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Parts used and where grown
Vitex grows in Mediterranean countries and central Asia. The dried fruit, which has a pepper-like aroma and flavor, is used in herbal medicine preparations.
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Theophrastus mention the use of vitex for a wide variety of conditions, including hemorrhage following childbirth and assisting with the "passing of afterbirth." Decoctions of the fruit and plant were also used in sitz baths for diseases of the uterus. In addition, vitex was believed to suppress libido and inspire chastity, which explains one of its common names, chaste tree.
Vitex contains several different constituents, including flavonoids, iridoid glycosides, and terpenoids. The whole fruit extract, rather than one of its individual constituents, appears to be necessary for the medicinal activity of vitex. Vitex does not contain hormones. The benefits of vitex stem from its actions upon the pituitary gland—specifically on the production of a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH). This indirectly increases progesterone production and helps regulate the menstrual cycle. Vitex also keeps prolactin secretion in check. The ability to decrease mildly elevated prolactin levels may benefit some infertile women as well as some women with breast tenderness associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
A controlled clinical trial found that women taking 20 mg per day of a concentrated vitex extract for three menstrual cycles had a significant reduction in symptoms of PMS, including irritability, mood swings, headache, and breast tenderness. Another double-blind trial found that women taking vitex had slightly greater relief from symptoms of PMS, including breast tenderness, cramping, and headaches, than those taking vitamin B6. These trials support the findings of preliminary vitex trials for women with PMS. Vitex (32.4 mg per day), in combination with some homeopathic remedies, has also been found in a double-blind trial to successfully treat breast tenderness (also called mastalgia).
How much is usually taken?
The German Commission E monograph recommends a daily intake—30 to 40 mg of the dried herb—in capsules or in liquid preparations. Vitex is typically taken once in the morning with liquid for several months consecutively.
With its emphasis on long-term balancing of a woman's hormonal system, vitex is not a fast-acting herb and is unlikely to give immediate relief to the discomfort associated with PMS. For premenstrual syndrome, vitex can be used continuously for four to six months. Infertile women with amenorrhea (lack of menstruation) can remain on vitex for 12 to 18 months, unless pregnancy occurs during treatment.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Side effects may include minor stomach upset and a mild skin rash with itching. Vitex is not recommended for use during pregnancy and should not be used concurrently with hormone therapy (e.g., estrogen, progesterone).
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