Tag Archives: research evidence

Why I am delighted my period is an inconvenience

I have had a rather stressful week in terms of my doctorate. I was dreading all the things I had to get done and all the things I had committed to, one of which was running staff training in a school I do not know to prepare the teachers to deliver the intervention I am testing for my thesis research – eek!

So Monday morning I am up at 6am after a restless night to find I have come on. Not great timing, but two paracetamol and lots of padding later, I am out the door and the week has begun. Roll forward to Thursday night. I can finally breathe out. I survived the week and on the whole everything went to plan. The training was well received and I am confident I have given my research the best start I could. All the other stuff went OK too.

Lying in bed last night – I reflected on how much I now take for granted that my period although an inconvenience, will not interfere with my daily plans. Yet, only a few or so years ago the thought of being able to do all the things I did this week, whilst on a period would have been inconceivable. Some days I was in so much pain I vomited for hours, and you don’t want to know what was going on at the other end. I am not even sure I would be doing this doctorate if it weren’t for Agnus Castus.

So it was timely that I was thinking about how much Agnus Castus has changed my life and how I much I now take this for granted, when this response came into my message box.

I would just like to say how much Vitex Chasteberry (agnus castus) has changed my life. I’m 34 yrs old and a mother of 7 (2 that are bonus children 🙂 ). I’m from the US and just like you mentioned where you live there is no support from OBGYN or doctors concerning PMS or PMDD. Everyone just wants to hand out antidepressants, prescription drugs. I spent many years with my homes in turmoil, bad relationships, divorce. After my 5th child, I had severe postpartum depression and could not hardly work or handle my busy demanding home life. I finally started researching and found help for my anxiety and severe mood swings. After a combination or GABA calm, Magnesium/Calcium, Fish Oil, and Vitex Chasteberry made by “Natural Factors” in Canada. I’m a whole new mom and woman. You do have to be very careful with herbs (as they are very potent) and on the right does and it’s trial and error but, after being on the Chasteberry for 6 months now I have experienced myself with it and without, and when I stop taking it even for a few days the horrible PMS mood swings start again/anxiety etc. It was my hormones all these years.. I can’t believe after all the doctors I sought help with, not one recommended something as cheap and simple as this.

My personal experience was I started on two 80 mg capsules starting out for the first 6 months (1-morning, 1-night), my cramping improved dramatically, bleeding much better, and my PMDD only occurred a day or two before (severe depression, mood swings) I started my cycle and was still so much better than it had been. ( I had results within a few days, a week maybe) I was so much better and happy, the only thing that started to happen was my sex drive was really low and my periods started to act premenopausal. I was kind of emotionally “robotic” I would say. Then dropped back to only 1 chasteberry a day and this corrected this. I believe was taking too high of a dose, for whatever reason I didn’t have enough hormones releasing. I also use essential oils as well, Clary Sage and I believe this helps balance my moods as well. I’m glad you are sharing this message, It changes homes, marriages, our children! This is affected me so much I want to get the word out and help anyone I can. I do believe a person should find a good herbalist or naturalist to begin with that can help find the right combination though.

God Bless!
Jennifer

Thank you Jennifer for sharing your story. And I agree – it is unbelievable that despite the evidence for Agnus Castus and the fact (certainly in the UK) GP’s have been sent guidelines on PMT (from the National Association of Pre-menstrual Syndrome) which clearly states that Agnus Castus should be tried before anti-depressants, this is still not happening and many women are needlessly taking anti-depressants with their well documented side effects.

I guess it is up to us to spread the word. Thanks for reminding me.

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Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part One

Becoming an Educational Psychologist is incredible and exhausting. No half term holiday for starters. But I am so glad I made the decision to leave teaching if only so I can stop saying:

I have a psychology degree but I am not a psychologist.

This time last year I had just completed the application form after digging out my ancient degree certificate, momentarily panicking that degrees have a shelf life and mine had expired. I’d toyed a few times with applying over the fourteen years I had been teaching, but talked myself out of it because we couldn’t afford to lose my wage. This time round the loss of my wage remained an issue , but at 43 it felt like a now or never moment. On top of that the odds of me actually getting a place first time around were extremely low.

I got a place. It was like winning the lottery, but without the money 🙂

So how are we managing without my wage? Well I do get a relatively substantial bursary (around 1/3 of my previous wage) and a student railcard, student bank account with free overdraft, 25% discount on Council Tax and student discount in Top Shop (although I would prefer M&S).  However to  make ends meet (particularly as our two children are at university and their maintenance loan doesn’t even cover their rent) a house move to something smaller is imminent. I am so lucky to have such a supportive husband, who encourages me all the way despite the pressure it has put on him to bring home the dosh.

I don’t think I will ever take for granted how privileged I am to be able to study full time and not have to juggle a job at the same time. The course is pretty full on with so many strands to get my head around like research methods and statistics, carrying out psychological assessments, placement competencies, RLO’s and SOP’s (don’t ask), as well as the academic stuff – theories, models, frameworks.

This half-term the focus has been on literacy and Wow! I have learnt so much?

WARNING! Nerdy stuff coming up.

Written English is one of the most difficult alphabetic scripts to learn? This makes it much harder for children to learn how to read and write than say for example children in Spain. This is because in Spanish the grapheme to phoneme correspondence is 1:1 – this means ONE letter makes ONE sound. In the English alphabet the ratio is 1 to many – this means the same letter (or letter combinations) can have many different sounds.

For example: “He took a bow.” “She wore a red bow in her hair.”

However, that doesn’t mean we should be trying to teach pre-schoolers to read , rather research has found that developing oral language significantly improves later reading comprehension.

In other words in the early years of a child’s life focusing on developing oral story telling skills is much more important for later reading comprehension than actually learning to read the words in a book.

