Herbal Treatments for PMS: Chasteberry Extract, Evening Primrose OIl, and More
What's popular -- and what the research shows -- about herbal remedies for PMS.
Herbal remedies for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are among the vitamins and supplements women spend billions on each year.
Of women who buy supplements, 4% do so to alleviate symptoms of PMS, according to one report. Some of the things they turn to include chaste tree extract (chasteberry), evening primrose oil , black cohosh , and St. John's wort to chase away the premenstrual blues.
Do they work? Maybe.
There isn't conclusive scientific research about their effectiveness in curbing PMS symptoms. In the U.S., herbal supplements aren't required to prove their efficacy and aren't regulated by the FDA in the same way as prescription drugs .And there doesn't seem to be a consensus about the amounts to take to get the maximum benefit from any of these herbs.
WebMD asked doctors who specialize in treating PMS what they think about herbal treatments and other natural approaches to treating PMS.
PMS refers to physical and psychological symptoms that typically occur between 7 and 14 days before a woman's period starts and can last through her period.Those symptoms include headache , mood swings, irritability, bloating , cramps, sadness, indigestion, carb cravings, breast tenderness and pain, and sleep problems.
Every woman is different. Most, but not all, have experienced PMS symptoms to some degree, at some point. But not all get the same symptoms, and those symptoms range in severity between women, and even from month to month.
About 75% of menstruating women have some symptoms of PMS occasionally, while 5% report symptoms that are severe enough to mess up most of their month.
The exact cause of PMS is not known, but it is thought to be related to changes in hormone levels related to the menstrual cycle. Women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) experience symptoms such as depressed mood, tension, and other symptoms that are typically more severe than those seen with PMS. PMDD is usually treated with antidepressants and in some cases birth control pills.
Herbal Supplements for PMS
Of the herbal supplements mentioned in connection with PMS symptoms, chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) has gained the most traction with scientists for easing PMS-related breast pain . Chasteberry is a shrub that grows in southern Europe and Central Asia.
A few studies have shown that women treated with chasteberry extract reported less breast pain, bolstering the theory that chasteberry suppresses the release of prolactin, a hormone involved in breast milk production that's been linked to breast pain. It may also help with swelling, cramps, and food cravings. Another small study showed that chasteberry, combined with St. Johns' wort, lowered levels of depression , anxiety , and cravings.
Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis), which contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), is often mentioned as an antidote to breast pain, but there's insufficient evidence that it works.