Agnus Castus and the Healthspan review they won’t publish

I had an email from a lady who was looking for Agnus Castus 20mg tablets. I explained to her that you can no longer get them due to the EU legislation restricting dosage to 4mg under Traditional Herbal Registration (THR). She replied she could see 20mg tablets on the Healthspan website, which surprised me as the reason I stopped ordering from them is because they chose to apply for the THR, rather than the costlier Product License, which would have enabled them to continue to sell the 20mg tablets. I briefly thought they’d had a change of heart and were no longer deceiving their customers (all the clinical evidence makes it very clear the effective dosage is 20mg). I asked her to send me the link to the page, which she duly did and yes it was an advert for 20mg tablets, but my joy was short-lived as it soon became clear the page was an old one and that there was link to take you to the current Agnus Castus product at a much reduced dosage.

What Healthspan used to sell

healthspan

What they sell now

healthspan2

However, the whole thing got me riled up again because Healthspan along with Boots, Holland and Barrett etc reduced the dosage to a fifth of what it used to be without informing their customers. Did they really think customers wouldn’t notice? And if they did what does that say about their belief in the product and its ‘claimed’ benefits? Who cares as long as the schmucks buy it, perhaps? 

Saddened that women ordering from Healthspan would think AC was ineffective and end up turning to more drastic treatments e.g. antidepressants, I decided to post a review. There were already a couple of reviews on there, which remarked on the fact the tablets were no longer effective, so I hoped my review would add a little context as to why the dosage had changed.

As I suspected, the review remains blocked (forever as far as I can tell) – so here it is below:

Overall Rating:1

Product Quality:1

Value for Money:1

Ordering/Service:0

HealthSpan have reduced the active ingredient from 20mg to 4mg in line with legislation. Under Traditional Herbal Registration 4mg is the maximum dosage, despite clinical evidence that 20mg needs to be taken to gain relief. They are unfortunately bound by the THR, but they could have applied for a product license, which would have allowed them to sell 20mg tablets. However the cost of a product license is ten times higher than the THR, and profits on herbal medicines are nowhere near that of patented drugs (whose manufacturers do apply and pay for product licenses). HealthSpan could possibly have been trailblazers and gathered other herbal manufactures together to get the trial data needed for a product license (sharing the cost and putting the customer first), but they haven’t. If you buy these tablets, you will need to take five a day, if you want them to work. A small ray of hope: Dr Nick Panay, Consultant Gynaecologist, Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea and Chelsea & Westminster Hospitals, has promised to look into running a trial so that Agnus Castus can be prescribed by GP’s – that would be incredible and give weight to the guidelines he produced for GP’s recommending Agnus Castus.

However, although they blocked my review they did send me an email:

Dear Mrs O’Callaghan

Thank you for your recent enquiry regarding our products.

Firstly, we must inform you that we are not medically trained at Healthspan. Please check compatibility with your GP or Pharmacist if you are taking any prescription medication.

We can confirm the new THR products are manufactured according to evidence of traditional use from over 30 years including 15 years in Europe. The dosage, nutritional information and recommended daily intakes are all based on this accumulation of evidence.

The dose from the previous product was based on a combination of clinical trials and recommendations from our panel of experts. However now this extract has to be licensed by law we are required to adhere to the MHRA recommendations.

We have also noted your comments in your feedback and have forwarded these onto our Product Development Team.

We hope this information is of help to you and if you have any further questions please contact us.

Kind regards

Nicola Butler

Product Information Specialist

Healthspan Ltd

What I find ridiculous about their response is the fact they freely admit that when they sold 20mg tablets they did so because of sound clinical data:

The dose from the previous product was based on a combination of clinical trials and recommendations from our panel of experts

And that the 4mg dose they now sell is ONLY backed up by traditional use i.e. anecdotal evidence.

