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with a solid body of clinical evidence supporting it’s 2500 year history of traditional use. It has a gentle and effective mechanism of action, working to stimulate the hypothalamus-pituitary axis to secrete the right hormones in the right amounts at the right time to restore hormonal balance naturally. The timing of hormones released from the pituitary governs menstruation, fertility and other processes. It is through Vitex’s subtle action on the pituitary gland that it can encourage the restoration of hormonal balance and regulate the female reproductive cycle.
Vitex is very safe and can help to restore menstrual regularity, reduce symptoms of PMS or menopause, hormonal acne, improve the chances of conception and reduce the risk of miscarrying due to progesterone insufficiency.
Most women with PCOS have too much prolactin and too little progesterone, resulting in oestrogen dominance irrespective of whether oestrogen levels are raised or not. More often than not, when women with PCOS have menstrual cycle irregularities like irregular periods, absent periods or anovulatory cycles, it is due to this hormonal imbalance. Many menstrual problems, especially in women with PCOS, originate in a deficiency of progesterone in the second half (or luteal phase) of the cycle. The medical term for this is luteal phase defect. A luteal phase defect is defined as an insufficient amount of progesterone 3 weeks after the first day of the last menstrual cycle and is a common cause for early miscarriage in women with PCOS. Vitex agnus castus can help to correct this imbalance and help restore or regulate the menstrual cycle and improve the chances of a pregnancy continuing beyond the 1st trimester.
Vitex is most effective when taken very regularly (like DCI) in a single dose every morning. For PCOS a dose of around between 500 – 1000 milligrams per day is appropriate and it may take several months for the effects to become noticeable. Vitex is an exceptionally safe herb, with very few reported side effects. In a study of 1571 women taking an alcoholic extract of Vitex only 30 reported any problems, 12 being nausea, gastric distress or diarrhoea and 1 being an allergic reaction. As anyone who has taken liquid herbal extracts can attest, an aversion to the taste is very common!
One study noted that Vitex had been taken for 9 years by some participants with no ill-effects, though more commonly it is prescribed for 6 months at a time with some time off in between cycles to ascertain whether the body has re-established a natural rhythm.
A clinical study of nearly 2500 women taking vitex extract found it reduces symptoms of PMS such as headaches, breast tenderness, bloating, fatigue, cravings for sweets, feelings of anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings in as little as one month of treatment. One third of the participants reported that their PMS symptoms disappeared completely. More than half reported a significant improvement.
Another study of 117 women with 4 different types of acne found that after only 6 weeks of treatment with a vitex extract the acne began to visibly improve and by 12 weeks 70% were completely free of acne.
Vitex agnus castus is thought to act on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands by increasing luteinizing hormone (LH) production and slightly inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This increases the ratio of progesterone to oestrogen which is very beneficial to women with PCOS as progesterone is almost always low in women with PCOS. Reducing elevated prolactin levels may help to overcome head hair loss, as high prolactin levels can contribute to hair loss.
Vitex agnus castus, also sometimes called Monk’s Pepper, Chaste Tree or Chasteberry, has a very long history of use as a medicinal herb and a rich tradition of folk use, especially within the Ancient Greek traditional festivals. It is an attractive, purple flowered shrub, belonging in the verbena family. The flowers have a faint citrus-like smell and can be used to make perfume. After the leaves have fallen off in autumn, the pea-sized dried berries can be collected for use as food or medicine. It is native to Southern Europe the Mediterranean and Western Asia.
2500 years ago, as far back as the time of Hippocrates both men and women used it to diminish sexual desire. This practice continued into the Middle Ages where monks regularly seasoned their food with ground vitex berries in the hope it would help them to keep chaste. In Ancient Persia, vitex was popular for it’s mental health benefits. Physicians in the time of Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) would prescribe vitex to help expel the placenta after childbirth, treat inflammation of the uterus and enlargement of the spleen. Hippocrates wrote of using Vitex to stem uterine bleeding “If blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark wine in which the leaves of the chaste tree have been steeped.” Other well-known historical figures also wrote of the benefits of vitex including Pliny, Dioscorides & Theophrastus.
During World War II, interest in Vitex was renewed as women giving birth in Germany under the incredible stress and pressure of the time were not producing sufficient milk for their babies. In 1938, Gerhard Madaus designed and carried out a series of animal experiments to determine the most potent part of the plant, which it turned out was the fruit or berries. Vitex leaves, bark & berries would retard oestrus in female rats without damaging their reproductive ability. In 1941, 42 & 43 German medical practitioners published papers confirming the ability of Vitex to stimulate the production of breast milk in mothers with stress-induced milk suppression. After the war, in the 1950′s further research added to the growing body of clinical evidence.
In modern times, Vitex is used to treat menstrual cycle irregularities, especially luteal phase insufficiency, ovarian insufficiency, uterine bleeding, mastalgia, teenage acne, acne associated with PCOS, menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mild hyperprolactinaemia and premenstrual tension. It is also employed to reduce excessive menstrual bleeding, reduce the bleeding from uterine fibroids, reduce the recurrence of fibroids and to reduce the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome through promoting the return of a normal hormonal cycle and therefore menstruation. A short course of Vitex can also be used to stimulate the production of breast milk in new mothers when the milk flow is insufficient.
The German Commission E monograph on Vitex recommends it for use in menstrual irregularity, dysmenorrhoea, PMS & mastalgia (breast tenderness). A standardised extract of vitex has been available and readily prescribed in Germany since the 1950′s.
The effect of vitex depends upon the dose. At lower dosages vitex inhibits the activation of dopamine 2 receptors by competitive binding, which results in a slight increase in the release of prolactin. At higher dosages, the effect is reversed as there is sufficient competitive binding to the dopamine 2 receptors to decrease levels of prolactin.
Vitex will not, however, address the cause of the hormonal imbalances seen in PCOS. The scientific concensus to date is that insulin resistance is the cause of hormonal imbalance in PCOS and is generally due to a functional deficiency in d-chiro inositol inositol phosphoglycan. Women with PCOS have had great success in supplementing with d-chiro inositol to address this deficiency. You can read more about DCI here:
- D chiro inositol and PCOS
- D-chiro inositol: How does d-chiro inositol work?
- What causes PCOS?
- Buy DCI
- Discounted DCI on Monthly Ordering Plan
- Is DCI safe to take during pregnancy?
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