For people who suffer with PMS, hot flashes, mood changes, irregular periods
Let’s talk to those who experience irregular menses, PMS, breast tenderness, mood changes, fluid retention, hot flashes, troubles conceiving (due to long or irregular cycles), fibroids, and constipation/headaches associated with your menses. We can go on, but we’ve only got so much time together so…let’s just stick to those.
When I started studying botanical medicine, I always marveled at how far back in history the use of certain herbs went. I often wondered how people knew that this herb would help with that symptom, since our ancestors didn’t have the science yet to tease out what or how the elements/constituents of this plant interacted with human biology to effect change. Now that science has started to be able to unravel these mysteries, my science-geek heart just explodes with joy and reverence for the wisdom of our ancestors in healing!
The power of gorgeous Vitex to help balance your hormones
One of my favorite herbs to work with is Vitex (otherwise known as chasteberry, vitex agnus-castus, and monk’s pepper). It is native to the Mediterranean and enjoys tropical to subtropical scenes (USDA zone 6; full sun, though it tolerates some shade for those of you fantasizing about growing it). It’s gorgeous and I don’t blame you – butterflies love it Vitex. I don’t often use vitex alone; I prefer to use it in a symphony of support, with all of the players coming together to create a serenade of harmony. Tinctures are a wonderful way to create this team-effort and depending on the herbal blend, will support several systems at once. I love to treat the whole person!
Why vitex? Well, vitex works on hormones, but indirectly. It’s not a hormone. Now before your eyes glaze over and you head off to TikTok or FacePlant, bear with me.
Now for the nerdy part
Some of the symptoms I outlined above can be due to an imbalance between estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and in the case I’m talking about: dopamine, a neurotransmitter.
Studies have indicated that certain compounds in vitex (clerodadienols, rotundifuran, apifenin and linoleic acid) influence hormonal pathways which can increase dopamine, reduce prolactin, and influence fertility (via estrogen, testosterone, LH/FSH), decrease low progesterone symptoms and balance progesterone/estrogen levels.
Here’s a quick example:
What are these hormone things? Let me explain more:
Estrogens: Balanced makes everything better
Steroid hormones most associated with female sexual development/characteristics. Prior to menopause, the ovaries release most estrogens. In postmenopausal people, the adrenal glands, and fat tissue can release them.
Symptoms associated with high estrogen:
- Weight gain
- Fibrocystic breast tissue
- Light/heavy menses
- Low sex drive
Symptoms associated with low estrogen:
- Menstrual cycles that are less frequent or stop
- ‘Hot-flashes’/night sweats
- Dry skin
- Painful lovemaking
- Low sex drive
Progesterone: Feathering the nest for pregnancy
A steroid hormone most associated with reproduction/pregnancy. It is released primarily by the corpus luteum (ovary) after ovulation and plumps up the lining of the uterus to prepare for pregnancy. Estrogen and progesterone balance is very important.
Symptoms associated with high progesterone:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Low estrogen/estrogen deficiency
- Increased yeast infections
Symptoms associated with low progesterone:
- Infrequent, long or absent menstrual cycles
- Anovulation (egg isn’t released from ovary)
- Low progesterone can cause high estrogen (see above)
Prolactin: Your milkshake brings all the babies to the yard…
Hormone secreted primarily from the pituitary gland, but also the uterus, brain, breast, fat tissue and prostate. It is most associated with lactation or milk production. It helps regulation of behavior, the immune system and reproduction. It is important for health and well-being. It is regulated by dopamine (slows the release) and estrogen (increases release).
Symptoms associated with high prolactin:
- Low estrogen symptoms such as: vaginal dryness, pain with lovemaking
- No menses or irregular menses
- Inappropriate milk production
- Low bone density
Symptoms associated with low prolactin:
- Little or no milk production after delivery.
- Anxiety symptoms
- Erectile issues
- Fertility difficulties
Luteinizing hormone (LH) & Follicular stimulating hormone (FSH): Fertility Awareness!
Both are considered gonadotrophic hormones due to their effects on ovaries and testes. They are produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. LH tells ovaries to release estradiol. Surges of LH two weeks into a menstrual cycle triggers the release of an egg from ovaries. It also stimulates testosterone. FSH is important in reproductive development. It helps ovaries develop follicles prior to egg release and increases sperm production. Together, these hormones aid in fertility.
Symptoms associated with high LH/FSH:
- PCOS (high levels of androgens)
- Limits production of sperm
- Hinders ovulation
Symptoms associated with low LH/FSH:
- Infertility through decreased ovulation and sperm production,
- Incomplete puberty
- Reduced sense of smell
Dopamine: Mood, motivation, sex and rewards
Hormone and neurotransmitter which has different jobs depending on where it is located. In the brain it is a chemical messenger between nerve cells. It plays a big part in reward-type behavior. It also inhibits prolactin. Outside of the brain it functions in cell-to-cell communication in blood vessels, kidneys, gut and immune systems. It is synthesized in a part of the adrenal glands and brain.
Symptoms associated with high dopamine:
- Weight gain
Symptoms associated with low dopamine:
- Mood changes
- Parkinson’s type symptoms
Why Vitex may not be for you
Please talk to your doctors before taking Vitex. Any of our lovely Naturopathic doctors are well trained in using botanical medicine, we can absolutely help!
- It is thought to be phytoestrogenic so people with hormone sensitive cancers use it with caution.
- You have PCOS, which may mean your LH is already elevated.
- You have a genetic variation which elevates your dopamine levels or take medications which interact with neurotransmitter levels ( like for Parkinson’s or mental health).
- You are taking hormonal birth control, are pregnant or nursing.
- It can be dose dependent, which means at lower doses it has one set of effects but at higher doses it can have another ( some-times opposite) set of effects.
- Vitex is typically well tolerated, but some folks have reported mild stomach upset, headache, and dry mouth with use.
- Rafieian-Kopaei M, Movahedi M. Systematic Review of Premenstrual, Postmenstrual and Infertility Disorders of Vitex Agnus Castus. Electron Physician. 2017;9(1):3685-3689. Published 2017 Jan 25. doi:10.19082/3685
- Zamani M, Neghab N, Torabian S. Therapeutic effect of Vitex agnus castus in patients with premenstrual syndrome. Acta Med Iran. 2012;50(2):101-106.
- Wuttke W, Jarry H, Christoffel V, et al. Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)—pharmacology and clinical indications. Phytomedicine. May 2003;10(4):348-357. doi: 10.1078/094471103322004866
- Meier B, Berger D, Hoberg E, et al. Pharmacological activities of Vitex agnus-castus extracts in vitro. Phytomedicine. Oct 2000;7(5):373-381. doi: 10.1016/S0944-7113(00)80058-6
- Hajirahimkhan A, Dietz BM, Bolton JL. Botanical modulation of menopausal symptoms: mechanisms of action? Planta Med. May 2013;79(7):538-553. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1328187
- Jarry H, Spengler B, Porzel A, et al. Evidence for estrogen receptor beta-selective activity of Vitex agnus-castus and isolated flavones. Planta Med. Oct 2003;69(10):945-947. doi: 10.1055/s-2003-45105
- Hormone Health Network.”Estrogen | Hormone Health Network.” Hormone.org, Endocrine Society, 28 September 2020, https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/estrogen