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Vitex: A Vital Herb for Women's Health

Vitex agnus-castus (Latin) or as it's commonly known, Chaste Tree, is one of my absolute favourite herbs for women's health concerns. The plant originates in the Mediterranean and was used in medieval Europe to stimulate lactation and lower libedo. In fact, it may help support lactation at low doses - though at high doses it might do the opposite. However, I have not seen it lower libido, from whence it earned its name.

The medicinal elements of Vitex are found in the fruit and seed. It is thought to work on the level of the pituitary, that little organ in the base of the brain that produces a host of important hormones that have far reaching effects on our metabolism, sex hormones and much more. It is often used to support progesterone production and may also have a balancing effect on estrogen. Small doses seem to increase the pituitary hormone prolactin (a hormone of primary importance in lactation) and larger doses suppress it.

Conditions I use Vitex for:

PMS (including emotional fluctuations, breast tenderness, and menstrual migraines)

This is a condition where I see Vitex shine! It may take up to three months to see the full benefit of this herb so we usually plan to trial it for that long.

Irregular Menstrual Cycles and PCOS

Vitex may help to regulate periods. It can help to create a more normal cycle length (not too long, short or too erratic) and may also help with cramping or very heavy flow. Women who have been diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) may also be helped by this herb but it may not be right for every case. I would look more closely at the particular woman (her symptoms and her lab work) to decide if it is the right herb for her (and at what dose).

Fertility

Because of the information mentioned above, Vitex is a herb that I consider in fertility cases. I especially like to use it to support progesterone in the second half of the cycle which is so important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy. If a woman does become pregnant while using this herb, we then would work together to taper off during the first part of her pregnancy.

Perimenopause

This is a time of hormonal fluctuations with many of the symptoms noted above becoming more prominent. Vitex might help to ease these symptoms and may offer benefits as part of a formula for hot flashes as well.

Who should not use this herb:

Always consult with a professional such as a naturopathic doctor before you start any kind of new medicine. The use of Vitex might not be appropriate for people using medications that affect dopamine, including some antipsychotic drugs. Medications that alter hormone levels such as the birth control pill may also not mix well. Additionally, those with a history of hormone sensitive cancers will want to be cautious. High doses during breastfeeding may suppress milk production.

Dr. Alexis Blanks is a naturopathic doctor. She is co-owner of Flourish Naturopathic at Moss Healthcare. She would be happy to see you in her office to help you better understand your health and take it to the next level. Learn more at