It makes sense if you think about it.

Learning to decode letters and words on a page and understanding what punctuation marks mean is an example of transcription skills. Everyone needs them, but they alone don’t make someone or something literate. For example there are many computer programmes that can convert text to speech and read a novel, but the computer couldn’t produce a summary of the main plot points of the story (the emotional resonance). The research suggests the more words a child knows (vocabulary) before they begin to read the easier it will be for them to derive meaning from the story. And the more a child understands about story structure and how ideas link to each other the easier it will be for them to pick up what is happening in the book (the main plot points) and make predictions about what might happen next.

These comprehension skills are vital if children are going to move from learning to read, to reading to learn.

That doesn’t mean we can just let children get on with it in terms of ‘transcription’ skills. Learning to make sense of the written version of language is not innate. Alphabetic scripts (or orthographies) are relatively new in human evolution. While a child will pick up oral language without having to be directly taught it (as long as they are exposed to it), they will not spontaneously learn to read and write. For children to learn to read they must be taught the grapheme: phoneme correspondence (letter to sound), hence the evangelical focus on phonics by the government. The research certainly backs this up, but also recognises the English language is eccentric to say the least and many words are not regular and just need to be learnt (whole word recognition).

I know there is a lot of debate amongst teachers and parents about compulsory phonics with some claiming it is hindering progress, but the research does not support this view.

For a reading programme to be effective for the majority of children it must contain both phonetic and whole word recognition components.

Phonics is the tool for deciphering new words and while it can only take you so far in being able to decode unfamiliar words, good comprehension skills will aid in this by allowing the child to access the content and meaning of the sentence. Whereas as if a child has good transcription skills but poor comprehension, they will have to rely on decoding skills alone and this will become frustrating and they are likely to give up because the word won’t ‘sound out’ and make sense.

So my take on this is in terms of advice is that parents of pre-school children should focus on generating stories from pictures so the child can learn how to build a coherent narrative. This will increase their vocabulary as they search for words to express their ideas, which in turn will make comprehension of written English that bit easier once they start school.

And finally…. I now understand the reason for the made up words in phonics assessment (which also creates fierce debate from teachers and parents). It is to test if the child’s grapheme to phoneme knowledge is secure. This is vital for decoding new words. The problem is this assessment has become high stakes politically and therefore rather than schools using it as diagnostic, they are focusing on getting as many children through as possible. It should be viewed as a checkpoint so those children who are still struggling can be helped with specific interventions, not as a measure of how ‘good’ the school is.

If you got this far do you have any views on how literacy is taught in primary schools?

Agnus Castus: Agnus Castus Support – when things are too good to be true…

A friend sent me a link to this product (Agnus Castus Support) after listening to a lecture by Dr Marilyn Glenville recently.

This Agnus Castus supplement contains the most important and highest quality organic herbs which have enjoyed widespread popularity among women for centuries.

60 vegetarian capsules.

Ingredient list:

1 capsule per day provides the following amounts

Agnus castus 206mg
Black cohosh 147mg
Skull cap 88mg
Milk thistle 59mg

 

From the ingredient list I was unable to establish if the 206mg of AC was whole herb or extract – you need around 20mg standardised extract, which is equivalent to  (approximately) 200mg whole herb for it to be effective – therefore I emailed Dr Glenville.

Dear Dr Glenville,

A friend of mine sent me a link to your Agnus Castus product as she knows I am passionate about recommending this herb for PMT and blog about it regularly. However, since the EU legislation, getting the right dosage of Agnus Castus has become very difficult as THR (which most companies have applied for) restricts the amount to 4mg (standardised extract 10:1). I am therefore interested to know how the amount of AC used in your product compares to the standardised extract. From my understanding 20mg is equivalent to approx 200mg whole herb. 20mg has been found in research trials to be the lowest dose that is effective. A lot of women visit my blog looking for advice about where to get AC from and so far I have only found one supplier still producing 20mg tablets. It would be great if I recommend another supplier.

I look forward to your reply,

Two days later I received a reply that seems to suggest this product does contain the right dosage of Agnus Castus.

 

Thank you for your email.

I have always found that combinations of herbs are extremely helpful because of the synergistic effect between the herbs.  NHP’s Agnus Castus Support is not my product but it contains whole herbs and not extracts so the mgs on the label are those for the whole herb. And the herbs are organic where possible.

In the clinic, I always prefer capsules rather than tablets as tablets will have binders added to the ingredients and even with capsules for herbs or vitamins and minerals I want those that do not contain excipients such as anti-caking agents and lubricants like magnesium stearate.

I hope this is helpful.

Kind regards

Marilyn

However, the email also said that the product is not one of Dr Glenville’s, but is made and sold by this company NHP. I went over to the NHP site and found the product, but I couldn’t confirm if the ingredients quoted on Dr Glenville’s site were what was in the tablets.  Luckily they had a Live chat box – so I asked the question there.

NHP: Hello, thank you for visiting. Can I help you in any way?

Me: can you tell me the mg of each herb in this supplement please

NHP: Hi there

Me: Hi, can you tell me the mg for each herb in this supplement

NHP: if you click on the ingredients list under the image it will tell you

Me: I can’t see an ingredients list. it doesn’t have one.other products do, but not this one

are you still there NHP?

NHP: my apologies, bear with me and I will find them for you

Me: thank you

Based on my previous experience, I couldn’t help but be suspicious. Neither Boots or Holland & Barrett informed either their sales staff or customers that the dosage of Agnus Castus had been reduced from 20mg to 4mg. However, NHP came back with the same list of ingredients as on Dr Glenville’s site (and I had already confirmed the Agnus Castus component was whole herb and therefore at the right dosage).  It was looking good, but I still wanted to confirm beyond doubt the ingredients as stated were the ones on the bottle, so I asked this question.

