Vitex for Hormonal Balance?

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More

Vitex agnus-castus
Sunniva Harte/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) is a plant used in herbal medicine. Also known as chaste tree, it's often taken as a remedy for women's health problems. Vitex supplements typically contain extracts of the fruit and/or seed of the plant.

Vitex may influence hormone levels in a number of ways. For example, it's said to promote the release of luteinizing hormone and, in turn, increase levels of progesterone (a hormone known to play a key role in regulating the menstrual cycle).

Vitex is also thought to affect levels of prolactin, which is involved in stimulating breast development and milk production in women.

Uses for Vitex

Vitex was used as a traditional folk remedy for a range of female conditions, such as post-partum hemorrhage and to help with the "passing of afterbirth". The name "chaste tree" comes from the belief in folk medicine that it could suppress libido.

In alternative medicine, vitex is frequently used in treatment of the following issues:

In addition, vitex is said to increase production of breast milk.

The Health Benefits of Vitex

Although there's a lack of large-scale clinical trials testing the effects of vitex, some research suggests that the herb may protect against certain health conditions.

Here's a look at several potential health benefits of vitex:

1) Premenstrual Syndrome

For a report published in the journal Planta Medica in 2013, researchers reviewed 12 previously published clinical trials investigating the effects of vitex on women's health. Despite some limitations within the reviewed trials, the results indicated that vitex may be beneficial in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome.

In a more recent study (published in Advances in Therapy in 2014), taking vitex once daily for three menstrual cycles appeared to reduce the intensity of premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, irritability, headache, and skin problems. The study involved 60 women, ages 18 to 44.

2) Menopausal Symptoms

In a research review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2009, scientists found some evidence that vitex may alleviate menopausal symptoms. However, the review's authors note that there is currently a lack of rigorous clinical trials testing vitex's effects in menopausal women.

3) Infertility

A nutritional supplement containing a blend of vitex, green tea, L-arginine, vitamins (including folate), and minerals may help improve fertility in women, suggests a study published in Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2006.

The study involved 93 women (ages 24 to 42) who had tried unsuccessfully to conceive for six to 36 months. Three months into the study, 26 percent of the study members treated with the vitex-containing supplement had become pregnant (compared to just 10 percent of those given a placebo).

This finding indicates that nutritional supplements could provide an alternative or adjunct to conventional fertility therapies, according to the study's authors.

Side Effects & Safety Concerns

Vitex may trigger a number of side effects including; bleeding between menstrual periods, dry mouth, hair loss, headache, itching, mild digestive upset, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and skin rash.

Use of vitex should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women. In addition, people with hormone-sensitive conditions (such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, or prostate) shouldn't take vitex.

Because vitex may influence levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, individuals with Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, or any other condition in which dopamine levels are affected should avoid vitex (unless under the supervision of a qualified health professional).

In addition, there's some concern that vitex may decrease the effectiveness of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy.

Sources

Daniele C, Thompson Coon J, Pittler MH, Ernst E. "Vitex agnus castus: a systematic review of adverse events." Drug Saf. 2005;28(4):319-32.

Loch EG, Selle H, Boblitz N. "Treatment of premenstrual syndrome with a phytopharmaceutical formulation containing Vitex agnus castus." J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000 Apr;9(3):315-20.

Momoeda M, Sasaki H, Tagashira E, Ogishima M, Takano Y, Ochiai K. "Efficacy and safety of Vitex agnus-castus extract for treatment of premenstrual syndrome in Japanese patients: a prospective, open-label study." Adv Ther. 2014 Mar;31(3):362-73.

van Die MD, Burger HG, Teede HJ, Bone KM. "Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste-Tree/Berry) in the treatment of menopause-related complaints." J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Aug;15(8):853-62.

van Die MD, Burger HG, Teede HJ, Bone KM. "Vitex agnus-castus extracts for female reproductive disorders: a systematic review of clinical trials." Planta Med. 2013 May;79(7):562-75.

Westphal LM, Polan ML, Trant AS. "Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of Fertilityblend: a nutritional supplement for improving fertility in women." Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 2006;33(4):205-8.

Wuttke W, Jarry H, Christoffel V, Spengler B, Seidlová-Wuttke D. "Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)--pharmacology and clinical indications." Phytomedicine. 2003 May;10(4):348-57.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading