If ever there was an herb well suited to women, it’s Vitex agnus castus (chaste tree berry). It can improve symptoms of PMS, infertility, and menopause, aiding women through the majority of their adult lives. How cool is that?!
While Vitex is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, it’s a commonly used landscape plant in North America and has become naturalized here. You may have noticed it in a neighborhood yard or as one of the trees in the Drake Avenue Walmart parking lot, especially in the spring when they’ll be covered with beautiful purple or white spires of small berries. It’s the berries that are used in medicine.
The reason it works so well for women is that it regulates reproductive hormones. Compounds in the berries affect the pituitary gland, increasing luteinizing hormone, which in turn increases progesterone production. It also inhibits elevated prolactin levels, improving infertility and breast tenderness.
Clinical trials show taking a Vitex supplement for three menstrual cycles significantly reduces symptoms of PMS, including irritability, mood swings, headache, cramping, and breast tenderness. Small studies have found an improvement in period-associated acne.
Irregular periods, amenorrhea (lack of a period), and infertility can be caused by excess prolactin and low progesterone. When progesterone is low it means that estrogen is comparatively high, a condition called estrogen dominance. These women often have a shortened luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Studies show women taking Vitex for three months have normalized progesterone and prolactin levels, and some of the women got pregnant during that time.
Vitex also can be helpful for women who get off of birth control pills but find their periods slow to return or irregular. Adding a daily dose of Vitex often can normalize these menstrual cycles.
During perimenopause progesterone production drops rapidly, while estrogen production drops at a much slower rate. This can cause estrogen dominance, leading to short, heavy periods, hot flushes, poor sleep, and breast tenderness.
Studies show supplementing daily with Vitex can normalize the menstrual cycle during perimenopause, and improve hot flushes, poor sleep, and breast tenderness in both perimenopause and menopause.
Because pituitary hormones are cyclical, Vitex should be taken once daily in the morning. Since Vitex is not a fast-acting herb, it needs to be taken for a minimum of three months but can be safely taken much longer. Doses vary widely, from 40 -1,000 mg once daily.
Because Vitex affects hormones, pregnant women or women using hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills should not take this herb.