Vitex is a small bush with purple and pointed flowers and long and narrow leaves, originating in the Mediterranean, but it can be found all over the world in areas of subtropical climate. The red berries are harvested in the fall and then dried. They resemble the pepper, and the taste they give when they are made as tea is also peppery.
How does it work?
The use of vitex to relieve ”woman’s problems” originates from the fourth century BC. Although the plant does not contain either hormones or hormone-like substances, it stimulates the pituitary gland to transmit signal to ovaries to increase production of female hormone, progesterone. Vitex slows down the excessive production of prolactin, the hormone that plays a major role in breast milk production, but also has many other, lesser-known actions.
MAIN USEFUL EFFECTS: some scientists believe that women who chronicly suffer from PMS have reduced progesterone production in the other two weeks of the menstrual cycle. This deficiency causes an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone ratio. Vitex helps to reestablish the hormonal balance and alleviate the symptoms of PMS, such as irritability, inflammation and depression. The research in Germany has shown that vitex leads to (at least) minimal improvement in 90% of women – in one third of the patients the symptoms are completely withdrawn. Decreasing the effect of progesterone relieves the sensitivity and pain in the breasts that appear in some women even when they have no other menstrual problems.
ADDITIONAL USEFUL EFFECTS: since elevated levels of prolactin and decreased progesterone concentrations prevent ovulation, vitex can help women who are trying to get pregnant. This plant is most effective in women whose progesterone levels are slightly to moderately reduced. When too much prolactin causes amenorrhoea (prolonged absence of menstruation), vitex can help reestablish the normal menstrual cycle.
Hot flashes that appear during menopause are also a consequence of hormonal changes that are controlled by the pituitary gland, so women who have this problem should try vitex preparations during this period. Vitex alone or in combination with angelica or actaea racemosa can alleviate hot flashes and excessive sweating.
Vitex is sometimes recommended for the treatment of acne related to menstruation.
How to take it?
DOSAGE: the dose of this plant is always the same, regardless of whether it is used in the treatment of PMS, sensitive breasts, infertility, amenorrhea or some other menstrual discomfort. Add a half of teaspoon of vitex tincture in a glass of water, twice a day. An equivalent dose of powder form or tablet is 225 mg of the preparation standardized to contain 0.5% agnuside (active ingredient of vitex). For the treatment of hot flashes, the dose is the same (14 teaspoons or 225 mg).
USE GUIDELINES: absorption is better if vitex is taken on an empty stomach; the first dose should always be taken in the morning. After ten days of use, women will probably notice some improvement before the next menstrual period. But sometimes it takes up to three months for the effect to be complete. A beneficial effect on infertility and amenorrhea can occur after six months.
Possible side effects
In most women who are taking vitex preparations there will be no side effects but, in rare cases, stomach irritation, headache, or rash with itching may occur. Stop taking these preparations if rash appears. It should also be said that vitex can cause abundant menstruations in some women.
IMPORTANT: vitex affects hormone production and women who are taking hormone medicines, including contraceptive pills and estrogens, should not use it; the same applies for pregnant women.