1 - If you’re under 18
Our Agnus castus is a licensed herbal remedy used to help relieve the symptoms of PMS which can include menstrual cramps, breast tenderness, bloating and mood swings. However, it isn’t suitable for under 18’s.
Most girls start their period between the ages of 8 and 16. During this time, hormones are released from the pituitary gland deep within the brain and these spur the ovaries into action for the first time. The hormones FSH and LH trigger the release of oestrogen from the ovaries which initiates all of the common changes associated with puberty. Together with these other hormones, fluctuating levels of oestrogen throughout the month contributes to what we call the menstrual cycle. Each woman will experience this pattern of hormones and symptoms throughout the rest of her childbearing years.
Now, as you can imagine, during this time when things are just starting off, there are lots of new changes going on and our hormones can take a while to settle into their new regime. This means a number of symptoms can often crop up such as irregular periods or teenage acne. However, over time these often settle down and if we interject too soon, such as by introducing contraceptive pills or herbs, we can risk throwing things off kilter even further.
Managing tricky diet and lifestyle habits is often a good place to start during this time and can help to give wobbly hormones the support they need during those teenage years.
2 - If you’re on the pill
If you’re on the pill then unfortunately Agnus castus isn’t suitable. This goes for any hormonal contraception actually including the Mirena coil, and there are a few good reasons for this.
Firstly, you’ve presumably been put on the pill for good reason by your doctor. This may be to help balance the sex hormones oestrogen or progesterone in a specific way. Agnus castus helps support progesterone levels so it could potentially mess up whatever balance the pill is trying to achieve, also, not to mention the potential effects on the contraceptive actions of the pill. If you affect the balance of hormones that the pill is supplying then it could scupper the effectiveness of the pill as a contraceptive and put you at risk of falling pregnant.
Next, if you’re experiencing symptoms whilst on the pill (to the point that you want to take some Agnus castus) then you should be discussing this with your doctor. This suggests that your hormones may be out of balance and a medication review should be on the cards. There are hundreds of different types of pills all containing slightly different ratios of synthetic hormones, so if you feel that your pill isn’t working for you then a change may be beneficial. In terms of the Agnus castus, there would simply be no point in adding more and more into the mix to try and achieve a balance, it just isn’t logical.
3 - If you’re pregnant
Women often ask if they are able to take Agnus castus whilst trying to conceive. Although it isn’t licensed for this reason, you can take it whilst trying to conceive if you feel you are suffering from symptoms of PMS which of course it is licensed for. Agnus castus has also been used traditionally to help gently balance hormones in a specific way, for example, if high oestrogen or high prolactin levels are the issue, but otherwise, it may not be the one for you.
Then, if you were to fall pregnant you should stop taking it. During pregnancy your hormones are required to make very specific changes to help support the growth of your baby, so we wouldn’t want to risk messing that up.
Depending on your symptoms after having your baby and after breastfeeding has waned, you might find it useful to go back on for a few months. Just to be clear though, this is all entirely dependent on your symptoms so you shouldn’t assume that you will definitely need to!
4 - If you’re periods aren’t showing up
Although many people assume that Agnus castus is the ‘female’ or ‘women’s’ herb and is the go-to option for all female issues, this just isn’t the case. This remedy works by addressing a specific hormone imbalance, so contrary to belief; it may not be answer to all of your ladies’ problems!
Agnus castus works by gently supporting progesterone levels which means it is useful in instances of oestrogen dominance. Oestrogen dominance often gives rise to some ‘typical’ symptoms of PMS including heavy, painful periods, breast tenderness, irritability and mood swings – many of which the Agnus castus is licensed for.
Oestrogen dominance often gives rise to shorter cycles, so shorter than every 28 days. But what happens if you’re at the other end of the spectrum and your periods aren’t showing up as regularly they should? A few things could be at play here.
Firstly, you could be low in oestrogen. This can happen for a number of reasons, for example after coming off hormonal contraceptives (particularly progesterone-based methods), stress could be having an effect, or this is also quite common in the lead up to menopause as oestrogen levels start to drop off. In these situations, Agnus castus is unlikely to be the best remedy for you and it may help to try and target the root of the cause instead.
If you suspect stress is at the root of the problem, some talking therapy or some stress management techniques may be useful. Then to help gently support your oestrogen levels, some soy isoflavones may be the way to go!
Alternatively, if irregular periods are coupled with symptoms such as weight gain or excess facial hair, then it’s possible that diet and lifestyle factors could be at the root of the cause. As highs and lows contribute to blood sugar imbalance, this drives insulin resistance which can impact the balance of our sex hormones. In this scenario, the male sex hormone testosterone can become more dominant, oestrogen dwindles in comparison and this can all contribute to a number of troublesome symptoms. This pattern is often a factor in conditions such as PCOS.
If you suspect this is the problem, making the necessary diet and lifestyle changes is often the best place to start and supplements aimed at supporting blood sugar regulation such as chromium and cinnamon are often a welcome addition.
5 - If you’re post-menopausal
Again, menopausal women will often assume that Agnus castus will help them, without really considering what their symptoms are first. Now, that’s not to say that it won’t help, just that there is a time and a place for this herb. Often in the lead up to menopause during the peri-menopause phase for example, women can experience heavier, more frequent periods, in which case, the Agnus castus may be suitable.
However, if erratic periods are also in combination with a number of more typical menopause symptoms including flushes, dry skin, achy muscles and joints or weight gain around the middle, then it could suggest that oestrogen is fluctuating, but more generally on the way down.
Fluctuating levels of oestrogen can affect your periods, but ultimately oestrogen is dropping at this stage and with progesterone based methods (herbal or otherwise) you could risk exacerbating your symptoms. Our Menopause Support containing soy isoflavones is often a suitable alternative.
Then, if your symptoms persist post-menopause, that’s generally 1 -2 years after having your last ever period, neither Agnus castus or soy isoflavones would generally be recommended. Symptoms at this stage are much more likely to be related to nutrient deficiencies, underactive thyroid or stress, so a trip to the doctor for a check up or some calming herbs such as passiflora may be more suitable for you.