Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus)
Chaste tree fruit is composed of the ripe, dried fruits of Vitex agnus castus L. Other trees and plants in the Vitex genus are typically tropical, but this species is also found in temperate areas. The tree and its berries have the name “chaste” because the fruit was long believed to be an aphrodisiac. The effects that this plant can have on the reproductive health of both men and women is largely why it remains in use to this day.
The fruit of chasteberry is widely used to relieve premenstrual symptoms and to treat infertility. It has a normalizing action on the menstrual cycle and contains nonsteroidal progestins that can interact with and activate hormone receptors in the body.
The berries contain essential oils (e.g., limonene, sabinene, 1,8-cineole [eucalyptol]), iridoid glycosides (e.g., agnoside, aucubin), diterpines (e.g., vitexilactone, rotundifuran), and flavonoids (e.g., apigenin, castican, orientin, isovitexin).
Clinical studies suggest it can reduce PMS symptoms. Preliminary data also suggest chasteberry may help reduce mastalgia. In human studies, chasteberry restores progesterone concentrations, prolongs the hyperthermic phase in the basal temperature curve, and restores the luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone test to normal. It is thought to act on the pituitary-hypothalamic axis rather than directly on the ovaries.
Chasteberry has opioidergic, dopaminergic, hepatoprotective, and antiproliferative properties in vitro.
In vitro studies have identified several flavonoids in chasteberry, especially casticin, which exerts opioidergic effects through activation of mu- and delta-opioid receptor subtypes. Casticin reduced lung inflammation in a murine model by inhibiting numbers of neutrophils, macrophages, and lymphocytes, and by reducing levels of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines.
Some evidence indicates that high doses of chasteberry decrease serum prolactin and might decrease lactation. It has been used to decrease breastmilk oversupply in Persian traditional medicine. There is evidence that aqueous-alcoholic extracts of chaste tree fruit inhibit the secretion of prolactin in vitro. Dopaminergic compounds, particularly clerodadienols, dose-dependently inhibited pituitary prolactin release, which could explain its effect during the premenstrual cycle when serum prolactin levels can be chronically elevated. Other diterpenes including rotundifuran also modulate dopamine receptors. Linoleic acid from chasteberry binds to estrogen receptors (ER) and can induce certain estrogen genes. The flavonoid apigenin was identified as the most active ER isoform-selective phytoestrogen and can also induce progestogenic activity.
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