Knowledgebase: Supplements
Agnus castus or Black Cohosh
Posted by Robert Redfern on 15 October 2014 04:42 AM

Agnus castus: Marriage Saviour

by Alison Cullen

Agnus castus flowerMany women, and men for that matter, are well aware thatAgnus castus is good for women’s hormones. I used to have a neighbour who would come round and beg for more Agnus for his wife, as it was the only thing that kept her PMS within reasonable bounds and therefore made his life worth living.

What people don’t necessarily realise is that Agnus is amazing for a particular type of PMS, not every type of PMS. The type my neighbour’s wife had was typical of the sort of thing Agnus is great for:

  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Sore breasts
  • Fluid retention

And then heavy, painful periods to boot. Not so much fun. But Agnus is really effective in these circumstances; normally you will see improvements within 1-3 cycles, which isn’t bad going.

If, however, you have light periods, on a longer rather than shorter cycle (i.e. more than 4 weeks apart rather than less than 4 weeks apart), and get tired, sad and weepy rather than angry and irritable before your period, Agnus castus is not for you. You need Black Cohosh instead. 

  • Agnus castus: Anger and Irritability, Heavy Periods, Short Cycle
  • Black Cohosh: Tired and Sad, Lighter Periods, Longer Cycle

How to take Agnus castus

  • Take the tincture if you want it to work fast.
  • Take it every day of your cycle, not just the week before your period, as it needs to balance the hormones over the whole cycle.
  • Once the symptoms have gone completely, stop taking it. You can start again if the symptoms return.

When not to take Agnus castus

Please don’t take Agnus castus, or Black Cohosh, or any other hormone-balancing herb if you are using hormonal contraceptives, such as the Pill, the mini Pill, the contraceptive injection, the coil, or an implant.

Don’t take Agnus castus or any hormone-balancing herb if you are on hormonal medication such as anticancer treatments.

The reason for these contraindications is that contraceptives and other hormonal medications work by deliberately imbalancing your hormones. Agnus castus (or any other hormonal herb) is likely to rebalance them, preventing the medication from working. Not a good idea if you don’t want babies.

Women’s Hormones

During the first half of your cycle, oestrogen levels rise. Oestrogen thickens the lining of the womb in anticipation of an implanted egg. Once oestrogen reaches a certain level you ovulate and progesterone is then secreted by the ruptured egg sac. The role of progesterone is to stabilise the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) during the second half of your cycle. When no fertilised egg is implanted, levels of both hormones fall and you menstruate.

Progesterone does more than just look after your womb lining. Here are some of its other roles

  • It helps to rebuild bone, by stimulating osteoblasts (bone-forming cells)
  • It helps to regulate blood sugar levels, thereby preventing hunger and cravings
  • It has a sedative effect on brain chemicals, promoting calmer moods

You can see that having the right amount of progesterone is quite useful for a healthy life as a woman. There are many reasons why you might not have enough progesterone in your system.

  • You have been on the general Pill (the one you take for three weeks and then leave off for a week)
  • You have a high sugar intake – this is associated with higher oestrogen levels and more PMS symptoms
  • You are obese – body fat contains an enzyme that helps create oestrogen, so the more fat you have the more oestrogen you’ll make, which will affect your oestrogen/ progesterone ratio
  • Your liver isn’t breaking down oestrogen properly – one reason for this can be a lack of vitamin B and magnesium

Taking Agnus castus will help your body to produce more progesterone. This is not the same as taking a synthetic form of progesterone as a supplement: Agnus castus makes your body do the work itself, and produce its own progesterone. This is a more natural approach that makes it more likely your body will continue the good work on its own once you stop taking Agnus castus.

Other things you can do to help yourself include:

  • Reduce your intake of refined sugar – switch to dried fruit instead, which is full of useful nutrients
  • Supplement with B vitamins and magnesium too
  • Avoid caffeine and drink more water
  • Start doing some gentle exercise for 10-20 minutes each day
  • Take a liver supporting herb such as Milk Thistle for a couple of months
  • If your periods are very heavy, take a natural iron supplement to support your iron levels and prevent fatigue

If you have been on the Mini Pill or Depo-Provera injection, you may have unnaturally high progesterone/ low oestrogen levels, causing irregular, light periods and low mood.

Agnus castus in the menopause

Agnus castus is not as frequently used in the menopause as other herbs such as Black Cohosh. It is useful, however, if your periods are coming more often than before in the run-up to the menopause, and/or they are getting heavier.

Remember that the menopause is an ongoing process and although you may need Agnus castus at the start, if you get the heavier, more frequent periods, it won’t be appropriate all the way through. Once your oestrogen levels start to fall, Agnus castus is no longer the right herb. It won’t work for hot flushes, low mood or low libido, which are signs of low oestrogen. Black Cohosh is the right remedy for these symptoms.

Agnus castus for teenage boys

It may not sound as if Agnus castus would have any relevance for men, but actually men produce progesterone too. This is used to prevent testosterone from converting into an inflammatory type of testosterone that can cause inflammatory acne in teenage boys. So if your son/grandson/nephew is plagued by red, angry-looking pustules pop him on some Agnus castus for a couple of months and see if it helps. It certainly won’t do any harm, and he’ll love you to bits if it works. 

Agnus castus research

A large body of evidence supports the use of Agnus castus in the treatment of PMS, a variable complex of symptoms affecting up to 40% of fertile women.

According to one German trial, 93% of the study participants reported that their PMS symptoms either decreased or disappeared altogether after treatment with Agnus castus over the course of three menstrual cycles.

The 1,634 study participants had their symptoms recorded on questionnaires completed by physicians, designed to determine the effect of Agnus castus on psychological and physical symptoms and the four classic symptom complexes, defined as depression, anxiety, craving and hyperhydration (DACH). Improvement was assessed according to the standard Clinical Global Impression Scale, which allows patients to rate symptomatic change on a scale of one to seven (very much improved to very much worse).

At the end of the trial, statistically significant decreases were observed in the frequency of all symptoms and DACH complexes.

  • 42% of the patients reported that they were no longer affected by PMS
  • A further 51% had a decrease in symptoms
  • 86% of the physicians involved notes that Agnus castus treatment had “a pronounced efficacy”
  • 81% of participants rated their status after treatment as “very much or much better”
  • 94% of the women rated Agnus castus as good or very good with regard to tolerability, with no serious side effects reported

Loch E-G, Selle H, Boblitz N. Journal of Women’s Health and Gender-Based Medicine 2000; 9 (3): 315-20.

In an interesting aside, the authors suggest that Agnus castus may have had a positive effect on fertility for some women who had trouble becoming pregnant before the trial. They note, “Data from this trial support the occasionally described restoration of fertility by Agnus castus treatment. No woman was pregnant at the start of the therapy, and 19 of the 23 women who conceived whilst on Agnus castus treatment belonged to the group of 126 women who had been to date unsuccessful at becoming pregnant. “

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