PCOS: Vitex Articles

Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree berry) is a well-known herb that has been used for many centuries in Europe for hormonal imbalances in women.

It may be helpful for women with PCOS who do not have a normal menstrual cycle and thus don't ovulate or menstruate.

Chaste tree berry acts on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in your brain and thus encourages your body to produce more progesterone.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Vitex, Fertility and Progesterone Production

Vitex and Prolactin

Vitex and Menstrual Cycle

Vitex Might Reduce Acne?

Vitex Helpful for Hair Loss?

Vitex is Anti-Inflammatory

Will Vitex Increase Luteinizing Hormone (LH)?

Vitex and Progesterone Cream

Taking Vitex


Vitex, Fertility and Progesterone Production

A large percentage of menstrual problems of PCOS women are related to insufficient progesterone during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which is called a luteal phase defect or corpus luteum insufficiency. A corpus luteum insufficiency is defined as an abnormally low progesterone level 3 weeks after the onset of menstruation. Insufficient levels of progesterone prevent completion of your cycle and may result in the formation of ovarian cysts.

A number of research studies suggest that consumption of vitex increased production of progesterone. For example, Stony Brook University in New York reported that wild monkeys consuming vitex leaves and fruits excreted more progesterone that other monkeys. The female monkeys consuming vitex were also more likely to conceive.

In another study, a chasteberry preparation was used in a study of 3,162 women to assess the effectiveness of vitex for corpus luteum insufficiency. 77.4% had menstrual cycle disturbances of various types and the others suffered from a range of gynecological problems which included symptoms of corpus luteum insufficiency. The average length of treatment was 5 months. Hormone cytology and symptoms were used to assess the treatment.

The women reported the treatment as completely effective (33%), significant improvement (55%), and no change (7%). Their doctors reported very good results in 68% of cases, adequate in 22%, and no change in 7%.

In a third study, 20 women with secondary amenorrhea took a chasteberry extract for 6 months. Lab testing was done to measure progesterone, FSH, and LH, and pap smears were done at the beginning of the study, at 3 months, and at 6 months. At the end of the study, the researchers were able to evaluate 15 of the women. Ten out of the 15 women had a return of their menstrual cycles. Testing showed that values for progesterone and LH increased, and FSH values either did not change or decreased slightly.

In a fourth study, 18 women with abnormally low progesterone levels were given vitex daily. After 3 months of treatment, 13 showed increases in progesterone and 2 became pregnant.

You can get a very high-quality vitex extract here.


Vitex and Prolactin

Possibly 15% or so of women who have PCOS also have excessively high levels of the hormone prolactin.

Why would too much prolactin be a problem?

Prolactin is known mostly for helping your create breast milk.

But actually, prolactin is almost bewildering in its complexity. Thus far, more than 300 distinct biological activities of prolactin have been identified.

Prolactin plays a central regulatory role in your body, including the placenta, uterus, ovaries, immune system, and the skin, just to name a few.

High levels of prolactin are commonly found with corpus luteum insufficiency as well as hypothyroidism, which is another common attribute of PCOS.

So attaining an optimal level of prolactin is very important if you're going to reduce infertility and other symptoms of PCOS such as acne or hair loss.

Fortunately, components of vitex have been shown to reduce prolactin levels if they are high. Vitex inhibits prolactin release by the pituitary gland.

By reducing prolactin availability, vitex can help to improve your fertility and possibly also relieve skin conditions such as acne or hair loss.


Vitex and Menstrual Cycle

Vitex is useful for reducing high prolactin levels.

In a study from Medizinische Hochschule in Germany, 52 women with luteal phase defects due to latent hyperprolactinemia (high prolactin levels) were given either vitex or a placebo. Prolactin levels were normalized after 3 months in the treatment group and deficits in luteal progesterone production were eliminated. Two of the women became pregnant.

In another German study, 13 women with high prolactin levels and irregular cycles were given a vitex compound. Their prolactin levels fell, and a normal menstrual cycles returned to all of the women.


Vitex Might Reduce Acne?

There aren't any recently published research studies to show that vitex helps to reduce acne. More research is needed.

However, there are a couple of very old reports of acne being help by the used of vitex.


Vitex Helpful for Hair Loss?

Medical research is now showing that prolactin inhibits hair growth. It inhibits hair shaft elongation, shifts hair follicles from the active phase to the resting phase, and impairs the function of cells in the hair bulb in your scalp.

In other words, too much prolactin is a contributor to hair loss.

Chronic inflammation also detrimental to hair growth.

To the extent that vitex can help to reduce high levels of prolactin and act as an anti-inflammatory, it might help to slow down hair loss.


Vitex is Anti-Inflammatory

Chronic inflammation and oxidant stress is a major problem for women with PCOS. Inflammation and oxidant stress worsen symptoms and disturb hormone balance.

In addition to its other benefits, vitex also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties, including inhibition of lipoxygenase, which is a central player in the inflammatory process.

Vitex also appears to be an antioxidant, thus reducing oxidant stress. Oxidant stress is a condition where you have unstable molecules in your body that cause cell damage.