Forgive me if I sound a little peeved, but clinical data is the gold standard, so what Healthspan are admitting to is taking a backward step and selling Agnus Castus based on a poorer evidence base than they used to. On top of that they are going to charge the same amount for one 1/5 of the dose.

If they have taken that approach to Agnus Castus then you have to question whether any of the herbs they sell are actually going to be effective?

What I would love is for others to post reviews for Agnus Castus on Healthspan, questioning the effectiveness of the dosage (and why Healthspan did not flag up this massive reduction). If they won’t publish them, then come here and post it in the comments section. Maybe if they think their profits will be hurt, they may actually do something about making Agnus Castus available at the dosage they used to sell it at. Yes it will cost them, and yes the price may have to rise, but I don’t believe it will be as expensive as taking 5 TABLETS a day, which is the current option.

HEALTHSPAN are treating us like fools – are we going to let them?

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24 thoughts on “Agnus Castus and the Healthspan review they won’t publish”

  1. I have not purchased Health Span AC but I recently bought Nature’s Aid 100mg AC, I wonder if they will follow Health Span??

  2. Hi Juliet, I have just purchased from Amazon 365 tablets, 1000mg, it states each tablet contains concentrated extract from 1000mg of dried Agnus Castus berries and is standardised to guarantee 600mcg aucubins. I’ve been reading your blog and I’m still confused. All I know is, I’ve been taking these (H&B 400mg x4) each day and I can’t do without it. H & B sold out and no longer stock any. Is the Amazon dosage ok? Thank you.

    1. Hi kate, I don’t know how the dosage relates to standardised extract. It will be a case of trial and error. I do know that the standardised extract relates to whole PLANT, rather than just BERRY (which is what the one you have purchased refers to) – so you are looking for an equivalent of 200mg whole plant. Maybe you could contact the company you bought them from to find out more. Do come back and let us know if you find them effective.

  3. Hi Juliet,

    Ive bitten the bullet and purchased a sackful of Kira 4mg agnus castus tablets. I am taking 5 a day. I feel a bit nervous about taking so many pills daily especially as the packet advises against ‘exceeding the stated dose’ but can’t ignore the positive comments I’ve seen on your blog. Thanks for researching so much into this, ill keep following for more updates and hope that the tablets kick in soon.

  4. Hi everyone. I’ve never contributed to a blog before but I wanted to share that I’m also in the same position and feeling very stressed about the situation. It’s a relief to know that I’m not the only one confused by H&B’s sudden change in product. I have been taking their 1600mg a day tablets for several months (4 a day) and they have been really amazing. I’m anxious that the new tablets won’t be as effective and am worried about what it all means. I wonder if anyone can help with the below:

    My new H&B tablets say that they are “3.9mg of extract (as dry extract) from AC fruit (Vitex agnus-castus L) (equivalent to 23.4 mg -31.2 mg of AC fruit)” . The bottle has the THR symbol on it,

    The old ones said “1600mg AC (dried fruit of Vitex AC)” with the ingredients being “Vitex AC dried fruit powder”. The packaging does not have the THR symbol.

    Juliet, do the new tablets not equate to the 20mg that you mention? I’ve had trouble finding any information online and the two dosages just seem hugely different. It doesn’t make any sense.

    Any thoughts or advice would be hugely appreciated and sorry for the long post!

    Thanks

    1. I don’t understand the dosage on the old H&B tablets – 4 a day sounds a lot to take and expensive – but the fact they were working is the main thing. The new ones are restricted by Herbal Registration Monograph and therefore you will definitely need 5 tablets to ensure effectiveness (as agnus castus trials have shown 20mg to be the optimal amount). I am buying mine from Prime Heath Direct as they are still selling 20mg tablets, but other women have found Nature’s Aid to be effective and if you ring them, rather than use their website, you will find they have a higher dose tablet in stock. What I would definitely do is write to H&B and ask them to explain how the new dosage compares to the old. If they care about their customers and believe in their products then they should be able to justify this change. Good luck.