Me: One final question. The ingredient list you quoted did you get that from the actual bottle? I am concerned you are quoting the pre 2011 ones and the mg have been reduced as a result of legislation.

NHP: The ingredients I gave you are correct. i have passed this onto our in house nutritionist and have asked her to come back to you tomorrow. The office is now closed, I will ask the nutritionist to email you tomorrow with regards to your query

Me: Then it sounds like a really promising product. I have around 6000 hits a month on my blog for women looking for a product with the correct dosage. It would be great if I could recommend this product as so far I have only found one supplier who still sells the higher dosage.

NHP: no problem, lets speak tomorrow

Me: Great, I look forward to it. I will be posting our conversation on my blog so other women can see what your product contains.

So far my suspicions had appeared unfounded. I was getting excited. Here at last was another product, which contained levels of herbs that actually worked. However, I wondered how they were able to do this since the EU legislation. Unfortunately the person on the other end was not able to give this information and admitted they didn’t know they THR from their PL.

Me: the reason I ask is since EU legislation in 2011 I was under the impression that Agnus Castus was restricted to no more than 4mg (52mg whole herb) under THR. Does this product have a product license instead?

If not how are you able to sell it? Is it old stock? I and many women are desperate to get supplements at the right dosage and forgive my questions but I have yet to find a UK supplier who is able to do this as they have all opted for THR not PL>

NHP: all of our products have been approved by the HMRA

we did have to withdrawer our Black Cohosh Support for a while but we have now reformulated it. We have not been asked to withdraw our Agnus Castus

Me: I am sure they are. I am not questioning your integrity, rather than am keen to know if I can recommend your supplement on my blog. I need to be sure the agnus castus component is correct. Does this product have THR or PL?

NHP: no problem, maybe if you contact me directly I can give you some more info (email address removed on NHP’s request)

I am not familiar with THR or PL, I can ask somebody to come back to you if you email me directly with your enquiry.

Fair enough. I wouldn’t expect sales staff to know the ins and outs of EU legislative policy, but then they said this …

NHP: I would rather you did not post our conversation on your blog, please wait to hear back from the nutritionist

Me: Now I am wondering why not, if the ingredients you stated are the ones listed on the product. I am not trying to catch you out, rather i am trying to share information with women on where they can get this product from at the dosage recommended in research trials

NHP: we regard any conversations we have on Chat Box as confidential due to the highly personal issues people discuss with us on here.

Me: I won’t use your name then, or show your email. That should cover confidentiality. Me, I am not concerned, I have blogged about my ongoing battles to get Agnus castus and other herbs properly recognised ever since 2011.

SILENCE

Me: Thanks for the chat. I look forward to hearing from the nutritionist tomorrow. Can also ask that you reinstate the ingredient list under the product so it is clear how much of each herb the product contains. If it is less than quoted this does need to be made clear as research trials have shown for agnus castus that below 200mg whole herb it is not effective and I don’t want women buying something that doesn’t work.

SILENCE

Me: Have you gone?

Make of it what you will. However, I would be cautious about buying this product until the ingredients can be confirmed. I am also wondering why they did not want me to share this information on my blog, surely as a profit making company they would want to shout about this product. I am also interested to learn why they have not listed the ingredients under this product, as they do for their other products.

 

So let’s see what tomorrow brings… ever hopeful…

If anyone has tried or plans to try this product, I would love to know whether it helped with symptoms.

 

 

 

Agnus Castus: Holland & Barrett an ethical company?

I had a disturbing insight into the tactics of the big herbal suppliers when a homeopath called Maeve, who used to work at Holland & Barrett, commented on my blog recently (see the comments under ‘About’ for the full conversation). In our correspondence I asked her if the sales staff were informed about the massive reduction in dosage of Agnus Castus tablets forced onto the herbal industry by 2011 legislation – see this post and this one for more on the impact of these changes.

Maeve replied:

“I can honestly say that they [Holland & Barrett] never sent through a training update or any info on the new doses, there was never any explanation, this has most likely left staff floundering, forcing them to tell customers that they are equivalent to the same levels as the whole herb.”

This is shocking. If the change in dosage was minimal then you might forgive H&B for not informing the sales staff, but the dosage was reduced from the equivalent standardised extract of 20mg to 4mg (1/5 of the original dose). If your GP prescribed you a drug at a dosage five times lower than you had used before (and your health was damaged as result), this would constitute gross negligence. But it appears Holland & Barrett, Healthspan, Boots and so on can do this to a herbal remedy with no explanation to the customer nor a legal imperative to provide one.

Taking Agnus Castus at the correct dosage is vital for my continued well-being. Prior to taking it I was prescribed morphine for period pains and routinely missed 2 to 3 days a month of work. I was depressed and desperate and even contemplated a total hysterectomy at the age of 35 (which, without taking a hormone replacement, would have brought on early menopause and the risks to bone density as well as an assault on my sexuality and identity). Thankfully, I have reached 43 with my ovaries and womb intact and take nothing stronger than ibuprofen for period pain.

