As many women know, premenstrual syndrome, better known as PMS, is difficult to treat. But some relief may be in sight. According to a report in the January 20 issue of the British Medical Journal, the fruit of the chaste tree, Vitex agnus castus, proved effective in easing the sometimes-debilitating symptoms of PMS.

Researchers at the Institute for Health Care and Science in Httenberg, Germany, studied 170 women diagnosed with the syndrome. Over the course of three menstrual cycles, 86 of the participants received agnus castus extract; the other 84 received placebos. The team assessed six symptomsirritability, anger, mood alteration, headache, bloating and breast fullnessat the start of the first cycle and then at the end of the third cycle.

Those women who had taken the agnus castus extract, they found, experienced significant improvement in all the symptoms except bloating. Indeed, more than half the women had at least a 50 percent improvement in their symptoms, and side effects were few and mild. "Dry extract of agnus castus fruit," the researchers conclude, "is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for the relief of symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome."