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Q: In a health tip on hormones, you wrote that virtually any cyclical symptom is probably caused by hormone fluctuations. You described a patient who got such severe heart palpitations that her cardiologist considered heart surgery before one herb managed to get her hormones under control. Could you tell me which herb was used and how it worked?
A: The herb is chasteberry, also called vitex. How it helps PMS is a little complicated, so bear with me.
First, there are two aspects to PMS, hormonal and serotonin-related.
Hormonal PMS is caused by an imbalance between your two sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Basically, when there’s too much estrogen and insufficient progesterone to balance it you get symptoms like breast tenderness, fluid retention, and headaches.
Serotonin PMS occurs because of the relationship between estrogen and your feel-good serotonin. Picture them attached like roller coaster cars, estrogen up front, pulling feel-good serotonin up and down. During the ten days or so before your period, estrogen levels fall, pulling down serotonin with it.
During this time you’re emotionally very vulnerable, snarky, and generally miserable. You ache for some nice dark chocolate because it will drive up your serotonin. If you already have a low-serotonin disorder (like depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, or migraine), it will likely get worse during your PMS days and improve on about the second day of your period, when your estrogen starts to rise again.
The herb chasteberry acts on your pituitary gland, the master gland whose hormones control the output of all your other glands, including the delicate balance between estrogen and progesterone. Taking chasteberry (found in my Triple Whammy PMS Formula with Chasteberry) from mid-cycle up to the start of your period usually brings PMS to a screeching halt after two or three periods.
The patient I referred to had a heart that was highly vulnerable to these internal hormone shifts. When her hormones were balanced with chasteberry, her stress-buffering serotonin didn’t plummet as violently and her palpitations stopped. Fortunately, all this occurred before she was wheeled into the operating room.