As it is Agnus Castus is not on the list of prescribable drugs for PMT despite being recommended by Dr Nick Panay, Consultant Obstetrician and trustee for NAPS (see this post for more on guidelines to GP’s). This means many women are being prescribed antidepressants with their long list of side effects (e.g. loss of libido), when trials for Agnus Castus reveal it is at least as effective if not more so (with none of the side effects). On top of this inability to prescribe the herb, Agnus Castus is rendered ineffective by draconian and frankly bizarre licensing decisions by the European Medicines Agency – see this document for the responses to consultation prior to licensing.  Even if women do their research and buy Agnus Castus on the UK high street, they will believe it be a con when they find their symptoms do not improve (RCT’s reveal that 20mg is the optimal dose – see this study). Because of the prohibitive costs of obtaining a product licence for Agnus Castus (£100,000 approx), retailers have opted for the cheaper Traditional Herbal Registration option (£10,000 approx), restricting dosage to no more than 4mg per tablet with the corresponding advice to take 1-2 tablets a day with a warning not to exceed the stated dose. I am not one to buy into conspiracy theories, but you only have to read this post on ‘Sarafem’ (Prozac in disguise) to realise big pharmaceutical companies will do anything to ensure their drugs are sold as widely as possible, including eliminating the competition.

As Maeve comments:

“This erosion of choice will have a serious impact for the next generation. The goal of all this is to create a complementary health free world, free of herbalists and homeopaths and all natural practitioners to be ruled and dominated by the Pharmaceutical drug lords. Sounds like fantasy- it is happening now. In the next 10-20 years, we’ll either need to learn the old ways and grow our own herbs or forget they existed entirely.”

With recent news about doctors in the US receiving ‘perks’ from drug companies in ‘return’ for prescribing a particular drug, the world Maeve predicts doesn’t seem that far-fetched. She is right, it is happening now. We are already forgetting remedies our grandparents routinely used and believe everything can be solved by a pill, from acne and addiction to schizophrenia and weight loss.

Take statins and cure dying!

Of course it is not just Big Pharma that is corrupt, it is capitalism itself. Profits for the few at the expense of the majority is bound to result in the blurring of ethics, or, as this satirised advert makes plain, absence of ethics altogether. Holland & Barrett are no worse than the majority of high street chains that ‘claim’ to put their customers first and as Maeve points out not everyone at H&B is corrupt (just the ones at the top it seems).

“I joined H&B hoping they were an ethical company. I left a year later deeply disillusioned and disappointed. I know there to be a lot of good people in H&B but there is a constant tug of war going on and unfortunately, the sales force is stronger than the integrity force. H&B are not investors in people. Having said that. It is still possible to find good products in an H&B along with lovely, knowledgeable staff if you know what you’re looking for.”

In my quest to make women aware of the incredible benefits of Agnus Castus I have been confronted with the selfish, self-interested nature of capitalism. Curing a distressing condition is only worthwhile if it makes a lot of money for a niche few. The dystopian future of Atwood’s trilogy (Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam) where pharmaceutical corporations manufacture diseases in order to sell drugs to cure them, seems less like speculative fiction and more an inevitable reality.

So what can us little people do? (I am only 5ft 2 so this is a literal statement for me 🙂  We can keep sharing knowledge of herbs and vitamins, passing this information onto the next generation so it is not lost and we are not beholden to big Pharma to ‘solve’ all our health problems (when nature has already provided us with solutions). We can seek out like minded others and support campaigns such as this one or write to our MEP’s  – see this post for template – but don’t expect a reply. We can do our own research on the web; I find this blog gives a refreshing perspective on modern medicine, although I don’t always agree with every view it espouses, it has certainly made me question in whose interests am I being ‘sold’ a particular cure. I also find medical journalist Jerome Burne’s blog an insightful and at times shocking read. We can also, where our climate is favourable, grow our own herbs and learn how to harness their properties. There are many books and internet guides out there to help you achieve this.

“Herb users are going to have to learn the old and safe ways of using safe, medicinal herbs if they don’t want to be a captive consumer audience 🙂 ” Maeve

I, for one, will keep blogging about it and plan to grow my very own Agnus Castus bush. Join me. Please. Let’s start a backyard revolution!

Agnus Castus: Thank you Dr Nick Panay

NAPS guidelines for GP's
NAPS guidelines for GP’s

I wrote again to Dr Nick Panay last week, Consultant Gynaecologist, Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea and Chelsea & Westminster Hospitals. I was following up on his promise to raise the issue of why Agnus Castus was not prescribable by GP’s, at the next NAPS (National Association Premenstrual Syndrome) trustees meeting. Dr Panay has developed guidelines for GP’s on how to treat PMS, and one of his recommendations is for women to try 20mg – 40mg of Agnus Castus, if diet and exercises changes do not improve the symptoms (see above). The problem is since changes to the status of herbal remedies from food supplements to medicines, the dose of Agnus Castus can be no more than 4mg per tablet, with the recommended dose of 8mg – to understand why, see this previous blog post and this one and this one and this one.

Dear Juliet

We discussed this at our last trustees meeting.

We are in full agreement with you that Agnus Castus should be prescribable.

However, this would require registration studies and to our knowledge no company would be able/prepared to conduct these at present.

In the meantime NAPS will continue to support the recognition of this product as an effective evidence based therapy for PMS.

I have copied this email to our CEO for information.

Best wishes

Nick Panay

I was really pleased to hear Dr Panay once again endorse Agnus Castus as an effective therapy for PMS. I know this, of course. My life has been transformed by taking one 20mg tablet a day. But I felt NAPS could do more. Below is my rather impertinent reply and Dr Panay’s gracious response:

Dear Dr Panay,

Thank you for your response, although it saddens me that the NHS can’t find a way to fund the research needed, considering the savings it is likely to make if AC was offered by GP’s. I know I placed a lot of cost on the NHS with repeated GP visits, various hormonal treatments, consultant referral, scans, more treatments – I have not visited my GP for PMT symptoms in over 5 years since taking AC. Based on my blog I am not unique in this.

What I struggle to understand is why the RCT studies already conducted in Germany and China are not sufficient evidence for AC to be prescribable in the UK as it is in Germany. I know the China study was rejected by the EMA as it did not contain European participants – although the reason for this exclusion escapes me.

