WHOLESOME JOURNAL

Supplementation of Vitex (Chasteberry) and its Effects on Female Health

Commonly known as chasteberry or monk’s pepper, Vitex agnus-castus (VAC) is a plant that has been shown to improve gynecological problems including premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause symptoms, infertility, and other conditions. [1]

VAC originates in the Mediterranean region and Central Asia, and has historically been used (since Ancient Greek times) for reproductive disorders and to promote chastity. [1] Today, VAC is a popular herbal treatment in the form of liquid extracts, capsule/tablets and essentials oils. [2]

Remember to talk with your primary care doctor before starting any supplements, especially if taking other medications. 

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Women struggling with PMS symptoms (such as irritability, anxiety, mastalgia [breast pain], fatigue, and headaches) [3] often have chronically increased levels of serum prolactin. [4] This elevation in prolactin, called latent hyperprolactinemia (LHP), has been shown to be involved in PMS. [2]

VAC extract contains dopaminergic compounds that interact with dopamine-2 (DA-2) receptors in the pituitary gland, which then inhibits the release of prolactin. [4, 2] VAC has also been shown to have properties that can modulate hormonal levels, thus playing an additional role in the alleviation of some PMS symptoms. [5]

Multiple systematic research reviews [2, 6, 7] and a meta-analysis of double-blind randomized controlled trials [8] confirmed VAC extracts to be effective (compared to a placebo) in reducing PMS symptoms.

Infertility and Menopause

The balance of hormones in the body has an important role in a successful pregnancy and overall healthy reproductive system. [9] VAC’s indirect effect to help rebalance hormonal levels can also have beneficial effects with fertility issues and menopausal symptom complications (hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and other physical and mental changes). [10]

It has been studied that botanical extracts with “estrogenic activity” can mimic the biological effects of the estrogen hormone, which are decreased during menopause. [11] Research studies have identified linoleic acid in VAC as an “active” estrogenic compound (which has a binding affinity to estrogen receptors) [9] and the phytoestrogens contained in VAC as weak estrogen agonists. [10] In a randomized double-blind study, results showed the group who took VAC had significantly lower “scores” for menopause, anxiety and vasomotor dysfunctions compared to the placebo group. [10] These results have been consistent with other studies, as well. [12, 13]

One study showed promising results in which a combination of VAC, Maca extract and folate had beneficial effects on fertility: regulated the menstrual cycle, stimulated ovulation, and increased likelihood of pregnancy (37% success rate out of 189 women with menstrual disorders). [14]

Lactation Difficulties

The therapeutic benefits of VAC extract also extend indirectly to other hormones that affect lactation. [15] This effect seems to be dose-dependent, however. Lower doses of the extract have been shown to increase progesterone and prolactin levels, which may stimulate the production of breast milk. [15]

Conventional treatments for these conditions include hormonal interventions, antidepressants, oral contraceptives and serotonin reuptake inhibitors, [2, 7] which can bring unwanted side effects and discomforts. However, numerous studies and reviews have showed high tolerability with VAC extract and reported almost no side effects and no herbal-drug interactions. [15, 16, 6]

 

References:

[1] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2016, September). Chasteberry. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/chasteberry

[2] Van Die, M., Burger, H. G., Teede, H. J., & Bone, K. M. (2012). Vitex agnus-castus extracts for female reproductive disorders: A systematic review of clinical trials. Planta Med, 79, 562-575. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1055/s-0032-1327831

[3] Webster, D. E., He, Y., Chen, S., Pauli, G. F., Farnsworth, N. R., & Wang, Z. J. (2011). Opioidergic mechanisms underlying the actions of Vitex agnus-castus L. Biochem Pharmacol, 81(1), 170-177. DOI: 10.1016/j.bcp.2010.09.013   

[4] Wuttke, W., Jarry, H., Christoffel, V., Spengler, B., & Seidlova-Wuttke, D. (2003). Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) – Pharmacology and clinical indications. Phytomedicine, 10(4), 348-357. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1078/094471103322004866

