Vitex, also called chasteberry or chaste tree berry, is used mainly as an herb to benefit hormonal problems. Vitex is used to treat breast pain and premenstrual symptoms. Proponents believe that Vitex can shrink uterine fibroids, usually benign growths that affect around 75 percent of women, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fibroids cause no problems unless they impinge on the uterine cavity or if they grow large enough to cause pain. Do not take Vitex to treat fibroids without first discussing its use with your medical practitioner.
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Vitex contains substances similar in composition to sex hormones in the leaves and flowers. The potential actions of these substances is not known, but studies have shown some benefit in treating premenstrual symptoms with Vitex, including a German study reported in the January 2001 “British Medical Journal.” Some researchers think Vitex and similar herbs may have estrogen-like effects, the University of Maryland Land Center states. Estrogen increases fibroid growth, so fibroids often shrink during menopause without any treatment.
Fibroids are the number one reason for hysterectomy, surgical removal of the uterus. There are serious concerns about the necessity of removing the uterus unless fibroids are causing significant pain or blood loss each month with menstrual periods. Decreasing fibroids without resorting to surgery would spare women from surgery and its possible complications. Reducing fibroids could also benefit women with fibroids that grow into the uterus who are trying to get pregnant. Fibroids that grow into the uterus can prevent implantation of an embryo.
According to “Integrative Medicine: Principles for Practice,” published in April 2004, Western herbs such as Vitex have not been clinically tested for efficacy in treating fibroids. Herbologist Susun Weed claims that 25 to 30 drops of Vitex tincture two to four times a day helps shrink small fibroids, but that results can take several years. There are no medical studies to support these claims.
Vitex can affect hormones. According to Drugs.com, people taking birth control pills should not take Vitex, since it may decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. Vitex can also increase menstrual flow, Drugs.com states. Since the exact effects of Vitex aren’t known, talk with your medical practitioner before using it, especially if you’re trying to get pregnant.