Could you tell me what registration studies? I assume RCT’s – but how many, on what sample size.

I also struggle to understand why a commercial company must fund them when there is new NHS research fund: Increasing research and innovation in health and social care, just being set up that academic researchers could access. Surely this would be something NAPS could consider applying to – I would certainly get involved in any way I can.

I feel strongly that NAPS could take a lead in this and with your authority engage hospital departments to trial AC as part of an RCT.

Possibly I am being naive, but your guidelines should be more than guidelines, they should be the standard by which GP’s assess and manage women coping with PMT. It would have saved me a lot of pain, side effects, time off work and NHS money if my GP had followed them (and been able to prescribe Agnus Castus).

I hope you will consider how to move this simple (if not fraught with complexity) issue forward. Agnus Castus works for many women and they should be able to get access to it. I understand that pharmaceutical companies need to make money, but health and the solutions to health concerns should not rest solely in the hands of commercial interests.

Yours faithfully,

Juliet O’Callaghan

We share your frustration Juliet.

What is required is a European study with around 100 patients, minimum of 3 months to assess symptoms and one year to assess risks and benefits; this would be the gold standard. We will see what we can do about raising funds for such a project … the funds do not necessarily need to come from the pharmaceutical industry but grant money is not easy to come by.

In the meantime, we are working with the International Society for Premenstrual Disorders and the RCOG to make our guidelines the benchmark by which all health physicians manage PMS.

We look forward to your ongoing support.

Best wishes

Nick

What a brilliant response! Dr Panay is looking into how to raise funds for registration studies. If Agnus Castus were prescribable it could pave the way for other herbal remedies, which, since the change in legislation, have been ‘downgraded’ with the dosage in most cases below effective levels.

Thank you Dr Nick Panay. If you can make this happen, then I know many, many women will benefit.

Please add a message of support and encouragement to Dr Nick Panay in the comments below. It can only help.

Agnus castus saved my marriage!! Seriously!

PMT cartoon shedAt times I have wondered if there is any point keep blogging about Agnus Castus. Whatever I do makes little difference to what is on sale in the UK.

I can sadly envisage a future where women will have completely forgotten that there was once a safe and side-effect free cure for PMT that was effective for over 80% of women in trials (and didn’t involve artificial hormones, mind altering drugs or surgery), but what good can my lone voice really do?

And then I get a comment like the one below and every word I have ever typed about agnus castus and the decimation of the herbal market in Europe suddenly feels like it matters again, and that just maybe I can make a difference, even if it is one woman at a time.

Thank you Vicki for making me feel less like a crazy, ranting bint 🙂

Hi,

My case is one of severe PMS (PMDD). My situation was so bad that I had moved out of my marital home due to me being such a complete bitch for no reason to my hubby… he had enough (fairly!) of me turning on him for no particular reason (over 3 years plus),,, Once separated I went to the doctor as I noticed my flare ups were around the week before my period… investigated further and realised I had PMS if not PMDD… went to the doctor and was prescribed fluoxetine – which did help, yet the Progesterone only pills also prescribed made me worse (Couldn’t take combined pill due to age and family history of DVT). After reading your blog investigated Agnus Castus further… working at a Doctor’s surgery I spoke to Health Practitioners who also read the British Medical Journal report I printed, to ask their advice. I went ahead and ordered Agnus Castus and have now taken it for nearly 2 months… in this time the change has been amazing. I have been ‘pushed’ on many occasions where I would have flared before… however I haven’t. I feel calm and like a new woman… for the first time in years I feel happy… can’t believe that people have just accepted I have a temper and that’s me!!! IT’S NOT AT ALL!! Agnus Castus has given us our marriage back, I am now moving back to our marital home, and we are so happy…. thank you for your blog… you have helped so much I cannot thank you enough!!

Vicki Daniels

Has this blog helped you? Where did you find out about agnus castus?

Agnus Castus: Not a rant, but ACTION!

I’ve had enough of big pharmaceutical companies dictating what I am allowed to take to improve my health and well being. Agnus Castus is a safe and effective treatment for PMT and I want to be able to buy it on the high street. Urged on by this organisation Alliance for Natural Health, I have written the following email to the MEP that represents my constituency – Glenis Willmott. Please do the same. You can find sample letters and how to find your MEP on the Alliance for Natural Health website.

Dear Ms Willmott,

I am greatly concerned about the way in which the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority and Member State governments have restricted maximum levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements (on the basis of Article 5 of the Food Supplements Directive,2002/46/EC).

I am writing to you in the hopes you can do something about making it possible for me and many other women to obtain 20mg of Agnus Castus for treatment of PMT. Up until May 2011, getting the efficacious dosage (based on sound clinical data – see Schellenberg 2001, 2012) was easy enough, with Boots and many online stores stocking the product at a reasonable price. However, since the THMPD, the dosage has been restricted to 4mg per tablet based on Traditional Herbal Registration. No UK company has applied for Market Authorisation, so the MRHA informed me recently (unsurprising considering the cost), which would allow them to continue selling 20mg tablets based on Well Established Use. The THMPD has therefore taken away the only treatment that has worked for PMT; my alternative is to take 5 tablets a day at a cost of £20 a week – as it seems despite the reduction in dosage, there has not been a reduction in price, 4mg tablets cost the same as 20mg.

