Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Chaste Tree

This herb has been used for over 2500 years as a tonic for female hormonal issues. During the middle ages, the monks would chew the leaves to reduce their libido and “keep their thoughts on higher things.” The tree originates from the Mediterranean region but grows well in all sub-tropical climates.

I began using this herb about fifteen years ago. Like most nutritionists, I used it to treat PMS, irregular menstrual cycles, painful menstruation, etc. The herb was thought to have a direct effect on the ovaries so it was not used on men or postmenopausal women.

Within a couple of years, we began to use it to treat postmenopausal women, but only if they still had a least one ovary. It was very effective for hot flashes and mood swings.

Chaste Tree (or Monk’s Pepper) also had an antidotal use as a sleep aid. In addition, the full dose was given first thing in the morning rather than throughout the day like most supplements. The rationale for use and the application had been lost over the centuries.

New research on Chaste Tree was published ten years ago. The study focused on the traditional use as a sleep aid. They discovered that Chaste Tree does not directly influence the ovaries at all. Rather, it stimulates the pineal gland to make more melatonin. Clinically, melatonin production increases by 95% within two weeks.

However, the herb must be taken early in the day as sunlight is also required to stimulate melatonin production. You have to wonder how herbalist knew that Chaste Tree had to be taken early in the morning to be effective. As most of you know, melatonin is manufactured by the body all day long, but does not become active until dark. Then it helps the body quiet down and fall asleep.

Melatonin also has a modulating effect on all the sex hormones. It will not make wholesale changes but if estrogen is a little high and progesterone is a little low, then it shifts them both back toward the ideal range.

Taking melatonin is generally contraindicated, although it is quite popular. As with all HRT (hormone replacement therapy), exogenous hormones reduce the body’s hormone production. The more you take melatonin, the less you make, and the less effect it becomes as a sleep aid. The lone exception is short term use when flying across several time zones. Taken shortly before you would like to go to sleep, it helps the body adapt to time changes. It is most effective when traveling from west to east, especially if you experience at least a four hour change in the time.

For the past 10 years, I have used Chaste Tree with women of any age, during pregnancy, and breast feeding. I also use it with men. It is often the first herb I use to initially treat any hormonal imbalance. Even if it does not completely balance the endocrine system, it will be helpful. This is especially true is there is a history of insomnia.

Chaste Tree has one common side effect – vivid dreams. In fact, that is often the first sign that it is working. Many patients who claim they don’t dream, don’t remember their dreams, or dream in black and white, are thrilled by the dreams they experience when first taking Chaste Tree. Over time this effect diminishes for most, but some mild enhancement remains.

I take a tablet of Chaste Tree every morning upon arising. This is half the typical dose and is used to support andropause (male menopause).

Please do not take melatonin, unless it is to adjust to a change in time zones. If you suffer from insomnia, especially maintenance insomnia where you wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep, consider Chaste Tree.

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