Chasteberry: A Helpful Supplement for Endo?
If you have done a lot of exploring on the internet about supplements to treat endo or other reproductive problems, no doubt you have at some point come across the name of an herb called “chasteberry”-- also known as Vitex. As its name suggests, chasteberry was named for its role helping monks and men of the cloth tamper down their libidos and maintain their vows of chastity, because the berry supposedly lowered hormones associated with sex drive (it should be noted, there are testimonies online that it both hinders and whets the sex drive of women, but I’ve noticed no discernible difference in my drive).
Chasteberry is also suspected to help treat endometriosis by raising progesterone levels and in turn, lowering estrogen in endo-afflicted women. And since endo is an estrogen-dependent disease, it is said to help lower incidence of pain and heavy bleeding for those who have it.
I first tried chasteberry years ago when I was in my late 20s. I only tried it for a few months and didn’t really notice a difference either way with my periods at first (which at the time, were actually not that bad compared to how they had been a few years before and are today). But then I started experiencing mid-cycle bleeding, a new phenomenon for me. I had read that the herb could cause abnormal bleeding, so I stopped taking it. But the mid-cycle bleeding continued for many more months. When I moved from Maryland to Vermont to start graduate school, and once again had health insurance, I immediately went to a gynecologist who discovered I had over a half-dozen polyps in my uterus. I had them removed surgically. I blamed the chasteberry as a possible reason as I has also read they could cause polyps (the internet is full of contradictions, so I read once source that said they contributed to them and another that said they helped resolve them), and stayed away for many years and scoffed when herb-savvy friends recommended it to me.
However, in the past few years, my menstrual cycles were getting much worse. Specifically, they were getting much shorter-- three or sometimes even two weeks. In addition to the short timeframes between bleeding, my PMS and PMDD were also becoming very bad. In particular, my PMS--which included breast swelling and tenderness, bloating, headaches, and cramps so bad they mimicked menstrual ones sans the blood (I even starting calling them “phantom periods”)--was worsening in both degree and length. My PMS was lasting as long as two weeks some months and the PMDD contributed to wild mood swings and depressive episodes. Between the short cycle and the long PMS, I barely had any reprieve in a given month. I had a few days, maybe a full week at most, where I wasn’t suffering from the fallout of my cycle. In desperation, I decided to try chasteberry once again, chalking up the polyps of the decade before as hopefully due to other things.
I started taking low-dose (400 mg) Vitex once a day, three weeks out of the month, and taking one week off (similar to oral contraceptives, I stop taking it when I start bleeding), as advised by my gynecologist (a nurse practitioner who also specializes in herbal therapies). I’ve been taking chasteberry for nearly nine months now and here are the results as I’ve noticed:
- My cycle did lengthen (at least temporarily) almost immediately to every 4 weeks instead of every 2 or 3 weeks.
- My PMDD is much improved (I barely have experienced any dramatic mood swings, though I still tend to get very sad the first day of my cycle).
- My PMS also became much shorter (I now usually only get it for a couple of days before I begin bleeding, with minimal breast tenderness and bloating), as well as less severe. There have even been a few months where I didn’t get any PMS whatsoever.
- I did note a few cycles where my period was a little less painful and heavy than usual (however, that might have been random because that sometimes happens anyway).
- I have less headaches throughout the month (though I still tend to get one the day before or first day of my cycle).
- I haven’t noticed any unusual adverse side effects that some sites said chasteberry can cause or contribute to, including more headaches, heavier bleeding, skin rashes, upset stomach, lowered sex drive, bladder flares (for those with Interstitial Cystitis), etc.
- I haven’t really gotten any significant mid-cycle bleeding.
- I haven’t noticed any significant or lasting improvement in the pain experienced during my actual period.
- While taking the chasteberry initially seemed to lengthen my cycle to the standard 28 days, I’ve noticed them shortening again these past few months--though not dramatically. Each month, I’ve been getting my period a few days earlier than the prior month. So that intial benefit seems to be slowly wearing off.
- Lately, my interstitial cystitis has flared, but that may be a coincidence as I think that would have happened sooner and I had a UTI last month that is probably the culprit for that.
In conclusion, the chasteberry seemed to be helpful for lengthening my cycle for awhile (though again, that effect seems to be dissipating) and helping me quite a bit with PMS/PMDD, but has done little to help my actual periods become less painful or heavy. Yet, a longer cycle and much less PMS is nothing to sneeze at. Anything that can help decrease my menstrual-related suffering is something I applaud. Of course, these are just my experiences and every system is different. What worked for me may have the opposite effect in someone else’s body. As with any herb or supplement, if you decide to try chasteberry/Vitex, proceed with caution and consult a trusted healthcare practitioner.
Has insurance ever slowed or stopped your endometriosis healthcare journey?