To impress on you the significance of this directive on my life, let me tell you what life was like before I stumbled across Agnus Castus in  newspaper article in 2008:

“For me the biggest issue was painful periods, so painful I stood at the top of the stairs and seriously toyed with the possibility of throwing myself down them either to knock myself out or at least end up in hospital. Unbelievable pain that had my lying in my own vomit on the bathroom floor wishing I would black out. I was prescribed morphine, which left me muddled, sick, and unable to drive to work the next day (as a secondary school teacher, I was missing 2-3 days a month, which was terrible for my students and my career prospects). I was offered anti-depressants: I said I wasn’t depressed. They recommended exercise, cutting out caffeine, eating more healthily. I did all those things. I still spent 3-4 days a month dealing with constant grinding pain that stopped me sleeping, eating, working, living. The consultant suggested the Mirena coil. I said I didn’t need contraception. He said it was like a chemical hysterectomy. I agreed. I just wanted the pain to stop. The pain was so overwhelming, I barely registered the irritable bowel, painful breasts, anxiety and tearfulness.

The evening after the coil was inserted the pain started and didn’t stop. After three days, where I was in so much pain, I considered overdosing on morphine, and absolutely no support from the gynae clinic who had inserted the coil, even when I begged them on the phone to see me, I ended up in A&E, crying, shaking, vomiting and delirious. They gave me a lot more morphine, which made me even sicker. I pleaded with them to remove the coil (possibly hysterically, it is all a blur). They told me Minera coils are expensive and I should give it more time, before giving up. I hadn’t slept for three days. I was exhausted and distressed. My husband insisted they remove it. The pain stopped immediately.

I was a bad patient. The gynaecological consultant had run out of options. I floated the idea of a hysterectomy. I was told it was a drastic measure, and  I should have tried harder with the coil, because they didn’t like to recommend hysterectomies on woman of my age (37 at the time). It was suggested I try the coil again. I told them I would think about it. I left, depressed and lost. Menopause seemed my only hope, but that was ten years away yet.” Extract from my blog and for the full post and more posts about Agnus Castus and the countless women who have commented see link:  https://julietocallaghan.wordpress.com

As you can see Agnus Castus was life changing, I have not missed a day of work since. I know many other women for whom this herb has been a life and marriage saviour, but unfortunately even if a woman was to find out about the benefits of Agnus Castus and bought it on UK high streets, she would not realise the recommended dosage (4-8mg) would render it ineffective and she would assume it doesn’t work, leaving very few alternatives (all with terrible side effects).

I urge you to act on this subject, which is based on sound scientific principles as judged by leading integrated medicine institutions, the Alliance for Natural Health International and other respected and independent organisations.

Please let me know what action you might be prepared to take to bring to end this strangulation, which benefits large pharma companies and keeps UK citizens chained to dangerous and less effective treatments for PMT and other ailments.

From the activity on my blog, there are many, many women left in pain and confused by the result of this directive.

Very best wishes,

Juliet O’Callaghan

You can use my letter as a template, but do give your personal story of what life was like before Agnus Castus. I feel better for doing something rather than just whinging on this blog.

Agnus Castus: Last rant, promise

It must seem like I am obsessed with this subject. And I guess I am. But then taking Agnus Castus has been life changing.

Business is about profit. This is why monopolies are bad because the only thing that ensures the customer gets value for money is competition. So if a product is the same wherever you buy it from (bottled water for example), then the way the customer wins is companies will compete on price. Although increasingly in this ‘brand’ led world, it is the quality (perceived or actual) of the product that seduces the consumer.  Hence the millions of pounds spent on packaging and advertising. ibuprofenGeneric Ibuprofen is exactly the same drug as Nurofen, but we are visual creatures and we are persuaded by taglines and posh boxes to pay three times as much for the same thing. The fact that products would be so much cheaper if we weren’t paying for the advertising and nurofenpackaging is a blog post for another day.

The point I am getting to is since the introduction of legislation which means herbal medicines cannot be sold without a license, it has created a monopoly over dosage. This is bad for the customer. This is especially bad for me.

kira 20mg
Look at the dosage
kira 4mg image
and now its 4mg, so where did the other 16mg go?

Under Traditional Herbal Registration, Agnus Castus, cannot be sold in a higher dosage than 4mg tablets, with the recommended daily intake of 1-2 tablets.Holland & Barrett, Boots (Schwabe) and Kira have all applied for and received THR to sell their 4mg tablets at the same price they were selling their 20mg tablets (before the EU legislation on licensing). Now that would be OK (if a little underhand) if 8mg a day actually was effective for PMT, but it isn’t. A clinical trial conducted in 2012 (Schellenberg et al) found:

“Each of the treatments was well tolerated. Improvement in the total symptom score (TSS) in the 20mg group was significantly higher than in the placebo and 8 mg treatment group. The higher dose of 30 mg, on the other hand, did not significantly decrease symptom severity compared to the 20mg treatment, providing a rational for the usage of 20mg. Corresponding results were observed with the single PMS symptom scores.” Link to source.

I can also testify from personal experience that at 4mg, 8mg and 12mg my PMT symptoms did not diminish – for me the biggest issue was painful periods, so painful I stood at the top of the stairs and seriously toyed with the possibility of throwing myself down them either to knock myself out or at least end up in hospital. Unbelievable pain that had my lying in my own vomit on the bathroom floor wishing I would black out. I was prescribed morphine, which left me muddled, sick, and unable to drive to work the next day. I was offered anti-depressants: I said I wasn’t depressed. They recommended exercise, cutting out caffeine, eating more healthily. I did all those things. I still spent 3-4 days a month dealing with constant grinding pain that stopped me sleeping, eating, working, living. The consultant suggested the Mirena coil. I said I didn’t need contraception. He said it was like a chemical hysterectomy. I agreed. I just wanted the pain to stop. The pain was so overwhelming, I barely registered the irritable bowel, painful breasts, anxiety and tearfulness.

