Chasteberry (Latin Name Vitex agnus-castus) is the fruit of the chaste tree. Traditionally, this herb has been used to treat many hormone-related gynecologic conditions. Chasteberry works on the pituitary gland and hypothalamus by helping to increase the production of a hormone called lutene. Also, it aids in the inhibition of the release of follicle-stimulating hormone.
What is Vitex Used For?
Vitex agnus-castus has been used widely in Europe for gynecologic conditions such as PMS (premenstrual syndrome), cyclical breast discomfort, menstrual cycle irregularities, and dysfunctional uterine bleeding. As chasteberry has the effect of stimulating and normalizing pituitary gland functions, especially its progesterone function, chasteberry may be especially beneficial in cases of low levels of progesterone during the luteal phase.
Chasteberry Benefits and Studies
Vitex agnus-castus, is usually used to regulate hormone production. Laboratory studies has shown that Vitex contains active hormones that are produced by the human body, such as progesterone, testosterone, and androstenedione. In studies in both lab animals and humans, Vitex has been found to alter the release of gonadotropins from the pituitary gland in the brain. Patients use Vitex agnus-castus for a variety of menstrual irregularities and fertility disorders; in Germany, doctors prescribe the herb for luteal phase disorders. The Commission E (Germany’s regulatory agency for herbs) approves the use of chasteberry for irregularities of the menstrual cycle, cyclical breast discomfort, and PMS.
In studies for the therapy of PMS, Vitex reduced some symptoms, particularly breast pain edema, constipation, irritability, headache, anger. and depressed mood. The amount in most of these studies was 20 mg per day of a concentrated chasteberry extract for 3 menstrual cycles experience a important reduction in symptoms of PMS. Chasteberry should be taken for at least 4 cycles to determine efficacy.
A study reported in the April 2000 edition of Journal of Women’s Health and Gender Based Medicine, scientists examined the effects of a Vitex agnus-castus extract on the symptoms of PMS. After taking the Vitex for 3 menstrual cycles, 93% of the women reported a reduction or cessation in their symptoms. A study reported in a 2001 edition of the “British Medical” Journal studied the effectiveness of Vitex for PMS symptoms such as irritability, breast tenderness and headaches. Women who took Vitex experienced a 52% decline in PMS symptoms compared to a 24% decline in the placebo group. A clinical trial found that women taking chasteberry had slightly greater relief from symptoms of PMS, than those taking vitamin B6. The 175 women were randomized to receive daily treatment with one standardized chasteberry extract capsule plus one placebo capsule or two 100 mg capsules of vitamin B6. Duration of therapy was three menstrual cycles. In comparison with vitamin B6, chasteberry was linked with “a considerably more marked alleviation of typical PMS complaints, such as breast tenderness, edema, inner tension, headache, constipation, and depression.” Consequently, 77.1% of participants taking chasteberry reported improvements, compared to 60.6% of those in the vitamin B6 group. (Although women wishing to conceive were excluded at the beginning of the trial, 5 women taking chasteberry became pregnant during the course of the study).
In an study, 36 participants with PMS who used 40 drops of Agnolyt® (a vitex extract) daily for 3 months noted reductions in breast tenderness, headaches, sweet cravings, fatigue,bloating, restlessness, nervousness, irritability, anxiety, lack of concentration, and depression. A study indicate chasteberry can be effective to treat PMS-induced migraines. Reported in a 2013 edition of Acta Neurologica Belgica, the study examined 100 women using 40 mg of chasteberry daily for 3 months for their migraines. 42% of subjects had a lessening in severity, duration and frequency of migraines. Two surveys evaluated 1,542 women with PMS who had taken a liquid extract of chasteberry for their PMS symptoms for as long as 16 years. With an average intake of 42 drops per day, 92% of the women surveyed reported the efficacy of chasteberry as “very good,”“good,” or “satisfactory.”
