Vitex -- or chasteberry -- is a natural home remedy that many women have long relied on to reduce pain and other symptoms related to PMS, childbirth, and menopause. After consulting with a health-care professional, you may decide that using vitex for reproductive health is right for you.
How Vitex Works
Although women have been using vitex for reproductive health for centuries, scientists still do not know exactly how vitex's healing effects occur. We know that vitex's constituents include monoterpenes, such as agnuside, eurostoside, and aucubin, as well as the flavonoids casticin, penduletin, and their derivatives. It is likely that vitex's beneficial effects are related to the combination of its constituents.
Preliminary research does indicate that vitex seems to correct a relative deficiency of progesterone, although none of the known constituents of vitex appears to have hormonal activity. Instead, vitex appears to correct the progesterone deficiency indirectly, by affecting the hormone production of the pituitary gland.
It also appears that vitex stimulates levels of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter. This, in turn, decreases levels of prolactin, a hormone important to milk production. This ultimately leads to increased release of luteinizing hormone (LH), which prepares the body for pregnancy and inhibits the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which is normally released in the first half of the menstrual cycle to prepare for ovulation and the "ripening" of the egg.
Herbal healers long have used vitex -- either alone or in combination with herbs such as black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) -- to treat amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, PMS, endometriosis, and menopause. And clinical studies appear to corroborate the use of such home remedies.
At a clinic in London, Dr. Alan Stewart gave 30 women with premenstrual symptoms 1.5 grams a day of dried vitex in capsule form. Stewart found that the women reported a 60 percent reduction in symptoms such as anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia, and mood changes.
These findings have since been confirmed in two double-blind studies. One showed vitex superior to vitamin B6 and the other showed vitex superior to placebo for alleviating PMS symptoms. Vitex has also been proven more effective than placebo specifically for decreasing premenstrual mastalgia (breast tenderness).
One study compared vitex extract to the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) in women with PMS and prominent premenstrual depression. The two treatments were similarly effective, although vitex was superior at reducing physical symptoms, and fluoxetine was better at reducing psychological symptoms.
Using Vitex for Reproductive Health in Combinations
Vitex also has been used effectively to treat many of the symptoms associated with menopause. Sometimes the herb is used alone, and sometimes it is combined with other herbs that nourish the female glandular system. These include angelica (Angelica sinensis, or dong quai), licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and black cohosh.
Also effective have been combinations of vitex, motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), and wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), which help to calm the rapid heartbeat that often accompanies hot flashes.
If you suffer from painful periods or menopausal symptoms, it's important that you discuss the problem with your physician to rule out more serious causes. Then look into the pros and cons of taking conventional medicines.
Don't overlook using vitex and the other natural home remedies mentioned in this article. By themselves, or as a supplement to pharmaceuticals, they may provide the relief and reproductive health you're seeking.
For more information on reproductive health, see:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Visit our main Herbal Remedies page for information on all of our herbal remedies and the conditions they treat.
- Learn about ways to manage menopause symptoms with things you have around the house at Home Remedies for Menopause.
- Find easy ways to soothe the symptoms of unpleasant monthly periods at Home Remedies for Menstrual Problems.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eric Yarnell, N.D., graduated from Bastyr University where he is now an assistant professor of botanical medicine. He is co-founder of the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver, BC. He serves as president and is a founding member of the Botanical Medicine Academy. Dr. Yarnell is chief financial officer of Healing Mountain Publishing, a provider of natural medicine textbooks, and vice president of Huron Botanicals. He previously served as chair of the department of botanical medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and helped edit the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. His published works include The A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions, Clinical Botanical Medicine, Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and The Natural Pharmacy. In his private practice he focuses on men's health, urology, and nephrology.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS:
Jeffrey Laign is a writer and editor with a special involvement in herbs and natural healing. An author of many magazine articles and books, including The Complete Book of Herbs, he has also been managing editor for Health Communications, Inc.
Silena Heron, N.D., has been a naturopathic physician with a family health-care practice. A nationally recognized specialist in botanical medicine, she has taught throughout the West and Canada. She was founding chair of botanical medicine at Bastyr University and on the faculty for six years. Dr. Heron was the founding vice president of the Botanical Medicine Academy, an accrediting organization for the clinical use of herbal medicines.