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Vitex Agnus-Castus: Science-Backed Benefits of Chaste Tree

Vitex is a small tree that produces a fruit known as the chasteberry. This fruit has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries. Some people claim that it can be used to treat menstrual symptoms. Keep reading for a complete breakdown of vitex and its possible benefits. 

Vitex agnus-castus, also known as the chaste tree, is a small deciduous tree. Its fruit is called the chaste berry (or chasteberry). This fruit was used by ancient civilizations from Rome, Iran, Egypt, and Greece to treat a variety of gynecologic problems. The tree is native to Europe, Central Asia, the Mediterranean region, and the southern United States. 

The vitex chaste tree has been clinically proven to be effective at treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS). However, scientists don’t yet fully understand the vitex berry’s full effect on the body, and research in this area is limited.

The tree’s name comes from the ancient belief that the plant could promote chastity. Reports state that monks used the plant to decrease their sexual desire during the Middle Ages. Chasteberry was also commonly used for reproductive disorders. 

Today, the plant is used as a dietary supplement in an effort to treat:

  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Menstrual problems
  • Infertility
  • Other conditions

It’s possible to take chasteberry in tablets, capsules, as a liquid extract, or as an essential oil. 

There is some scientific evidence that chasteberry may improve specific symptoms of PMS, but the evidence is limited. Some claim that vitex can provide relief from breast pain, menopausal symptoms, and infertility. Scientists dispute these claims, however, and the evidence supporting them isn’t firm. 

One study found that seven out of eight trials showed that the vitex plant was better than a placebo, pyridoxine, or magnesium oxide for treating PMS. 

One study found that vitex had the same effects of fluoxetine at treating premenstrual dysphoric disorder, while another study found that fluoxetine was better than vitex. 

In a trial researching hyperprolactinemia, scientists reported that vitex was better than a placebo for the following:

  • Reducing thyrotropin-releasing-hormone-stimulated prolactin secretion
  • Normalizing a shortened luteal phase
  • Increasing mid-luteal progesterone levels
  • Increasing 17β-estradiol levels

Another trial found that taking vitex was comparable to taking bromocriptine for reducing ameliorating cyclic mastalgia and serum prolactin levels. 

There’s not enough evidence to understand the exact healing properties of the herb, but research shows that vitex inhibits prolactin release by activating specific dopamine receptors in the anterior pituitary gland. Some reports have stated that vitex extracts are similar to opioid receptors.

According to one report, some studies claim that vitex may have the following characteristics:

  • Antioxidant (reducing damage from free radicals in the body)
  • Chemopreventive (preventing or slowing the growth of cancer)
  • Immunomodulatory (changing the immune system) and cytotoxicity (toxic to cells)
  • Tumoricidal (destroying tumor cells)
  • Antimutagenic (preventing mutation)
  • Antimicrobial (fighting microbes)
  • Antifungal (fighting fungi)
  • Insect repellent
  • Larvicidal (killing insect larvae)
  • Fracture healing
  • Osteopenic (related to low bone density)
  • Antinociceptive (blocking pain)
  • Opioidergic (affecting the body’s opioid systems)
  • Antiepileptic (treating epilepsy)
  • Preventing oxidative stress and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Anti-inflammatory activities 

However, there’s not enough evidence yet to back up these claims. 

Dried vitex fruit is often used as a dietary supplement to try to treat:

  • Hormone imbalances
  • Menstrual cycle disorders
  • PMS symptoms such as breast pain and corpus luteum insufficiency
  • Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes

Chasteberry is a popular remedy for PMS symptoms. Clinical studies have shown that chasteberry may help treat PMS symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Breast pain

One study researched Chinese women with PMS symptoms to examine the safety and effectiveness of a particular vitex extract. Participants generally reported a decrease in their PMS symptoms throughout the treatment period. The study concluded that vitex agnus castus is a safe, effective, and well-tolerated drug for moderate to severe PMS symptoms. 

Some studies show that vitex can be used to treat a reduction of libido. Using vitex for fertility is an ancient practice. 

German health authorities have approved the use of the chasteberry for:

  • Menstrual cycle irregularities
  • PMS
  • Breast pain 
  • Menopausal disorders

The German Commission E (an advisory board for the government’s drug and medical device regulators) recommends a vitex dosage between 30 and 40 milligrams per day.

If used in limited amounts, chasteberry side effects are minimal or nonexistent. When there are side effects, they’re usually mild and completely reversible. 

Because vitex affects a person’s hormones, it can negatively affect people with hormone-sensitive conditions. 

Some people should avoid taking vitex, including:

  • People taking hormonal contraceptive
  • People participating in hormone replacement therapy
  • People with hormone-sensitive conditions, such as breast cancer 
  • People taking dopamine-related medicine (such as Parkinson’s disease medications and antipsychotic drugs)
  • People who are pregnant or lactating 

Extensive studies have been conducted to discover if there are any adverse reactions or drug interactions associated with vitex. The most frequent adverse symptoms are:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Acne
  • Itchiness
  • Redness and rash

Some people may benefit from taking a vitex supplement to relieve some symptoms of:

  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Latent hyperprolactinemia

Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking vitex or any other supplements.

People who are pregnant should not take vitex. Some studies have shown that the plant has estrogenic and progesterone properties. People who are breastfeeding should also avoid the supplement.

There are many claimed benefits of chasteberry that haven’t been scientifically verified. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Vitex can boost milk supply during nursing. This is a controversial claim considering the supplement isn’t recommended for people who are breastfeeding. 
  • Studies of rats link chasteberry to numbed pain receptors. However, no studies have been done on humans to verify this claim. 
  • As vitex is thought to be able to normalize a hormonal imbalance, it’s been speculated it may be able to treat endometriosis. 
  • The hormone-balancing properties of vitex may help with baldness prevention, although this hasn’t been proven. 
  • Some decades-old studies claimed that vitex can reduce acne faster than traditional treatments. 

Chasteberry is an herbal remedy that isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. There’s no evidence proving that it’s safe and effective, or what dose is appropriate. Many chaste tree benefits have been studied, but the research isn’t clear yet. Always consult with your health care provider before taking any dietary supplements because they aren’t regulated and can negatively mix with medication you’re taking. Talk with your health care provider about your symptoms to find the best treatment options for you.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325086277_Pharmacological_and_therapeutic_effects_of_Vitex_agnus-castus_L_A_review
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=23136064
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3081944/
https://nccih.nih.gov/health/chasteberry
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2993511/
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/24185284_Treatment_for_premenstrual_syndrome_with_Vitex_agnus_castus_A_prospective_randomized_multi-center_placebo_controlled_study_in_China
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325086277_Pharmacological_and_therapeutic_effects_of_Vitex_agnus-castus_L_A_review
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15783241
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2529385/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15682335
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18204102
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26101755
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premenstrual-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376787

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