Vitex is one of the most useful herbs for women. It has been used for centuries, however it has recently become more popular and is easily accessible in pill and tincture form. This herb is very effective in supporting gynecological imbalances since it balances hormones. It is important to note that this herb does not contain hormones, so it has a gentle and non-direct effect on the body.
This herb’s power comes from its ability to regulate the pituitary glad, which is mostly responsible for hormone production. It binds dopamine receptors, thus reducing the prolactin secretion of the pituitary gland, which inhibits estrogen and progesterone. It also binds opioid receptors, decreasing the secretion of the gonadotropin releasing hormone.
Those who want grow vitex will enjoy seeing it in their gardens since it s a beautiful small tree or shrub with purple flowers which are similar to lilac. The fruit is a small brown berry, known as chasteberry, which is edible and has a peppery flavor. All the medicinal benefits of vitex come from its berry. Since this genus has 250 species, it is important to note that vitex agnus-castus is the variety used medicinally.
History of Vitex
The history of vitex is strongly tied to Europe where this plant has been used medicinally for over 2,000 years. It is native to the Mediterranean region, specifically Greece and Italy. One can still find these small fruits in herbal markets. Ancient Greeks called the plant lygos or agnos, The Greek natural historian Pliny (23-79 AD) and Dioscorides, who wrote De Materia Medica (around 55 AD), described the medicinal values of this plant. They used to make a drink out of the seeds, that tastes like wine, to reduce fevers and stimulate perspiration. Tender leaves or the fruit were placed in wine or vinegar and water.
It use was similar to current times: to purge the uterus, promote menstruation, and the production of milk in new mothers. This herb has anti-inflammatory properties, especially for the womb. In ancient times it was mixed with pennyroyal to purge the uterus, bowels and alleviate headaches. Vitex has always been associated with sexual desire, either promoting it or stopping it, deepening on the dose. Greeks also used it to treat snake bites.
Herbalism in Europe was not very sophisticated during the Middle Ages. Persians included the herb in two medical books, one from the 9th century and the other one in the 13th century. They used it to cure hysteria, insanity, madness and epilepsy. During the renaissance, the use of herbs flourished and the printing press made information more accessible. This herb was promoted as being able to cure flatulence, liver and spleen, as well as a female herb which was good against pain and inflammation of the uterus. Since the early 1900s it has been studied chemically and pharmacologically.
Scientifically it is known as Angus Castus. It is also called chasteberry, chaste tree, monk’s paper and Abraham’s balm.
How to Use Vitex
Those women who want to use this herb to correct hormonal imbalances should note that it is a long term remedy unlike pharmaceutical synthetic alternatives. Effects in studies were measured after 3-5 months. This is because the body regulates its own hormonal cycle, instead of introducing hormones, so it takes more time for it to adjust.
It is possible to purchase vitex in capsules or tincture. The tincture has a bitter taste, so many prefer capsules. You can also grow this plant or order the dried berries to make your own tincture using 80 proof alcohol (vodka or rum), food grade vegetable glycerin or apple cider vinegar. Since this herb is so bitter, tea may not be a good option unless you mix it with other herbs..
Most herbalist recommend taking 900-1,000 mg of capsules in the morning, with an empty stomach. 60-90 drops are enough if you prefer to take the tincture. As always it is best to consult specific dosage with a specialist.
Dioscorides, the Greek physician, would prescribe this herb to the wives of soldier so they would remain “chaste” when their husbands were away fighting in battle. It was also given to monks during the Middle Ages so they could maintain their vows of chastity, which is why chasteberry is also known as monk’s pepper. This herb only works to keep the libido low if taken in very large quantities. In small quantities it has the opposite effect.
Vitex is very efficient in balancing hormones in women who have a dominance of estrogen hormones. This can cause side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido and breast tenderness. Agnus Castus helps the pituitary gland to produce progesterone by raising the number of luteinizing hormones (which trigger ovulation) and reducing the number of follicle stimulating hormones.
Balanced hormones have positive effects for women including overall better health. They will also have a more balanced weight, clear skin, better sleep, improved mood and better nutrition. Their immune system will also be stronger and will be able to prevent illnesses such as headache, colds and nausea.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Menstruation
Compounds in this herb help bind some pain receptors which, in combination with the hormone balancing effect, can help improve and reduce premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, headache, breast tenderness, anger, irritability and mood swings. One study shows that women who took this herb improved their PMS symptoms by 50% compared to women who took placebos.
Vitex also controls irregular menstrual cycles as it balances hormones. It can normalize menorrhagia (heavy menstrual flow) and amenorrhea (absent menses), and decreases polymenorrhea (very frequent periods). It takes about six months to regulate your cycle.
It is very useful for women who are stopping the use of birth control, since it can take up to several years for the cycle to regulate on its own. I haven’t used hormonal birth control pills in over 15 years and do not recommend using them.
Most women suffer from night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness and weight gain during menopause. Vitex Agnus Castus is useful in treating these conditions. This natural alternative also protects against menopause related cognitive decline, boosting brain function and memory, with less side effects than other forms of estrogen replacement which could cause cancer. Studies combine this herb with others like St. John’s Wort and Black Cohosh.
This herb directly influences the pituitary glands, causing them to produce more progesterone hormone. This will alleviate the pain, since breast pain is caused by an imbalance of hormones.
Uterine Fibroids, Endrometrosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Vitex can help control the bleeding caused by uterine fibroids. It also reduces uterine cysts and endometriosis. This herb reduces inflammation of the uterus and ovaries.
The hormone balancing properties of Vitex Chasteberry Tree can control the stomach cramps and other symptoms of PCOS.
Pregnancy and Lactation
There are mixed reviews on whether chasteberry should be use during pregnancy and lactation as this study suggests. Some herbalists suggest to take vitex during the first trimester to prevent miscarriage since it boosts progesterone levels.
This herb has been used since ancient times to support lactation and boost milk supply in new mothers. Use lower doses (less than 200 mg) for lactation since chaste tree can lower prolactin, which you need to produce milk.
Hormonal misbalances of the luteal phase may contribute to infertility. Optimal progesterone levels can prepare you for pregnancy by stimulating the luteinizing hormone that promotes ovulation. It also encourages the production of corpus luteum, which produces progesterone during early pregnancy.
Chasteberry can decrease the levels of prolactin produced in the body, thus increasing the chances for pregnancy. Too much prolactin can cause hyperprolactinemia, which causes problems in conceiving. Normal levels of the prolactin hormone are needed to promote breast growth and milk production during pregnancy. Vitex also balances estrogen and progesterone.
Side Effects and Precautions of Vitex
The use of this herb is generally quite safe and it has been around for thousands of years. Do not overdose or buy poorly sourced herbs. It is important to consult a doctor before taking it if pregnant or nursing.
This herb may also cause changes in menstrual cycles until the body stabilizes (which may take a few months). So those using natural family planning methods should be aware that there may be some irregularities when first using it.
Women who suffer from depression and mental illness probably should not use chasteberry. As well as those with breast or ovary cancer. Infrequent side effects may include skin irritation, upset stomach, headache and nausea.
Consult with your doctor if you are taking any form of medication. There is no evidence that it interferes with hormonal birth control, but those who take it should be cautious. Those with a have a family history of Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia or any other conditions where dopamine levels are affected should not take vitex because it may alter levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Vitex is not recommended for men, they should use maca (women can use it too) as a fertility herb.