The evening after the coil was inserted the pain started and didn’t stop. After three days, where I was in so much pain, I considered overdosing on morphine, and absolutely no support from the gynae clinic who had inserted the coil, even when I begged them on the phone to see me, I ended up in A&E, crying, shaking, vomiting and delirious. They gave me a lot more morphine, which made me even sicker. I pleaded with them to remove the coil (possibly hysterically, it is all a blur). They told me Minera coils are expensive and I should give it more time, before giving up. I hadn’t slept for three days. I was exhausted and distressed. My husband insisted they remove it. The pain stopped immediately.

I was a bad patient. The gynaecological consultant had run out of options. I floated the idea of a hysterectomy. I was told it was a drastic measure, and  I should have tried harder with the coil, because they didn’t like to recommend hysterectomies on woman of my age (37 at the time), unless it was proven that my symptoms were definitely related to PMT. It was suggested I try the coil again. I told them I would think about it. I left, depressed and lost. Menopause seemed my only hope, but that was ten years away yet.

Back to square one, I chanced upon an article in a newspaper. I was on holiday in Centre Parcs in Nottingham. In it, the author described pretty much what I was going through and she said she had found a solution.

agnus castus flowerThe solution was a herb called Agnus Castus and since she’d been taking it her life had been transformed. I googled it and was amazed to find the BMJ had published a study, which revealed highly significant results for 20mg a day for over 80% of women with PMT. I read more case studies and personal stories about both its effectiveness and its lack of side effects. I found more clinical trials like the one below, which has been accepted by the HMPC, reluctantly it seems, as evidence of efficacy.

“The proposal is accepted for the extract tested in the
study of Schellenberg et al. (2001):
“Adolescents, Adults
Daily dose:
Once daily 20 mg extract equivalent to 180 mg of the
herbal substance”
As mentioned in the assessment report, until now the
WEU was not favoured by the HMPC, because the extract
has not been on the market in the EU for more than ten
years. The ten year – threshold is reached in February
2011 and therefore the rapporteur proposes to accept
the WEU for this extract.” Link to EMA document on comments received on monograph for Vitex Angus Castus.

I ordered some 20mg tablets from Health Span (now also only selling 4mg tablets). My next period was a breeze, and by that I don’t mean pain free, but controllable with paracetemol and a hot water bottle. I was cautious and maintained it was a fluke (as I did occasionally have a bearable period). The next period arrived. Again it was a breeze and I also realised my IBS had gone, and so had the breast pain. I felt like me again.

Six years later and I have never looked back. My life is simply transformed and I didn’t have to have my womb and ovaries removed and suffer the consequences of a premature menopause, nor put myself under an unnecessary anesthetic.

Fast forward to now and the problem on dosage is this. The HMPC did grant a well established use (WEU) mongraph for 20mg of Agnus Castus. However the WEU monograph insists on rigorous clinical evidence in order to grant a Product license (Marketing Authorisation),but to get this license costs a lot of money. And more importantly a lot more money (10x) than a Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) (which restricts dosage to 4mg per tablet), and only requires evidence that it has been ‘used’ for 30 years.

I wrote to the MRHA – which is the drug regulatory body in the UK whose job it is give licenses to all medicines- to find out why the Marketing authorisation (MA) process was so much more costly than THR. This was their response.

If it has this logo, then the dosage can be no more than 4mg per tablet.
If it has this logo, then the dosage can be no more than 4mg per tablet.

“The traditional registration scheme is a simplified procedure which allows products, based on traditional use only, to be supplied provided  they fulfil the legal requirements of the Traditional Use Directive. It is therefore a less costly procedure as there is less information to be submitted and assessed.”

My second question to MRHA was:  Have any UK suppliers applied for and been granted Market authorisation (can you tell me who they are)

Their response: There are no current product licences for Agnus castus products. Previously, in the UK we did have one product with a product licence but the licence was cancelled by the company some years ago for commercial reasons. We currently have 3 products with traditional registrations containing 4 mg of extract equivalent to approximately 50 mg of the fruit.

The loser in all this is the woman, just like me, with PMT, who either has to take 5 tablets a day at a cost of around £20 a week, or if she isn’t aware that a THR logo guarantees the ineffectiveness of the product and follows the recommended guidelines, will find her PMT is no better and she will believe she has been sold a myth and take her anti-depressants like a good girl.

Side effects of SSRIs (anti-depressants) include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Sedation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased libido
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances (including nausea and indigestion)
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Tremor
  • Sweating
  • Weight gain

Orgasmic dysfunction (normal libido and arousal with delayed or absent orgasm) is the most problematic side effect of this class of drugs, reported in up to 80% of patients taking SSRIs continuously and for long duration.

or Danazol

Side effects:

  • Amenorrhea
  • Weight gain
  • Acne
  • Fluid retention
  • Hirsutism
  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Emotional lability

or subject herself to unnecessary surgery and possible complications.

So I apologise for another Agnus Castus rant, but I do want as many women as possible to know about the effectiveness of agnus castus for PMT/PMS, as long as you take 20mg (standardised extract) a day (equivalent to 200-24omg dried fruit).

Prime Health in Guernsey have restarted selling 2omg tablets. Click here for their website.

Why aren’t doctors allowed to prescribe herbal medicines, it is common practice in Germany and many other countries? Who really controls health policy, the Department of Health or the multi-million pound drug companies? Have you found somewhere else in the UK stocking 2omg tablets? Experiences of Agnus Castus always welcome. Spread the word…

Agnus Castus: Proof that taking less than 20mg a day is no better than a placebo

Dose-dependent efficacy of the Vitex agnus castus extract Ze 440 in patients suffering from premenstrual syndrome.

