very extreme – and unnecessary – course of action for PMS or PMDD, and not recommended by either the clinical guidelines for GPs produced by National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome (NAPS) or the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians.

    Medical alternatives that can be looked at include antidepressants, which can be effective in PMS (and which I have written about elsewhere: http://www.pmswarrior.com/antidepressants-for-pms… and the contraceptive Pill, among other things.

    Your doctor should be following the clinical guidelines produced by the bodies above when treating you for PMS. Check that they are doing so.

    You may also find it useful to joint the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome http://www.pms.org.uk.

    Regarding, agnus castus, it does not work for everyone, as I say in my post. But as with all natural remedies, any treatment should be judged only after three months or more. One month is not enough usually – especially if you started taking agnus castus midway through your monthly cycle.

    It sounds like you have many of the symptoms of oestrogen dominance, so other ways of reducing your oestrogen load may be helpful, e.g. reducing dairy products, reducing xenoestrogens in everyday chemicals, etc.

    Have you read my post on bloating and how to reduce it? http://www.pmswarrior.com/how-to-beat-pms-bloatin

    Do you keep a full symptom diary? It's really important to understand where in your cycle your symptoms come, what sort of symptoms they are, how food and other lifestyle factors affect them. This will also help to identify if it is PMS or PMDD.

    You mention that you eat well, but are you sure you get enough B1 and B2, iron, magnesium etc? From food, not from supplements! And are you managing your blood sugar levels by fuelling your body with complex carbs and not going hungry?

    Other considerations are whether you sleep well, and how stressful your lifestyle is – all of these things aggravate PMS unfortunately.

    Managing PMS requires a consistent all-round approach, but it can be beaten, or at the very least, significantly reduced using either natural methods, or natural methods combined with medical options.

    I hope you find these pointers helpful.