Vitex (Chasteberry, Vitex Agnus Castus) – An answer for PMS problems?
My interest in herbs that correct female hormone imbalances started a good while ago, when I first discovered that the modern allopathic medicine does not really have an answer for my problem: serious skin condition (acne), headaches, mood swings right around the hormonal peak periods of my menstrual cycle. I was offered Vitamin A (Retinol) products by my dermatologist among other things, that were aiming to treat the symptoms, not the cause, and also I was prescribed birth control pills by my gynecologist to get things under control. But that’s not the kind of control I was looking for, so I put these medicines away and started looking for a more gentle solution.
Vitex agnus-castus (Chasteberry) has been used for centuries in Europe for hormonal imbalances in women. It acts on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands by increasing luteinizing hormone production and mildly inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone. The result is a shift in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, in favor of progesterone. The ability of Vitex to raise progesterone levels in the body is an indirect effect, the herb itself is not a hormone, it only induces slow hormonal changes in the body. Recent findings confirm that Vitex helps restore a normal estrogen-to-progesterone balance.
It is the single best herb for treating the many possible symptoms of PMS: cramps, flooding, headaches, depression, water retention, constipation, acne, breast tenderness, and irritability. It may help normalize irregular or scanty periods. It may also help to overcome the difficulties that the menopausal changes present. It is also believed to regulate ovulation and promote fertility.
David Hoffman, a well-known herbalist, says “Vitex will always enable what is appropriate to occur.”
He reports that the most important use of Vitex in England is for treating menopause symptoms, and that this is the only female health situation in which he uses vitex by itself. For relieving symptoms such as hot flashes, he claims good results after 2 or 3 months of taking 2 ml (65 drops) of vitex a day. Several studies indicate vitex can help control acne in teenagers, both among young women and men.
The dosage of is usually 30-50 drops from the tincture, three times per day.
Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto l teaspoonful of the ripe berries and leave to infuse for l0-l5 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.
Christopher Hobbs writes in his book (Vitex, the Women’s Herb)
“Vitex should be taken long-term for optimum effects. Clinical research shows that vitex may start working after about 10 days, but for full benefits it should be taken up to six months longer. For instance with PMS, it is likeley that a positive result will be felt by the second period of menstruation. However, to create a permanent improvement, it may be necessary to take vitex up to a year, and if the imbalance has been present for a long time (over 2 years), perhaps up to a year and a half.”
As a general guideline, your daily dose could be:
* 60 drops of vitex tincture, standardized to contain 0.6% agusides.
* 175 mg. or more of standardized vitex extract, standardized to contain 0.6% agusides.
Vitex and medical research:
Vitex and Fertility.
In this study, a chasteberry preparation was used in a study of 3,162 women to assess the effectiveness of vitex for corpus luteum insufficiency. 77.4% had menstrual cycle disturbances of various types and the others suffered from a range of gynecological problems which included symptoms of corpus luteum insufficiency. The average length of treatment was 5 months. Hormone cytology and symptoms were used to assess the treatment.
The women reported the treatment as completely effective (33%), significant improvement (55%), and no change (7%). Their doctors reported very good results in 68% of cases, adequate in 22%, and no change in 7%. (1)
In another study, 20 women with secondary amenorrhea took a chasteberry extract for 6 months. Lab testing was done to measure progesterone, FSH, and LH, and pap smears were done at the beginning of the study, at 3 months, and at 6 months. At the end of the study, the researchers were able to evaluate 15 of the women. Ten out of the 15 women had a return of their menstrual cycles. Testing showed that values for progesterone and LH increased, and FSH values either did not change or decreased slightly.(2)
In a third study, 18 women with abnormally low progesterone levels were given vitex daily. After 3 months of treatment, 13 showed increases in progesterone and 2 became pregnant.(3)
Vitex and hyperprolactinemia.
In this study, 52 women with luteal phase defects due to latent hyperprolactinemia (high prolactin levels) were given either vitex or a placebo. Prolactin levels were normalized after 3 months in the treatment group and deficits in luteal progesterone production were eliminated. Two of the women became pregnant.(4)
In another study, 13 women with high prolactin levels and irregular cycles were given a vitex compound. Their prolactin levels fell, and a normal menstrual cycles returned to all of the women.(5)
Vitex and acne.
