Vitex, also called Chasteberry or Chaste Berry, is one of the most popular botanicals in Europe for treating menstrual disorders and has been recognized as gentle and effective for 2,500 years. Numerous clinical studies document its benefit.
The dried ripe pepper-like fruit of the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus
) is used quite frequently as an ingredient in supplements.
The use of this plant is listed by Hippocrates in the 4th century B.C., and has been used since that time by millions of people. The use of the fruits of the chaste plant have been used primarily to regulate the menstrual cycle
, although it was also thought to decrease libido in both men and women (hence the name chaste).
Chaste berries are available in powdered extracts, standardized extracts and tinctures. Extracts of Chaste berry are "Approved" by the German Commission E for menstrual
, and breast pain. Look for Chaste berry (Vitex
) in various formulas for women.
Function; Why it is Recommended
problems can be traced to deficient progesterone
production during the second half of the menstrual cycle
, also called the luteal phase. Insufficient progesterone during this phase of the menstrual cycle results in estrogen
dominance, leading to a shortening of that part of the cycle, commonly referred to as luteal phase defect. A shortened luteal phase with too much estrogen and not enough progesterone causes all kinds of problems for women: heavy periods, scanty periods, too frequent periods, or no periods at all. Another pituitary
, may also be elevated during this time, resulting in breast tenderness and pain, a classic symptom of PMS
How does vitex
help? Vitex does not act as a phytoestrogen
(plant estrogen), a term commonly associated with balancing the female reproductive system. Vitex instead works through another important chemical pathway, the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, to balance female hormones. Vitex increases luteinizing hormone
production while inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone, leading to an indirect increase in progesterone
and a normalization of prolactin
levels. The combination of actions produced by vitex seems to restore the estrogen
Chaste berries contain essential oils
and glycosides. Two of the iridoid glycosides, agnuside and aucubin, have been used to measure potency, and have even been used for standardization markers. The hypothalamus
glands are responsible for triggering the female hormonal cycle. By increasing levels of lutenizing hormone and mildly inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone, Vitex
is able to shift the ratio of estrogen
slightly in favor of progesterone.
Chaste berries are most often used in PMS
, hypermenorrhea, unusual menstrual
cycling, uterine fibroids
and poor lactation
.Vitex and PMS
Clinical studies using vitex extract show a reduction in headaches, breast tenderness, bloating
, cravings for sweets, and also feelings of anxiety
, irritability, depression
and mood swings, after only one month. Vitex tincture, at an average daily dose of 42 drops, was prescribed for 2447 women who had a variety of menstrual disorders, including PMS. Although this was an uncontrolled study, both patients and physicians reported that vitex significantly improved symptoms. At the end of the study 31% of patients had complete relief of symptoms, and 55% reported significant improvement. "The doctors and patients were satisfied with the treatment in over 90% of cases, i.e., symptoms either disappeared altogether or were significantly improved. The good acceptability of the preparation is also shown by the long duration of the treatment, with a mean of 5 months, and up to 9 years in some cases...The tolerance is exceptional: only 2.3% of patients experienced unwanted effects with the treatment..." 
In another uncontrolled observational study 1,542 women were given 42 drops of vitex
tincture (Agnolyt) each day. Among the patients, 33% had complete relief of symptoms while 57% reported improvement. Again, their doctors rated vitex tincture as very good, good, or satisfactory in 93% of the cases. 
Women with PMS
may want to use vitex either alone or preferably as part of a comprehensive herbal formula. Clinical studies using vitex show a reduction in headaches, breast tenderness, bloating
, cravings for sweets, and also feelings of anxiety
, irritability, depression
and mood swings, often after only one month.Other uses
Low levels of progesterone
are believed to contribute significantly to menopausal symptoms
. The ability of vitex to increase the secretion of luteinizing hormone
which raises progesterone levels is the likely mode of action. Physicians in Europe commonly recommend vitex for the treatment of hot flashes
Vitex is used as a way to prevent repeat uterine fibroids
, and is probably the most effective herb in the treatment of menorrhagia
. However, it needs to be used for several months before its effects are noticed.
Vitex is often used to help infertility caused by a luteal phase defect (a shortening of the post-ovulatory part of the menstrual cycle
): women taking vitex for three months appear to have more success at becoming pregnant. 
The herb vitex can help the body establish a proper balance between estrogen
by encouraging the production of progesterone.  If taken regularly for several months, it helps to restore hormonal balance and alleviate PMS symptoms. 
In one study of 100 nursing mothers, vitex was shown to significantly improve milk flow and milk-release when compared to placebo.  Vitex is traditionally taken the first day after birth and continued for ten days. Vitex is only recommended if there are any problems with milk production.
At low dose (120mg per day) of chasteberry, prolactin
production is stimulated, while at higher dose (240-480mg per day) prolactin production is decreased.
Herbalists have used vitex with much success in treating teenage acne
. Well-known herbalist and author, Christopher Hobbs, finds vitex very useful for treating teenage acne, preferably accompanied by changes in eating habits. "I have worked with some teenagers who had chronic acne for several years who were not willing to change their diet in any way. They felt attached to soft drinks, french fries, pizza and hamburgers, and no amount of logical discussion could change their minds. If vitex can help in these cases, it seems likely to help in other cases where dietary improvements are possible, and in my experience it can help dramatically. I have given it to both young men and women with equal effectiveness. The remedy often takes from one to two months before it becomes fully active." 
Recommended Dosage: Different forms and concentrations make general dosage recommendations difficult. It is recommended that you follow the label instructions or your doctor's advise. 40 drops (2ml) of vitex
extract or 120 drops (6ml) tincture taken daily can be used for up to eighteen months continuously, unless pregnancy occurs (at which point vitex use should be discontinued). Two tablets (250mg each) of an dry extract is also a common recommendation. It is usually recommended by that Vitex be taken as a single daily dose first thing in the morning.
Expected Outcome; Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and Warnings
It is important to note that Vitex
is not a fast acting medication and needs to be taken consistently for some time. The average length of treatment is six months.
The safety of vitex
is exceptional - in one study, vitex was given up to 9 years in some cases, with very few side-effects.Vitex
may interfere with the effectiveness of birth control medications. It is not recommended to pregnant women or who want to be pregnant because of the possibility of miscarriage
. Patients should consult their doctor before using Vitex products if they are pregnant, taking oral contraceptives, or on hormonal replacement therapy.
References & Further Information
- Loch, E. Bohnert K.J. Peeters M, et al. "The treatment of menstrual disorders with Vitex agnus-castus tincture." Der Frauenarzt. 1991. 32(8): pp.867-70.
- Dittmar, F., Bohnert, K.J., Peeters M. et al. "Premenstrual syndrome: treatment with a phytopharmaceutical." Therapiewoche Gynakol. 1992. 5(1): pp.60-8.
- Lauritzen, C.H. et al. "Treatment of premenstrual tension syndrome with Vitex agnus castus: controlled, double-blind study versus pyridoxine." Phytomed. 1997. 4: pp.183-9.
- Mohr, H. "Clinical investigations of means to increase lactation." Dtsche. Med. Wschr. 1954. 79 (41): pp.1513-16.
- Hobbs, Christopher. Vitex: the women's herb. 2nd ed. 1996. Botanica Press.