Vitex agnus-castus also known as chaste tree and monk’s pepper, is an interesting herb which is a member of the mint family. It is often referred to as the ‘women’s herb” as it has traditionally been used for addressing female hormone health and female fertility.
For centuries it has been grown in south western Europe and western Asia and in times gone by it was thought to encourage chastity, which lead to its name chaste tree. In ancient times it was in fact prescribed, as a drink, to lower men’s libido. Monks sworn to celibacy were said to have chewed the chaste tree berries, believing it would decrease their libido. Hence the name monk’s pepper. It is pleasing to know it’s not now used for such a purpose and in fact, has now been found to not interfere with libido.
There are however many health benefits for women when it comes to vitex, particularly when it comes to reproductive and hormonal health. It is commonly used for symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, menopause and menstrual disorders. It may also be helpful for fertility and acne.
When it comes to PMS, research has found vitex is effective because it is able to decrease the levels of the hormone known as prolactin. By doing this it enables the rebalancing of other hormones such as progesterone and oestrogen.(1)
Generally, we find PMS symptoms include breast tenderness, irritability, anxiety, abdominal bloating, fluid retention, pelvic congestion, migraines, acne and sometimes a depressed mood. Some women even experience cravings.
A study on 1634 patients suffering from PMS found after taking vitex for three menstrual cycles, 93% of the patients reported a decrease in their number of symptoms and in some cases these PMS symptoms ceased altogether. (2) Some of these symptoms included cravings, anxiety and depression.
Another study of 178 women found significant benefit from taking vitex for PMS.(3) After taking vitex for 3 menstrual cycles it was found compared to the placebo group, twice as many of the women taking vitex found there was a reduction in breast tenderness, mood swings and irritability plus headaches.
Vitex may also be helpful in regulating irregular menstrual cycles including heavy or frequent periods, painful periods as well as lack of menstruation. Vitex has been found to increase progesterone levels in women suffering from a condition known as luteal phase defect which can in some cases create menstrual cycle imbalances.
Magnesium, which we know is a muscle relaxant can also be very helpful when suffering from period pain.
It is also believed, because of its effect on prolactin levels, vitex may well improve fertility. (4)
Vitex has also been found to be beneficial for treatment of menopausal symptoms especially combined with other menopausal herbs.
Mild to moderate acne may also be helped by taking vitex especially when it is related to hormones. It’s also believed to help prevent blocked pores which can then eventuate in blocked pores and pustules.
Vitex should not be taken when pregnant, breastfeeding or when taking the contraceptive pill, HRT or antipsychotic medications.
For more information call into see Bev and the team at Go Vita your health shop in North St, Batemans Bay or call on 0244729737.
- Plana Med 2013 79(07):562-575 DOO:10.1055/s-0032-1327831
- J Womens Health Gend Based Med 2000 Apr,9(3):315-20 Loch,EG; SelleH; Boblitz,N
- BMJ 2001 Jan 20;322(7279):134-7 Schellenberg R.
- Arzneimittelforschung, 1993 Jul;43(7):752-6