Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is a term used to describe a combination of various physical and mental symptoms that may occur in the week or two prior to menstruation. Typical features of PMS include irritability, depression, tearfulness, fatigue, food cravings, abdominal bloating, breast tenderness, fluid retention and weight gain. The condition is highly individual, with the exact blend of symptoms and their duration varying enormously between women.
One of the natural treatments that is often advocated for PMS is the mineral magnesium. In a study published recently in the journal Clinical Drug Investigation women with PMS were treated with 250 mg of magnesium a day over a 3-month period . The treatment led a reduction in PMS symptoms of about a third. However, this study was seriously hampered by not having a ‘control’ group (a group taking a placebo to compare results with), which makes drawing conclusions about the real effectiveness of magnesium impossible.
In practice, I have found magnesium of some benefit in treating PMS, but I have not found it any where as effective as the herbal remedy Agnus castus. Below, I have pasted in an article originally published in 2001 which focuses on the use of this herb in the treatment of PMS. Agnus castus is believed to help combat the hormonal imbalance known as ‘oestrogen dominance’ that in natural medicine is believed to be at the root of many cases of PMS. There is some research which supports this herb’s use in PMS. In practice, I find that it significantly reduces PMS symptoms in the vast majority of women within 2-3 menstrual cycles.
1. Quaranta S, et al. Pilot study of the efficacy and safety of a modified-release magnesium 250 mg tablet (Sincromag) for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome. Clin Drug Investig. 2007;27(1):51-8.
Agnus castus for the treatment of PMS – 30th January 2001
Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is thought to affect about 90 p.c. of women at some point in their lives, with a significant proportion of these suffering regularly from severe and debilitating symptoms. While conventional treatment for PMS is based on the Pill and antidepressants, there is evidence that increasing numbers of women are seeking a more natural approach to this problem. One of the most established natural treatments for PMS is an extract of an exotic fruit known as Agnus castus. Just this month, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a study which proved the effectiveness of this natural remedy in the treatment of PMS. Over half the women in this study had significant improvement in their symptoms, and the treatment was found to be safe and generally free of side-effects. A favourite folk remedy for hundreds of years, Agnus castus appears to be making it’s way into mainstream medicine. Now would seem to be an ideal time to examine the effects of this herb on the body, and explore its potential in the treatment of PMS and other hormone-related problems.
Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is a term used to describe a combination of various physical and mental symptoms that usually occur in the week or two prior to menstruation. Typical features of PMS include irritability, depression, tearfulness, fatigue, food cravings, abdominal bloating, breast fullness and tenderness, fluid retention and weight gain. The condition is highly individual, with the exact blend of symptoms and their duration varying considerably between women.
PMS is related to hormonal fluctuations in the second half of the menstrual cycle. One common feature of women with PMS is higher-than-normal levels of a hormone known as prolactin which is secreted by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Excess prolactin in the system can itself upset the balance of other hormones, and in particular is thought to result in a deficit of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone balances the effects of another hormone – oestrogen – in the body. A lack of progesterone can therefore give rise to a condition known as oestrogen dominance, which itself often seems to be an underlying factor in PMS.
Research from Germany shows that Agnus castus (also known as Chasteberry, Monk’s pepper and Vitex) can reduce prolactin levels and increase the production of progesterone. These effects help to correct the hormonal imbalances common in PMS, thereby helping to ease its symptoms. The recent BMJ study is not the only evidence which supports the use of Agnus castus in PMS. Last year, the Journal of Women’s Health and Gender Based Medicine published a study which examined the effect of Agnus castus in more than 1600 women. The study lasted three months, after which time 93 p.c. of the women reported an improvement in or elimination of their PMS symptoms. Four out of five women rated themselves as ‘much better’ or ‘very much better’. In keeping with these very positive findings, 85 p.c. of the doctors assessing the women rated the effectiveness of Agnus castus as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. The results of this study are even more encouraging than those of this month’s BMJ article. Interestingly, the original research used twice the dose of Agnus castus employed in the more recent study (20 mg of herb twice a day compared to only once a day).
While PMS is common, it is not the only consequence of hormonal imbalance in the female body. Many women find that the condition of their skin noticeably worsens before a period. One study dating from 1967 showed that Agnus castus may be effective in the treatment of the ‘acne flare’ common in the pre-menstrual phase. Agnus castus may also help in some cases of infertility. While female infertility may have many different causes, hormone imbalance, including high levels of prolactin and low levels of progesterone, can be a factor. Women with such imbalances may benefit from treatment with Agnus castus, though it may take a year or more for benefit to become apparent. Once pregnancy is confirmed, Agnus castus should be stopped as it may interfere with important hormone changes at this time.
Agnus castus appears to be an extremely safe and well-tolerated herb. In studies, side effect rates are low (typically between 1 ” 5 p.c.), and tend to be mild in nature. The normal recommended dose of Agnus castus is 40 mg of dried herb or 40 drops of concentrated liquid extract once a day, or 20 mg of dried herb, twice a day. Agnus castus preparations are readily available in health food stores.
I’d heard of Agnus Castus before this article and dismissed this as I was unsure whether it was safe to use if epilepsy of puberty had been experienced? Is there any truth in this.
I’ve found Agnus castus to be really helpful for me. The times when I’ve lapsed taking it is when my symptoms control my life for at least a week beforehand, and insomnia is out of control. With taking it, they are at a dramatically improved level, to the point where occasionally I’m surprised when I start bleeding, as I didn’t experience lead-up symptoms! At other times, I get some symptoms, but nowhere near the severity, I can manage it basically. I take magnesium at these times, and I think it does help my sleep, though it’s not a dramatic improvement.
Agnus castus aka Vitex is expensive 🙁 but over the last few years I think it’s worth it. The naturopath who first prescribed it to me told me that it would take six months to “condition my uterus” and then I wouldn’t need it any more: that’s definitely not true in my case; I need to keep taking it.
it’s unfortunate that everyone seems to assume that estrogen dominance is the cause of pms; for me it is definitely progesterone that makes me sad, sleepless, anxious and angry. agnus castus made pms worse for me, as did the progesterone only contraceptive pill (yes i did still have pms on the pill) and the progesterone suppositories i was prescribed for mild posnatal depression made me seriously afraid for my mental health. the only medication that’s ever made my pms better has been dianette, which is an estrogen based contraceptive pill. i now drink lots of black tea as i heard it increases estrogen. i’m still murderous for a few days a month though. going to give the magnesium a try. acupuncture has also been helpful.
I suffered for a long time with PMS, mainly anxiety, insomnia, depression, apathy etc in the 10 days leading up to my period. I started taking magnesium approx 400mg a day and saw a huge difference. My insomnia was gone and I was much more relaxed. I have also recently added dr vera’s activated b complex, take in morning and zinc citrate, take after dinner, then magnesium at night as it makes me sleepy. This combination has seen my pms disappear. I am studying nutrition so i know quite alot about these supplements and resolving my pms is how i decided to change my career towards nutrition. Good luck!
To: susie_q says: Maybe try foods high in phyto-estrogen, such as soya?
thanks for the replies! i am currently taking magnesium and hoping that it will make a difference.