Does Agnus castus help period pain?
Agnus castus (Vitex) can be helpful in treating painful periods, particularly when caused by high levels of oestrogen. It can help balance hormones related to menstruation, which in turn can help ease symptoms of high oestrogen such as PMS, cramps, bloating, breast pain and tenderness, headaches, irritability, mood swings, premenstrual acne and constipation.(1)
It is the berries, known as chaste berries or monks' pepper, which are used in herbal medicine.
How does Agnus castus work?
Agnus castus works on the pituitary gland, a small gland in the centre of our brain which secretes hormones. Agnus castus helps to regulate the secretion of three hormones that affect our monthly cycle:
• Follicle-stimulating hormone
• Luteinising hormone
This in turn leads to an increase in progesterone in the second half of our cycle, helping to balance high oestrogen levels which are often at the root of painful periods.(2)
Due to its effect on the pituitary gland, it is best to take Agnus castus first thing in the morning before breakfast as this is when it has the most potent action on balancing the pituitary secretions and particularly in reducing prolactin secretion.
Agnus castus also helps to lengthen a short menstrual cycle and lighten a heavy flow, symptoms associated with oestrogen dominance. So if your painful periods are made worse by being super heavy, and if they have the cheek to come even more regularly than 28 days, then Agnus castus may help lighten the bleed and lengthen out those cycles, while also reducing the associated PMS symptoms.(3) That's why I love herbal medicine so much, the herbs have so many wonderful side benefits!
Which type of period pain can Agnus castus help?
If half of the human race experiences these monthly cycles, then why would nature design us to have a few miserable days every month? When you think about it that way, of course, periods shouldn't be painful. It is normal for our energy levels to ebb and flow with our monthly cycle but painful periods needn't be the norm! Pain during our periods, known as dysmenorrhea, can be caused by oestrogen dominance, nutritional deficiencies or more serious issues like endometriosis.
Agnus castus is most helpful when period pain is due to high levels of oestrogen and low levels of progesterone. As we saw above, Agnus castus helps to balance these hormones, thus reducing the symptoms that go alongside high levels of oestrogen such as anger, irritability, mood swings, breast tenderness, painful cramps, constipation and acne. Tell-tale signs for high levels of oestrogen are a heavy flow and a short cycle, less than 28 days each month. If that sounds like your situation, then Agnus castus could be a helpful herbal ally for you, as you help your body to get your moon cycle back on track, and back in harmony with nature.
However, if your cycle is regular, at around 28 days each month, and not particularly heavy, then pain during menstruation could be due to a nutritional deficiency (particularly magnesium, but zinc and chromium may be at play too). You may want to supplement these nutrients first before trying a hormonal herbal medicine like Agnus castus.
If your period pain is due to an underlying illness like endometriosis, PCOS or chronic pelvic inflammatory disease it is known as secondary dysmenorrhea. Agnus castus might be helpful in some cases of secondary dysmenorrhea, but because the underlying cause is a little bit more complicated it is best to work one-to-one with a herbalist or naturopath when using herbs to address these issues.
How long does Agnus castus take to work?
It is generally recommended to take Agnus castus for 1 – 3 cycles to see results. It is recommended to take throughout the cycle, not just in the week before your period when you start experiencing PMS symptoms.
Some herbalists recommend taking it only during the follicular phase of your cycle, so from the first day of your bleed, up until ovulation. This can be a helpful method if you want to stimulate ovulation in situations where ovulation is not currently happening. But for treating PMS symptoms it is best to take it throughout the cycle.
It is safe to take long term. Usually, once the symptoms start to ease the body's hormones are more balanced and the symptoms of PMS and painful periods are a thing of the past. If symptoms return at another stage you can start taking Agnus castus again if you need!
Does agnus castus interfere with the pill?
Any hormonal medications, including hormonal contraceptives like the pill, injection, implant and Mirena coil, are all contraindicated with Agnus castus. This herb causes hormonal shifts, even if you are taking synthetic hormones. So, it could cause your medication to be ineffective. Therefore, it is not recommended for those taking hormonal medications.
We don't want any surprise pregnancies on our hands, so make sure to only take Agnus castus if you are not on any hormonal medication!
There’s no need to suffer needlessly!
Ladies, it's time to let go of the idea that painful periods are to be expected. Many cultures honour the time of menstruation as a time when we women are more intuitive and creative, and potentially more psychic too!(4) Think about it, the bleed we experience when we menstruate is the lining of our womb which was intended to house and nurture a new human life! All that creative energy is there for us to harness during our period, if we can get past the cramps, the pain and the perceived misery of it!
If oestrogen dominance is behind your period pain, give Agnus castus a try. It has been proven scientifically to work for hundreds of women!(5) Otherwise try a good quality multivitamin or look at how to increase magnesium, zinc and chromium in your diet. If your pain is coming from a more serious issue like endometriosis or PCOS, seek out a herbalist or naturopath who can work with you one on one.
(1) McIntyre, A., The Complete Herbal Tutor. Gaia, London, 2010.
(2) Foster, S. and Johnson R., Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine. National Geographic Society, Washington DC, USA, 2006.
(4) Northrup, C., Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. Bantam Books, New York, 2020