In this study, a chasteberry preparation was used in women with menstrual cycle abnormalities. Acne was either eliminated or improved during treatment.(6)
In another study, 117 women with four different types of acne were treated with a chasteberry preparation for 1-2 years. Improvement was seen after 6 weeks and by 3 months, about 70% were free of acne. Some treatment relapses were observed after 3-6 weeks. (7)
(1) Loch, EG [Gynaecology in practice – A sure choice of therapy], Tjherapiewoche, 1993, 43(48):2577-80
(2) Loch, E, et al, [Diagnosis and treatment of dyshormonal menstrual periods in the general practice], Gynakol Praxis, 1990, 14(3):489-95
(3) Propping, D et al, [Treatment of corpus luteum insufficiency], Zeitscchrift Fur Allgemein, 1987, 63:932-3
(4) Milewicz A, et al, [Vitex agnus castus extract in the treatment of luteal phase defects due to latent hyperprolactinaemia. Results of a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study], Arzniem-Forschung, 1993, 43(II-7):752-6
(5) Roeder, D, [Therapy of cyclical disorders with vitex agnus castus], Zeiterschrift fur Phytotherapie, 1994, 15(3):157-63
(6) Bleier, VW, Therapie von zyklus-und blutungsstrorungen und weiteren endokrin bedingten erkrankungen der frau mit pflanzlichen wirkstoffen, Zbl Gynakologie, 1959, 18:701-9
(7) Giss, G et al, Phytotherapeutische behandlung der akne, Haut-und Gesch, 1968, 43:645
(To read the full article, visit obgyn.net )
Leaves: anti-parasitical, alterative, aromatic, vermifuge, pain reliever
Root: tonic, febrifuge, expectorant, diuretic
Fruit: nervine, cephalic, emmanagogue
Acne (associated with menstrual cycle), Amenorrhea, Catarrh, Cholera, Colic, Diarrhea, Dysmenorrhea, Dyspepsia, Ear disorders, Endometriosis, Female infertility, Fever, Fibrocystic Breast Disease, Headache, Heart Disease, Hemicrania, Hemorrhoids, Liver disorders, Malaria, Menopause, Menorrhagia (Heavy Menstruation), Menstrual Difficulties (Secondary Amenorrhea), Nausea, Premenstrual Syndrome, Rheumatism, Skin diseases, Ulcers, Worms.
Update: I’ve read on Henriette’s Herbal Blog several reviews about Vitex from women who have been treated with Vitex. Many of them stated that they started to “crash” after some time of taking it, it caused severe depression among other things, due to the increased progesterone level. Henriette cites Paul Bergner, who has been examining the use of Vitex with the help of modern science:
Vitex probably affects the hormones by stimulating dopamine in the hypothalamus. This in turn suppresses prolactin and favors progesterone. That’s the best we know from science, though there may be more to come. So the question is why is somebody dopamine deficient in the first place. The following are all required for dopamine manufacture:
Magnesium, B-6, Zinc, essential fatty acids, vitamin C, and iron. In our clinic we have repeatedly corrected hormonal imbalances with such a fundamental dietary and supplement program, within 2 cycles, and this also helped with addictions, which may also be related to low dopamine.
– Loch, E. Bohnert K.J. Peeters M, et al. “The treatment of menstrual disorders with Vitex agnus-castus tincture.” Der Frauenarzt. 1991. 32(8): pp.867-70.
– Dittmar, F., Bohnert, K.J., Peeters M. et al. “Premenstrual syndrome: treatment with a phytopharmaceutical.” Therapiewoche Gynakol. 1992. 5(1): pp.60-8.
– Lauritzen, C.H. et al. “Treatment of premenstrual tension syndrome with Vitex agnus castus: controlled, double-blind study versus pyridoxine.” Phytomed. 1997. 4: pp.183-9.
– Mohr, H. “Clinical investigations of means to increase lactation.” Dtsche. Med. Wschr. 1954. 79 (41): pp.1513-1516.
– Hobbs, Christopher. Vitex: the women’s herb. 2nd ed. 1996. Botanica Press.