Vitex, also called chasteberry, comes from the dried fruit of the chaste tree native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia. The herb has thousands of years of medicinal use. Traditionally, vitex was used to stimulate breast milk production in nursing mothers, boost fertility and relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Further scientific investigation is necessary to determine if vitex is beneficial for its purported uses.
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How It Works
In her dissertation "Botanical, Chemical, Genetic, and Pharmacological Studies of Vitex Agnus-castus L.," Donna E. Webster writes that the exact mechanism of how vitex works remains a mystery. Research suggests vitex acts on dopamine levels to reduce levels of the hormone prolactin. Vitex could also affect opiate receptors to provide pain relief. On the Red Moon Herbs website, herbalist Jessica Godino states vitex supports the endocrine system to allow it to find a natural balance, while also stimulating the pituitary gland that regulates progesterone and estrogen.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, about 75 percent of women suffer symptoms of PMS, including backaches, cramps, poor concentration and fatigue. Vitex may help manage these symptoms and also restore menstrual regularity. At least one study suggests vitex can be helpful to treat PMS-induced migraines. Published in a 2013 issue of "Acta Neurologica Belgica," the study followed 100 women using 40 milligrams of vitex daily for three months for their migraines. Forty-two percent of participants had a lessening in severity, duration and frequency of migraines.
Vitex is often used to enhance fertility, especially in women who don't ovulate regularly. Vitex may help the body regulate estrogen, which is necessary in the first half of the cycle for ovulation, and progesterone, which helps maintain a pregnancy. One small study seems to support these claims. Published in a 2000 edition of "Research in Complementary and Natural Classical Medicine," the study revealed 38 of 67 participating women got pregnant while using a homeopathic preparation containing vitex, and the women with light or irregular periods also had a measurable increase in progesterone production.
Pregnancy and Precautions
According to Red Moon Herbs, using vitex through the first trimester will reduce the chance of miscarrying. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, however, advises avoiding vitex during pregnancy because of its hormone-altering effects. Effects on animals may be different from humans, but caution is warranted when considering a study in a 2012 issue of "Ciência Animal Brasileira" that determined an alcohol-based extract of vitex caused low weights in rat fetuses and placentas. Vitex can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills and negatively interact with dopamine-boosting drugs.