Vitex agnus-castus can help regulate your menstrual cycles and improve the balance between estrogen and progesterone. A 1993 study from Hamburg showed chasteberry helps reduce high prolactin levels, associated to women’s infertility. In a study, 48 women who were diagnosed with infertility took chasteberry once daily for 3 months. Seven women became pregnant during the trial, and 25 women experienced normalised progesterone levels. In a clinical trial, 18 women with abnormally low progesterone levels were given Vitex extract daily. After three months of therapy, 13 demonstrated increases in progesterone and 2 became pregnant. In a study, 67 women with fertility or ovulatory disorders were given a chasteberry preparation, which resulted in a marked improvement of progesterone levels during the luteal phase, earlier ovulation, and 38 achieved pregnancies (Bergmann, 2000). In a clinical study, 52 women with menstrual cycle disturbances due to luteal phase defect and latent hyperprolactinemia received 20 mg daily of Strotan® (a vitex extract) or placebo for 3 months. The participants the vitex group had a important reduction in prolactin release, normalization of a shortened luteal phase, normalization of luteal progesterone synthesis, and important reduction of their PMS symptoms compared to those receiving placebo.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome a condition associated with many cysts in the ovary or ovaries. It is the most common endocrine abnormality in women of reproductive age. Chasteberry is thought to act on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands by increasing LH (luteinizing hormone) production and slightly inhibiting the release of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). This increases the ratio of progesterone to oestrogen which is very helpful to women with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as progesterone is usually always low in women with PCOS.
Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is common and may include a dull ache, heaviness, tightness, a burning sensation in the breast tissue, or breast tenderness. Between 50% and 80% of women are estimated to have experienced mastalgia at some point in their life. There have been many therapies suggested for the management of mastalgia; one of these is the fruit extract of Vitex Agnus castus. Chasteberry (32.4 mg per day), in combination with some homeopathic remedies, has been found in a clinical trial to successfully treat breast tenderness.
In a prospective, multi-centre trial the benefit of Vitex in the management of cyclical mastalgia was studied in 50 patients with pre-menstrual syndrome. Forty-three participants were treated daily with Vitex during three menstrual cycles. By the end of the study period, cyclical mastalgia decreased significantly and a smaller degree of improvement persisted even 3 months after cessation of the therapy. A large study of 1634 women with cyclic mastalgia as part of their premenstrual syndrome showed that after 3 months of therapy, 80% of participants rated their response as a good and 81% rates it as a very good therapy for their mastalgia. Authors suggested that Vitex could be beneficial in the management of cyclical mastalgia.
Vitex was effective in controlling the symptoms of cyclical mastalgia in a randomized controlled trial, of 97 patients suffering from cyclical mastalgia. The intensity of mastalgia in participants treated with Vitex as measured by visual analogue score significantly decreased after one or two therapy cycles and remained reduced after third cycle. A randomized, placebo controlled trial and parallel group comparison was carried out in 170 women (mean age 36 years) who were given Vitex or placebo for three consecutive cycles. The improvement in breast pain was greater in the Vitex group (52%) compared with the placebo group (24%). The researchers concluded that Vitexs is an effective therapy for the relief of symptoms of mastalgia associated with premenstrual syndrome. The efficacy of Vitex for the therapy of cyclical mastalgia associated with premenstrual dysphoric disorder was compared with fluoxetine (SSRI), in a randomized study. Psychological symptoms improved in 68% of participants treated with Fluoxetine and mastalgia improved in 58% of participants treated with Vitex.
Vitex influences the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, and for this reason can help balance hormone fluctuations that are responsible for symptoms, including acne. In a trial, 117 women with four different types of acne were treated with a Vitex preparation for one-two years. Improvement was seen after six weeks and by 3 months, approximately 70% were free of acne.
Dosage of the fruit extract is 20 to 40 mg per day. Also tincture (35 to 45 drops, three times daily) and fluid extract (40 drops daily) have been used. The Commission E monograph recommends a daily intake (30–40 mg of the dried herb) in capsules or in liquid preparations. When pregnancy is achieved, discontinue use of vitex-containing extracts. Vitex Agnus Castus is usually not recommended in pregnancy due to its unknown effects on the pituitary.