Vitex and Female Hormones
Vitex agnus-castus, also known as chaste berry or chaste tree, has been used in Europe for thousands of years. It has been used to treat female reproductive disorders and fertility for a long time. Vitex comes in the form of tinctures, tablets, or tea.
What Does Vitex Do Exactly?
Vitex itself does not contain hormones, but it acts on the pituitary gland and regulates its function, thus balancing hormone levels.
It acts on the anterior pituitary (in the brain), reducing the release of prolactin, which regulates progesterone levels indirectly through the pituitary-hypothalamic axis. Vitex increases progesterone by increasing luteinizing hormone (LH) and inhibiting follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). In most reproductive conditions involving hormone imbalance, estrogen dominance or progesterone imbalance tend to be common. Vitex increases progesterone and LH levels, and also decreases FSH and prolactin levels.
What Conditions is Vitex Used For?
- Dysmenorrhea (Painful menstruation)
- Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation)
- Premenstrual syndromes (PMS)
- Mastalgia (breast tenderness)
- Menopausal symptoms
- Disorders related to hormone dysfunction
Why is Vitex SO Great?
Hormone balancing – A healthy menstrual cycle depends on the proper balancing of hormone levels. Vitex acts on the pituitary gland to make sure enough progesterone and luteinizing hormone (LH) are being produced for regular menstrual cycles and ovulation.
Helpful in relieving PMS – PMS and breast tenderness are signs of hormone imbalance and estrogen dominance. Vitex promotes the production of progesterone, thus decreasing estrogen dominance and promoting balance.
Keeps the ovaries healthy – A constituent of Vitex interacts with dopamine receptors and regulates prolactin release. This affects the health of ovaries, and promotes a healthy balance of progesterone levels.
Helps with acne and hormone-related skin issues – Hormone imbalance plays a huge role in the development of acne. Read on its effects here.
Life after the pill – If you experience irregular menstrual periods after coming off birth control pills for a while, Vitex may be helpful. It may take a while for the body to figure out what the optimal hormone levels are and how to balance them again. Vitex is a great helper to do the job.
May help with pregnancy – Vitex promotes regular ovulation and healthy ovaries. In conditions like PCOS and endometriosis, Vitex is helpful in restoring ovulation and regulating progesterone levels. Progesterone is important in preparing the uterine lining for implantation.
One of the main functions of progesterone with fertility is its role in the development of the embryo. Progesterone also stimulates the secretion of TH2 and reduces TH11. This process is necessary for the maintenance of pregnancy and a positive pregnancy outcome.
There is mild adverse effects and minimal interaction with pharmaceuticals. Although, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, not enough research has been done to confirm Vitex’s safety during pregnancy and lactation. Also be cautious with certain types of PCOS, as depending on the different hormone levels, Vitex may worsen the condition.
Why Might Vitex Not Work?
Self-prescription – It’s easy to self-prescribe, but hard to self-prescribe the right supplements. Naturopaths assess conditions based on symptoms, physical exams and lab results. Depending on the presenting picture, a prescription is given. Sometimes taking the wrong supplements can make things worse, or you could be wasting money in taking certain supplements and see no results at all.
Sometimes a progesterone deficiency picture and an estrogen dominance picture can look very similar. But without proper testing, it is hard to tell which one is the right case. So for someone with estrogen dominance, all the Vitex in the world won’t solve the problem without addressing the estrogen excess problem.
Poor quality – Many companies make Vitex, but not all have the same quality. Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor if you think Vitex is suitable for you. Professional brands have reliable, higher quality products that contain no filler and have been tested by third parties.
Relying on Vitex for miracles – Counting on supplements to work without fixing daily habits is like trying to fill a bucket with holes on the bottom- the bucket never gets filled. A combination of lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise modifications, supplemented with personalized botanical prescriptions is important in making positive progress.
Rushing results – Long-term changes and benefits usually take a while to get noticed, but they are here to stay. Be patient and take prescribed supplements regularly as instructed, changes will be seen with consistency.
Cautions and Side Effects
If you are receiving IVF treatments or taking birth control pills, Vitex may not be safe to use.
Side effects are uncommon, but noticeable side effects include skin reactions, headache, and nausea. Women with depression have been advised to take caution when taking Vitex for menstruation regulation. Depressive symptoms may return or worsen.
Think Vitex is Right For You?
Vitex is a powerful medicine, and should not be taken without speaking to a healthcare provider. It is great for PMS, irregular menstrual periods, certain reproductive conditions, skin issues related to hormone imbalance, and those who are coming off the pill. As great as this all sounds, Vitex is not a one-stop shop. Due to the complexity of our hormones, it is advisable to speak to a professional before self- prescription. If you think Vitex might be helpful for you, Dr. Priya Prakash is here and happy to help!
With love and in health,
Dr. Priya Prakash, ND
Magon, N. and Kumar, P. (2012). Hormones in pregnancy. Nigerian Medical Journal, [online] 53(4), p.179. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3640235/ [Accessed 7 Sep. 2017].
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