Also, some number of women with PCOS have "estrogen dominance", which means they have way too much estrogen in relation to progesterone. When levels of estrogen are too high, oxidant stress occurs in the hypothalamus gland in the brain, which in turn appears to cause excess prolactin to be produced.


Will Vitex Increase Luteinizing Hormone (LH)?

By Amy Day, ND

Question: I’m experiencing irregular cycles and infertility and I want to try Vitex, but I’m concerned about it increasing luteinizing hormone (LH).

I’ve heard that Vitex increases LH and one of the hallmarks of PCOS is a high LH to FSH ratio. Isn’t that just adding fuel to the fire?

Answer: Many women wonder whether they should use the herb Vitex agnus castus, or chaste tree berry, to help with their PCOS symptoms.

In my practice, Vitex has been very effective at encouraging ovulation, managing PMS, regulating the cycle and improving fertility, even in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

There are two important factors to keep in mind when deciding whether to use Vitex.

First, Vitex is not appropriate for every woman with PCOS. I think of it less as a PCOS treatment and more as a treatment for irregular cycles and infertility. If you have PCOS symptoms but are not concerned about fertility or ovulation, then there are other treatments that would be a better fit.

However, if you are struggling with irregular cycles, infertility, a lack of ovulation and low progesterone levels, then Vitex could work wonderfully for you.

The second factor to keep in mind is timing.

Your hormone levels are changing every day of your cycle. The PCOS blood test for LH:FSH ratio is usually run on Day 3 of the cycle. This is a time when LH is supposed to be low, so a high number indicates a problem.

However, as a woman approaches mid-cycle, LH must spike higher in order to stimulate a normal ovulation and then appropriate progesterone production.

Vitex does not simply elevate LH; it works at a regulatory level and helps to orchestrate this whole process.

If you are hoping to ovulate, you want a high LH but you want it to happen at the right time, and Vitex can help make that happen.

So, I do not see polycystic ovarian syndrome as a contraindication to using Vitex. In fact, I’ve seen Vitex help many women with PCOS to achieve successful pregnancies.

Click here for a recommended Vitex product.


Vitex and Progesterone Cream

By Amy Day, ND

Question: "I have started taking vitex almost over a month ago. And I also just started using natural progesterone cream. I have PCOS and didn't menstruate without some treatment. I noticed since I have started using the both the above I have menstruated twice this month and now after 2 weeks I'm spotting again! Is that normal? Any suggestions? I am freaking out! Please respond as soon as possible."

Answer: It must feel strange to go from having no periods to having two per month. The good news is that you know your body is really responding to these natural therapies. To help you get your cycle to normalize, let's first help you understand the actions of the treatments that you are using. Vitex and progesterone cream have related but separate effects on the menstrual cycle.

Vitex is like a master regulator. It encourages the pituitary in the brain to produce the hormones that orchestrate the whole cycle. It helps to tell the ovaries when to produce estrogen and progesterone, and when to ovulate. After ovulation, the ovaries naturally increase production of progesterone for the second half of the cycle (i.e., luteal phase). So vitex encourages the body to produce its own progesterone.

Progesterone cream may be given as a therapy when trying to augment the natural production and stimulate the body to cycle. I'm not sure what dose or timing you were using, but in order to mimic a natural cycle, progesterone cream is usually given for two weeks on and then two weeks off, only using it during the luteal phase. Though it is a relatively safe hormone, it needs to be dosed carefully and used properly. When using progesterone in this way, you should have one bleed per month, right after stopping the cream.

Since you are responding so strongly, it sounds to me like you may not need both of these therapies at once. I most often start with herbal support to encourage the body to learn its own rhythm, adding in hormones only as needed. Vitex can take a few months to get its rhythms working optimally so it's best to give that a little more time on it's own before deciding what else you might need.


Taking Vitex

Everyone is unique, so the amount and form of vitex you need won't be the same as for someone else.

As a general guideline, your daily dose could be:
175 mg. or more of standardized vitex extract, standardized to contain 0.6% agusides.

Vitex is exceptionally safe but it's advisable to not take it if you are pregnant.

Chasteberry can be taken daily for up to 18 continuous months, unless pregnancy occurs. It can be taken once or twice a day. It may take 2-7 months before any results become evident.

Sources:
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Propping, D et al, [Treatment of corpus luteum insufficiency], Zeitscchrift Fur Allgemein, 1987, 63:932-3.
Lu A et al, Phytochemicals and reproductive function in wild female Phayre's leaf monkeys (Trachypithecus phayrei crepusculus), Horm Behav. 2011 Jan;59(1):28-36.
Ye Q et al, Casticin, a flavonoid isolated from Vitex rotundifolia, inhibits prolactin release in vivo and in vitro, Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2010 Dec;31(12):1564-8.
Foitzik K et al, Prolactin and the skin: a dermatological perspective on an ancient pleiotropic peptide hormone, J Invest Dermatol. 2009 May;129(5):1071-87.
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Mohankumar SM et al, Chronic estradiol exposure induces oxidative stress in the hypothalamus to decrease hypothalamic dopamine and cause hyperprolactinemia, Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2010 Dec 22. [Epub ahead of print].
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