[5] Dietz, B. M., Hajirahimkhan, A., Dunlap, T. L., & Bolton, J. L. Botanicals and their bioactive phytochemicals for women’s health. Pharmacological Reviews, 68(4), 1026-1073. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1124/pr.115.010843

[6] Rafieian-Kopaei, M. & Movahedi, M. (2017). Systematic review of premenstrual, postmenstrual and infertility disorders of vitex agnus castus. Electronic Physician, 9(1), 3685-3689. DOI: 10.19082/3685

[7] Verkaik, S., Kamperman, A. M., van Westrhenen, R., & Schulte, PFJ. (2017). The treatment of premenstrual syndrome with preparations of vitex agnus castus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 217(2), 150-166. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2017.02.028

[8] Csupor, D., Lantos, T., Hegyi, P., Benko, R., Viola, R., Gyongyi, Z., Cecsei, P., Toth, B., Vasas, A., Marta, K., Rostas, I., Szentesi, A., & Matuz, M. (2019). Vitex agnus-castus in premenstrual syndrome: A meta-analysis of double-blind randomized controlled trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 47. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.08.024   

[9] Farahbod, F., & Soureshjani, S. H. (2018). Medicinal herbs affecting gonadotropin hormones in women: an updated systematic review. International Journal of Life Scienc e& Pharma Research, 8(1), 20-28. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/MEDICINAL-HERBS-AFFECTING-GONADOTROPIN-HORMONES-IN-Farahbod-Soureshjani/1105475409d38bde1ab71e021fb43ba0c12fb90b

[10] Naseri, R., Farnia, V., Yazdchi, K., Alikhani, M., Basanj, B., & Salemi, S. (2019). Comparison of vitex agnus-castus extracts with placebo in reducing menopausal symptoms: A randomized double-blind study. Korean Journal of Family Medicine, 40, 362-367. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4082/kjfm.18.0067

[11] Hajirahimkhan, A., Simmler, C., Yuan Y., Anderson, J. R., Chen, S., Nikolic, D., Dietz, B. M., Pauli, G. F., van Breemen, R. B., & Bolton, J. L. (2013). Evaluation of estrogenic activity of licorice species in comparison with hops used in botanicals for menopausal symptoms. PLoS One, 8(7), 1-11. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067947

[12] van Die, M. D., Burger, H. G., Teede, H. J., & Bone, K. M. (2009). Vitex agnus-castus (chaste-tree/berry) in the treatment of menopause-related complaints. Journal of Alternative Complement Medicine, 15(8), 853-862. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2008.0447

[13] Abbaspoor, Z., Hajikhani, N. A., & Afshari, P. (2011). Effect of vitex agnus-castus on menopausal early symptoms in postmenopausal women: A randomized, double blind, placebo – controlled study. British Journal of Medicine & Medical Research, 1(3), 132-140. DOI: 10.9734/BJMMR/2011/163

[14] Antoine, E., Chirila S., & Teodorescu, C. (2019). A patented blend consisting of a combination of vitex agnus-castus extract, Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract and active folate, a nutritional supplement for improving fertility in women. Maedica A Journal of Clinical Medicine, 14(3), 274-279. DOI: 10.26574/maedica.2019.14.3.274

[15] Roemheld-Hamm, B. (2005). Chasteberry. Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 72(5), 821-824. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/0901/p821.pdf

[16] Heskes, A. M., Sundram, T. C., Boughton, B. A., Jensen, N. B., Hansen, N. L., Crocoli, C., Cozzi, F., Rasmussen, S., Hamberger, B., Hamberger, B., Staerk, D., Moller, B., & Pateraki, I. (2018). Biosynthesis of bioactive diterpenoids in the medicinal plant vitex agnus-casus. The Plant Journal, 93(5), 943-958. DOI: 10.1111/tpj.13822 

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