      1. Hi, I have posted previously regarding H&B 1600 mg. I felt great too and I’m now taking 2000 mg of Lindens tablets available from Amazon in a sachet of 1000 mg. tablets. These also are made from the dried fruit of Agnus Castus. The 20mg effective dose you talk about, is this the whole plant extract? There is confusion over what is the effective part as well as the dosage. I’m not sure that I feel quite as good on these as the H&B ones but that maybe either psychological or I haven’t given them enough time yet. Regards, Kate.

  5. Hi Kate, I have bought the lindens ones too. I started them on Monday and I’ve definitely got a few more spots 😦 I’ve just tried to ring them to ask how theirs compares to H&B but I can’t get through. It’s all so confusing!

    Emma

    1. Hi Emma, I’ve had more spots too but Ive also changed my skincare products so I thought it was that! New tabs could be the cause though. I think it’s too soon to tell if these will be as good as the defunct H&B ones.

  6. Hello Juliet (from Healthspan)

    Sorry for any misunderstanding about your review not being published. Our review guidelines are that we publish reviews from people who have bought that specific product- something that we check- so that people researching a product can hear the experience of a verified purchaser, rather than opinions of a particular ingredient/strength in similar products from other suppliers. We are currently moving to a new review system that should make this whole process much clearer.

    Our introduction of this strength of Agnus Castus, as you have pointed out, is due to then-new European legislation which required us to make this change- this blog post from that time explains our position and issues well: http://anh-europe.org/news/eu-herbal-directive-forces-predictable-price-rises-and-customer-discontent

    If you would like to discuss the benefit of different strengths/dosages of Agnus Castus, then you are more than welcome to do so in the comments section of Nutrition Expert: http://nutritionexpert.healthspan.co.uk/thr-your-questions-answered and we invite you to do so. These comments are moderated to make sure they are appropriate, so please bear with us if there is a delay between posting and them appearing on-site.

    1. Hi Healthspan, I really appreciate your response. I have bought Agnus Castus from you in the past, however I accept I have not bought the recent tablets (because of their drastically reduced dosage). I do have a couple of questions to ask: Firstly, why didn’t you make it clear on the product pages that the active ingredients had been reduced? I appreciate you spoke with The Alliance of Natural Health about your frustrations since the EU directive as in the blog post you link to, but there is nothing on the product page to indicate the dose had been reduced by 4/5th’s. This is bound to make your customers suspicious and assume that the profit is more important. Secondly what is the herbal industry (and I mean the big players like you, Boots etc) doing about this erosion of choice? The only people these directives are benefitting are pharma companies as taking a herbal dose at a reduced amount will not work, meaning that customers will take patented drugs e.g. Prozac in the case of PMT. And finally, have you considered applying for a Product License? I know the cost is huge, but again cooperation between large companies could be a way forward. I am currently in discussions with Dr Nick Panay about getting a registration trial up and running so that Agnus Castus can be prescribed. If would be great to see herbal companies working towards this common goal because Agnus Castus is truly incredible for many, many women. I fear a future where this herb is no longer known about or dismissed as ineffective.

      1. When we moved our range in line with the THR regulations, we did contact purchasers of our affected herbal products to make them aware of the changes- apologies if these changes were not made clear enough at the time (it was some time ago now and it is difficult to clearly demonstrate how much detail we went into.)

        Your suggestion of getting a product license is just one of the considerations we looked at. We had to make a choice between simply stopping selling these products or continuing to supply our customers with certain herbal products. Developing our range of THR products was a significant investment given the quantities that we sell and resulted in unpopular price increases- applying for a product license beyond this is prohibitively expensive. The example of Napiers shows how real this commercial aspect is: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/uncertain-future-for-herbal-remedy-firm-hit-by-eu-laws.17295890

        Whatever the political/commercial motivations behind the introduction of THR regulations, they have been poorly policed by the authorities and your articles show that the overall benefit to the consumer is unclear. Consumers benefit from us being allowed to say what Agnus Castus can be taken for (which we are not for, say, Evening Primrose Oil) but pay the higher price for the license registration.