Source

Institute for Health Care and Science, Hüttenberg, Germany.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Preparations of Vitex agnus castus L. (VAC) have been shown to be effective to treat irregular menstrual cycles, cyclical mastalgia and symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome (PMS). However, the dose-effect relationship for the treatment of PMS has not yet been established. This study aimed to investigate the clinical effects of three different doses of the VAC extract Ze 440 in comparison to placebo in patients suffering from PMS.

METHODS:

In a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study, 162 female patients with PMS (18-45 years) were randomized to either placebo or different doses of Ze 440 (8, 20 and 30 mg) over three menstrual cycles. PMS symptoms’ severity was assessed by patients using visual analog scales (VAS) for the symptoms irritability, mood alteration, anger, headache, bloating and breast fullness.

RESULTS:

Each of the treatments was well tolerated. Improvement in the total symptom score (TSS) in the 20mg group was significantly higher than in the placebo and 8 mg treatment group. The higher dose of 30 mg, on the other hand, did not significantly decrease symptom severity compared to the 20mg treatment, providing a rational for the usage of 20mg. Corresponding results were observed with the single PMS symptom scores.

CONCLUSION:

This study demonstrated that the VAC extract Ze 440 was effective in relieving symptoms of PMS, when applied in a dose of 20mg. Therefore, for patients suffering from PMS, 20mg Ze 440 should be the preferred daily dose.

On Education: Those who can’t, teach – and thank goodness for them

Wilshaw and Gove seem intent on denigrating teachers, for whatever political/ economic agenda they are currently pushing.

gove terminator

Sir Michael said regional chiefs were being given orders to root out poor-performing schools, chains of academies and local authorities in each region.

In particular, they will be told to crackdown on schools that:

• Fail to stretch the brightest and weakest pupils by placing them in mixed-ability lessons;

• Enter large numbers of pupils early for GCSEs simply to bank a pass-mark before moving pupils on to other courses;

• Consistently mislabel poorly-performing pupils as suffering from special educational needs to disguise weak teaching;

Critics have warned that many schools are failing to place children into ability bands because of “ideological” opposition to the system by teachers.

I could blog about the lack evidence they have for their spurious assertions, in particular the idea that teachers are against ‘setting’ for ideological reasons, and the unsubstantiated assumption that mixed ability classes damage the most able.

The view that, at least for certain subjects, learning is best when pupils are grouped by ability seems to be widely held by teachers and others, as is evident from the setting that takes place within comprehensive schools. […] We may also note that despite widespread belief in the benefits of setting, it is not a view that is really supported by research evidence (Mosteller et al, 1996). Evidence of the effects of Selective Educational Systems.

I could rage on about how unfair it is, and how teachers (me included) are seriously considering why we work in a profession that is Wilshawseen as an easy route for lazy,whinging people, who can’t do anything else. I could give you a run down of my typical day and the variety of roles I must simultaneously fulfill – but my job is no more difficult than many other jobs that involve dealing with emotions, expectations and hopes (nursing, policing, social work, childminding, youth workers, probation officers and on and on).

Instead I want to tell you about my teacher, Mr Hallet, who worked at Bushmead Primary School in Luton in the late 1970’s and earlydanny_champion_of_the_world_pic 80’s. I guess I was around 9 or 10 when he became our form tutor. I do remember it was love at first sight. His front teeth slanted backwards and when he spoke, a line of spittle would extend from his top lip to his bottom lip. I loved that line of spittle. I loved watching it break and reform as he shared another exciting fact about the world. He had dark hair, I think he was tall, though I was very, very short (kinda like a munchkin) – I didn’t get much taller as it happens. Whenever I remember Mr Hallet it is summer (why is it when we think of our childhoods it is always summer?) He read us Roald Dahl’s  ‘Danny Champion of the World’ under a broad oak tree on the grass border that surrounded the playground every afternoon, until the bell went for home time. I remember lying on my back on the cool grass and looking through the leaves, while plump pheasants drunk on hand sewn alcohol-laced raisins plopped on the ground around me. His mellifluous voice wove pictures  in my head. I do wonder if he is one of the reasons I love reading and writing. I cried when I left primary school. I swore I would never forget him. I never have.

On a side note, he was also partly responsible for the one and only broken bone of my childhood. A greenstick fracture of my right wrist. On a residential field trip, he offered aeroplane rides on his feet. I couldn’t wait for my turn and possibly pushed myself to the front of the queue. To be in his gaze was to be in heaven. His soles pressed against my tummy, gently, as he lifted me up in the air, grasping my hands in his and flying me around. Over-excited me, shouted; more, harder, Greenstick_fracturefaster – and then all I remember is flying over his head and thinking, I am really flying, before the grass came up suddenly and I realised, too late, I had let go of his hands. The rest is history. I didn’t cry. I didn’t want him to think I was a baby. My wrist looked wonky. It hurt a lot. He took me to hospital. I came back to the outdoor centre with a white plaster cast. He cuddled me and bought me an ice-cream. My parents came to collect me (once they had been found in the time of BMP -before mobile phones). I made them take me straight back there the next day and stayed for the rest of the week. He was the first to sign my cast. He was my first love. He may also have been the reason I became a teacher.

He made each and everyone of us feel special, important, unique and loved. I am so glad whatever it is Mr Hallet couldn’t do, meant he chose to teach.

In this little corner of the blogosphere, let’s celebrate those teachers who made going to school an adventure. Who made a difference in our lives. Who chose teaching, not because of what they couldn’t do, but because of what they could.

we salute you
We salute you!

And I salute you, Mr Hallet, Teacher at Bushmead Primary School, Luton, and I probably still love you too. love

Got a teacher you want to salute. Remember them here. Share your stories. Let’s remind all those beleaguered teachers (including me) why it is one of the best jobs in the world. And Mr Hallet, if you read this, thank you.

Please do share.