Chasteberry and Acne

The chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is native to parts of Asia and Europe, and is often used in North America as a shrub. The flowers, fruit, and leaves all have active polyphenols, including essential fatty acids and alkaloids, that offer a number of health benefits, but primarily it is the fruit that is used. It was traditionally used in ancient Greece, Rome, and Persia to lower libido, treat menstrual disorders and other hormonal problems, and as an antimicrobial agent against infections.1

Chasteberry Regulates Androgens and Prolactin

Preliminary study evidence indicates that chasteberry (also known as vitex) can help treat premenstrual, hormonal light and moderate acne. An added benefit is that it also helps control premenstrual mood swings by modulating the hormone prolactin with the neurotransmitter dopamine.2-3 The fruit and seed of the chaste tree contain polyphenols that indirectly affect hormones and also neurotransmitters related to mood.4

Studies have shown that when taken orally, the whole fruit extract of chaste tree naturally regulates the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, considered to be follicle-stimulating.2,3 Balancing androgen sex hormones is important in terms of acne because increased androgens can stimulate excess sebum production and acne.5

Chasteberry Contains Natural Antibacterial and Sebum-Controlling Linoleic Fatty Acids

Chasteberry’s bioactive essential oils also have antibacterial properties.4 Chasteberry also contains linoleic fatty acids, which may also help regulate sebum since low levels of linoleic acid in sebum is considered to be a cause of acne.5

Safety

Evidence suggests that appropriate topical and oral supplemental use of chasteberry is probably safe for most people. Side effects are minimal (e.g., upset stomach or skin rash), but pregnant and nursing women should not take this herb.4

Although preliminary research suggests that chasteberry’s hormonal properties may help inhibit hormone-sensitive cancer cells, its effects are still not completely understood. For safety’s sake, women who are pregnant, undergoing in vitro fertilization, or who have hormone-sensitive conditions (e.g., breast cancer, uterine cancer, and fibroids) should not take chasteberry.4 It may also interfere with oral contraceptive pills and dopaminergic modulators and should be avoided by those who use these medications.1

How to Use

Experts recommend taking 40 mg/day first thing in the morning or 20 mg twice daily.1-2 Vitamin B6 is often taken with chasteberry for an added anti-acne benefit.3 It is a slow-acting herb and needs to be taken consistently for at least six months to see a response.1 You can also try making an herbal tea. Steep or boil 5-30 grams of the dry herb per cup of water and drink 2-3 cups a day.1

In addition Chasteberry seed extract has been safely used topically to prevent mosquito and other bug bites but its topical benefit for acne has not been studied.4

Studies indicate that chasteberry may be able to help horses diagnosed with Cushing’s disease or other hormonal disorders. Doses of 10-30 mL each morning are recommended.1


References:
  1. Wynn, Susan G. and Fougère, Barbara. Veterinary herbal medicine. s.l.: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2007. ISBN 0323029981, 9780323029988.
  2. Reuter, Juliane, Merfort, Irmgard and Schempp, Christoph M. Am J Clin Dermatol. 11(4): Botanicals in Dermatology: An Evidence-Based Review. Medscape Today. [Online] 2010. [Cited: January 18, 2011.] http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/723144_2.
  3. Yarnell, Eric and Abascal, Kathy. Alternative & Complementary Therapies: Herbal Medicine for Acne Vulgaris. Touro Institute. [Online] December 2006. [Cited: January 19, 2011.] http://touroinstitute.com/herbs%20and%20acne.pdf.
  4. Therapeutic Research Faculty. Chasteberry Full Monograph. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. [Online] 2011. [Cited: January 21, 2011.] http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?cs=&s=ND&pt=100&id=968&ds=&name=CHASTEBERRY&searchid=24753930.
  5. Layton, A.M. Disorders of the Sebaceous Glands. [ed.] D.A. Burns, et al. Rook’s Textbook of Dermatology. 8th. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2010, Vol. 2, 42. ISBN: 978-1-4051-6169-5.
However, evidence suggests that chasteberry may slowly increase fertility in women with progesterone deficiency.
 
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