Vitex is a type of plant that is claimed to have several medicinal properties. Specifically, this herbal remedy may be beneficial for infertility, menstrual irregularities, and low breast milk supply. Although there is some research that indicates it is effective for treating PMS and PMDD, more research is necessary to conclude that this herb is effective for other uses. Although it is a "natural" product, it can cause side effects, such as nausea, headaches, and diarrhea.
What Is Vitex?
Vitex (chasteberry) is a perennial plant said to have beneficial medicinal properties. It is used for various conditions, such as infertility, menstrual irregularities, and low breast milk supply. Vitex is also known as chasteberry, as the herb was traditionally used by celibate monks to reduce sexual desire.
Vitex contains a variety of different active compounds, such as essential oils and flavonoids. There are many different "active" compounds in this plant, and it is probably a combination of the compounds that is responsible for most of its medicinal properties.
Vitex seems to stimulate dopamine receptors, which indirectly inhibits the release of the hormone prolactin (a hormone involved in breastfeeding). However, this effect seems to occur with high doses of the supplement; low doses appear to have the opposite effect on prolactin (causing an increase in the hormone). Vitex may also affect other receptors, such as acetylcholine and opioid receptors.
The supplement also appears to have effects on other hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. While low doses may decrease estrogen levels, some compounds in vitex may have estrogen-like properties. Low doses appear to increase progestin levels. Interestingly, high doses do not seem to affect progesterone or estrogen levels.
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: KristiMonson, PharmD;
List of references (click here):
Jellin JM, editor. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.com/. Accessed March 16, 2009.
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Herbs at a glance: chasteberry (April 2008). NCCAM Web site. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/chasteberry/. Accessed March 16, 2009.
Roemheld-Hamm B. Am Fam Physician 2005;72(5):821-4.
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