Vitex is said to be the herb of the luteal phase of the female cycle (that is from ovulation to the first day of menses). It is particularly useful for conditions that occur during this time, those known as premenstrual symptoms or, PMS. Positive effects have been noted for acne, cold sores and genital herpes, fluid retention and breast tenderness as well as menstrual irregularities or for those who do not get periods (amennorrhoea).
It is thought that Vitex aids conditions characterised by low progesterone secretion and elevated prolactin levels. This covers a range of PMS symptoms as well as altered menstrual cycle lengths, absent ovulation, absent periods and infertility. The causative factors are not completely understood however it seems to be related to stress leading to alterations of the hypothalamic control over ovarian function.
In 1993 52 women with luteal phase defects were involved in a randomized placebo controlled trial. They received a daily dose of 20mg of Vitex and after 3 months Prolactin levels were normalised and defects in progesterone production eliminated. There were no side effects and 2 of the women fell pregnant. (A. Milewicz 1993)
A Placebo controlled trail in 2000 involving 1634 patients suffering PMS symptoms including depression, anxiety, cravings, headaches and fluid retention took Vitex for 3 months and completed a questionnaire regarding their symptoms. 93% of patients reported a decrease in the number and severity of symptoms, some with complete cessation of complaints. 85% of physicians involved rated the herb as a good or very good treatment with no adverse reactions.
Vitex is a complex herb with variance in quality between brands. It should be used under the supervision of a practitioner, ask your naturopath if it would be appropriate for you. It is not recommended in conjunction with other hormonal medication such as the pill and HRT. It is usually taken as a once per day dose for between three and nine months, some changes in symptoms are usually present in the first cycle. Longer term prescriptions may be needed and this appears safe.