In my last post I covered the recent study on Vitex agnus-castus also called chaste berry or chaste tree and it's effect on PMS. It was also reprinted on Green Med Info. Green Med Info is a great website bringing together a huge number of medical studies. That exposure lead to me receiving some questions about chaste berry. The one that caused me to be really curious was "Does taking chaste berry cause hair loss?" No where in my experience had I heard of chaste berry causing hair loss. So I started to search the literature for this side effect. With a general Google search I found the reference to hair loss and chaste berry every where. There were people on chat boards asking about it, it was listed as a side effect on over half the websites that came up with the search 'Vitex hair loss'. However, misinformation on the web is rampant and that includes herbs.
I did a Pubmed search of chaste berry and alopecia and came up with nothing.
There was also no mention of hair loss on the websites:
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
I checked through the archives of the professional herbalist group I belong to and found no reference to it there either.
It was not listed in:
The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety by Mills and Bone
However it was listed in the Natural Standard database's list of possible side effects for chaste berry. This list does seem over cautious, though.
Vitex agnus-castus Possible side effects:
Acne, agitation, alopecia, circulatory disorders depressed mood, diarrhea, dry mouth, eczema, fatigue, fibroid growth, flatulence (gas), headache, heartburn, hot flashes, increased intra-ocular pressure, itching, mastalgia, menstrual bleeding, menstrual cycle changes, nausea, palpitations, nosebleeds, pelvic disease polyuria pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), rash, seizure, skin eruptions, sweating, tachycardia, urticaria, vaginitis, vertigo, vomiting, weight gain.
So with some sleuthing I found a reference to hair loss and chaste berry. It occurred in the study Treatment of premenstrual syndrome with a phytopharmaceutical formulation containing Vitex agnus castus.
A non-interventional review of 1,634 female German patients suffering from PMS who were treated with a vitex preparation. Questionnaires, completed by the physician at baseline and after three menstrual cycles, evaluated the symptoms of PMS and efficacy of herbal supplement. Results indicate that a reduction in PMS symptoms including depression, anxiety, bloating, and headache occurred. Reported adverse events included 13 cases of skin symptoms (pruritus, rash, eczema, hair loss) and 6 reports of mild gastrointestinal complaints (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain).
It does not say how many of the 13 experienced hair loss, just 13 subjects experiences skin symptoms and hair loss was listed as one of them. That is a pretty rare side effect! If we include ALL side effects for the study it would 1.2%!
I have to conclude that if chaste berry does cause hair loss it is an extremly rare side effect.
J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000 Apr;9(3):315-20.
Treatment of premenstrual syndrome with a phytopharmaceutical formulation containing Vitex agnus castus.
Loch EG, Selle H, Boblitz N.
SourceDeutsche Klinik für Diagnostik, Wiesbaden, Germany.
Abstract: A multicentric noninterventional trial (open study without control) to investigate the efficacy and tolerance of a drug in a large number of patients under routine medical conditions was performed for a new solid preparation from an extract of the fruit of Vitex agnus castus (VAC, Vitex, chaste tree, Chasteberry) in 1634 patients suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS). A specific questionnaire was developed for determining the effect of Vitex on psychic and somatic complaints, on the four characteristic PMS symptom complexes depression, anxiety, craving, and hyperhydration (DACH), and on single groups of symptoms. After a treatment period of three menstrual cycles 93% of patients reported a decrease in the number of symptoms or even cessation of PMS complaints. To a certain extent, this effect was observed within all symptom complexes and correlated with the global assessment of therapeutic efficacy. Whereas 85% of physicians rated it as good or very good, 81% of patients assessed their status after treatment as very much or much better. Analysis of frequency and severity of mastodynia as the predominant symptom revealed that complaints still present after 3 months of therapy were mostly less severe. Ninety-four percent of patients assessed the tolerance of Vitex treatment as good or very good. Adverse drug reactions were suspected by physicians in 1.2% of patients, but there were no serious adverse drug reactions. Hence, the risk/benefit ratio of the new Vitex preparation can be rated as very good, with significant efficacy for all aspects of the multifaceted and inhomogeneous clinical picture of PMS, with a safety profile comparable to other Vitex preparations.
PMID:10787228[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]