  7. Notice how they dismiss the concept of product licensing as being “prohibitively expensive” but fail to comment on Juliet’s suggestion “cooperation between large companies could be a way forward”.

    This short termism will mean the death of the industry. Unless the herbal manufacturers join together in cooperative partnerships, people will learn that their products are ineffective, their profits will crash and the industries will die.

    I think the only possible reason for this attitude is rather like how the upper echelons of the Church of England are indistinguishable from atheists: the CEOs of these firms don’t _believe_ in their products; they think that the public take them for placebo effects and will carry on buying the weaker varieties. If that is true, they are sadly mistaken.
    Most CEOs of big pharmaceuticals know nothing of science; the same is probably true of these companies.

    Let’s hope the UK gets out of the EU sooner rather than later.

  8. I appreciate your engagement in this discussion, Healthspan – but I want to know what you are doing to make things better for the consumer? I understand the costs of a PL, but equally don’t see the commercial viability of selling a product at a level of dosage that won’t work. I stopped buying from you for this very reason. I do agree with the comment above that this is short termism. Customers won’t return if the product doesn’t work and will seek other options – hence the thousands of hits a month I get on this blog. A large company like you has the ability to make a noise and to join forces with others to make things happen. Agnus Castus is a good place to start.

  9. Thanks Juliet and brwims.

    Your comments highlight the conundrum we faced when these regulations came in: do we stop selling Agnus Castus (and 10 other products) or invest in continuing to sell these products under a license- a license which, based on available research and traditional usage, has been confirmed by EFSA as an effective dosage? (which we can see you contest- it’s great that you are involved with helping to drive some more research in this area.)

    Our decision to invest in the new licenses demonstrates that we were keen to continue to provide this to our customers- the strength of the new product is stipulated by the license and this change applies to all consumers of THR Agnus Castus- we’re unsure what more could have been done by us on this front.

    More and more supplement companies are coming to the end of their non-THR herbal stock which they were able to continue to sell on the sell-through regulation: as more consumers become aware of this there may well be a groundswell of opinion from both consumers and more specialist herbal supplement suppliers/manufacturers. There are many fronts on which Healthspan could be fighting about regulation of different products and services in our industry but the inevitable consequence is that these all lead to price increases, which we are keen to avoid.

    Where the regulations are reviewed, we do reintroduce products: for example we now sell both a THR Saw Palmetto and a non-THR Saw Palmetto. As appropriate opportunities arise for other products, we will aim to do so to offer customers the best range we can.

    1. Then I suggest that the only fair way to proceed is to produce a bottle of pills equal in content and price to what the previous bottle contained, along with a note of how many pills are now required to equal what the previous pill or capsule contained.

      So if a bottle of 100 20mg extract pills cost £x then sell a bottle of 500 4mg extract pills for £x and put on the label in big, bold letters “Due to EU regulations, you now need to take 5 of these pills to equal the former single pill” or some such.

      Regardless of research on effective dosages, that is the only way to provide an equivalent product.

  10. Thanks for your response Brian, the problem is Healthspan cannot recommend 5 tablets a day because the THR restricts what they can say on the dosage advice. In order to sell 20mg tablets you need a product license (the same as all medicines), but this involves a registration trial and it is around 10 times as costly as obtaining the THR. I do see the dilemma the herbal industry face, but I see a bigger dilemma in the near future as customers turn away from herbal remedies altogether and then there will be no industry left.This is bad for all those who are employed in the industry and those who need these herbs – without Agnus Castus my life is very difficult and one I don’t want to go back to. I am really pleased that Healthspan are engaging in this conversation – it is a good place to start. However, I also feel strongly that Healthspan (and the herbal industry in general) needs to do more to push for a change in the law and lobby for government to invest in research trials so that herbal remedies can take their place alongside existing medicines.

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