Chaste Tree Berry
This herb--also known as Vitex agnus castus, hemp tree and monk's pepper--has been called the single most important herb in the treatment of PMS. 4 It has been used for the treatment of menstrual irregularities, painful menstruation, and breast pain.5
Chaste Tree Berry affects primarily the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus.4 Although several hormones have been identified in other parts of the plant, in the fruit, there is an active principle that has dopamine-like activity and inhibits prolactin release, thus increasing progesterone in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.5 During a normal menstrual cycle, progesterone production should outstrip estrogen production in the half of the cycle following ovulation. It has been speculated that if it does not women develop a condition called "estrogen dominance" and PMS symptoms.
Two surveys of its efficacy were done on 1,542 women who took a liquid extract (42 drops daily) for spans up to 16 years. The patients' doctors rated its effectiveness as either very good, good or satisfactory in 92% of cases.4 Further clinical confirmation of it's effectiveness for PMS can be found in the work of Hardy6 and Gaster7.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil, Oenothera biennis, is derived from the plants' seeds and is valued for its oil-containing essential fatty acids. These include linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Women with PMS have been shown to have impaired conversion of linoleic acid to GLA.8 Because a deficiency of GLA might be a factor in PMS and because evening primrose oil (EPO) contains significant amounts of GLA, researchers have studied EPO as a potential way to reduce PMS symptoms. In several double blind studies, EPO was found to be beneficial,9, 10, 11, 12 whereas in other studies it was no more effective than placebo.13, 14
Despite these conflicting results, many nutritionally-oriented doctors do recommend EPO. The usual amount recommended is 3–4 grams per day. EPO seems to work best when used over several menstrual cycles and may be more helpful in women with PMS who also experience breast tenderness or fibrocystic breast disease.15 As purely anecdotal evidence, your Guide had relief of all PMS symptoms, including mood swings, after just one month of using EPO.
As was mentioned previously, it is suspected that estrogen dominance in the luteal phase may be responsible for PMS symptoms. Following this line of reasoning, several physicians, including John R. Lee and Jesse Hanley, have recommended natural progesterone creams for PMS. Although this practice is somewhat controversial, many women do report relief.
Natural progesterone is manufactured from a substance found in wild yams called diosgenin. Its name does not come, however, from the fact that it is plant-derived. Unlike the synthetic hormones available by prescription, natural progesterone is chemically identical to what is found in the human body. Hence, it is exactly the same substance as our own natural progesterone.
There has been quite a bit of controversy as to whether natural progesterone creams are actually absorbed through the skin and thus available to the body. One study which John Lee cites as evidence that it is absorbed is a 1995 study conducted by K. J. Chang, in which women used various combinations of hormone creams before breast surgery. This study revealed that not only did hormone levels in the breast rise, but estrogen-induced proliferation of breast cells (the first step towards breast cancer) was inhibited by the natural progesterone creams.16
The arguments for using natural progesterone to enhance women's health are very compelling, but too complex to properly address in this article. If you desire to learn more about natural progesterone, it is recommend that you read What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause, by Dr. John Lee.17
There are several other herbs that have been traditionally used for women's health throughout history, but have been less well-studied. These include Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis), a traditional Chinese medical herb used for cramps, irregularity, retarded flow, and weakness related to the menstrual cycle and for menopausal symptoms1; Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), which is thought to raise progesterone levels4; and Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), which has components that exhibit estrogen-like activity and are precursors to progesterone.5 Additional herbs that may be of interest include Kava Kava (Piper methysticum), which exhibits anxiolytic and sedative properties1, 2, 6 and Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), which may aid with sleep and relaxation.18