Does Vitex chaste tree extract help with hormonal imbalance in women?

For centuries, people across different cultures have used plant leaves, roots, and herbs like vitex chaste to treat and prevent illnesses. Even some common modern medicines, such as quinine and digoxin, were first derived from plants. Vitex chest tree extracts have been used to manage women’s health issues. Does Vitex really work, and how effective is it at managing these conditions? Keep reading to find out.

Green leaves and purple-colored flowers of Vitex Chaste tree

Mrs. Adaora walked into the pharmacy, her husband by her side for support, her complexion pale with worry. An attendant approached her to inquire about her well-being. She began recounting her experiences, detailing the efforts she has been making to improve her health, all to no avail.

As she described her symptoms—difficulty sleeping despite the air conditioner working, persistent fatigue, lack of motivation, and her husband’s recent complaints about her low sex drive—tears welled in her eyes, her husband offering a comforting pat on the back.

Concerned, the attendant probed further, questioning the source of her distress. Mrs. Adaora replied wearily, "I'm tired, Pharm." Sensing the need for clarity, the attendant looked into her medical history, asking pertinent questions. It emerged that she hadn't menstruated in over a year and was nearing 51 years of age.

With this information, the attendant deduced the possible cause of Mrs. Adaora's symptoms. They informed her that she was experiencing menopause, a natural phase of life. Relief washed over Mrs. Adaora, evident in her sigh of relief and her body language, signaling gratitude for finally understanding her condition.

Seeking advice on how to improve her condition, Mrs. Adaora mentioned experiencing a heart-related issue, limiting her medication options. After careful consideration, the attendant recommended she use Vitex chaste tree extract, the outcome of which will be revealed later in this article.

What is Vitex?

Vitex, or Vitex agnus-castus, is a shrub native to Asia and the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. However, this plant and its products are now available in many countries because of its ease of cultivation and weather adaptation.

The Vitex tree is also called the “chaste tree” because it was believed to decrease libido. Herbal concoctions made from this plant’s leaves, seeds, and fruits have been used to manage diverse health conditions, including fertility issues and menstrual issues like breast pain, period cramps, delayed menstruation, and irregular flow. 

Understanding hormonal imbalance

Hormonal imbalance is the fluctuation in the amount of hormones in the body. Different hormones are secreted in both males and females. In females, the primary hormones that are particularly secreted include estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone, which are important for reproduction.

Since these chemical messengers play critical roles in the body, there is typically a permissible amount required for normal bodily functions to occur. Therefore, anything that causes hormonal levels to fall or rise drastically can interfere with your health. 

Missed menstrual cycles, breast discharge, acne, and decreased sex drive are some common health issues that can result from hormonal imbalances. This condition may also cause psychological symptoms such as mood swings and depression.

"Hormonal imbalance can make a woman sad, depressed, or anxious, especially for those who have been trying to conceive after being educated about the possible link," says Efuntoye Seun, a community pharmacist at Justrite Pharmacy.

Can Vitex help improve hormonal imbalance?

Vitex has been used for years to address female reproductive health issues linked to hormonal imbalances, and some of these uses are backed by science.

A 2019 study indicated that 30 mg of Vitex extract, given twice daily, could significantly improve menopausal symptoms. However, this wasn’t a new discovery, as an older study from 2009 on the effects of vitex on menopause symptoms had similar results.

These findings appear to validate Mrs. Adaora's experience when she returned to the pharmacy for a refill; she reported feeling better and getting her life back on track again. 

Vitex may also help address menstrual cycle disorders—which are commonly caused by hormonal imbalance. One study found that vitex-containing products could help improve irregular bleeding, breast pain, and period cramps.  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 8 to 13% of women who are in their reproductive years have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which contributes to infertility.

One study revealed that vitex contains chemical compounds like viteagnusin and specific flavonoids that can improve hormone balance and sustain more regular ovulatory cycles in PCOS. These compounds may also help reduce cyst formation in ovaries, improving the disease's overall outlook.

How does Vitex work?

Vitex contains chemical agents that act like another chemical called dopamine. These chemicals suppress the levels of prolactin, thereby improving premenstrual syndromes. When the level of prolactin is suppressed, the ovary can produce normal levels of estradiol and progesterone, which are key for fertility.

Cabergoline, a standard treatment for high prolactin levels, also acts in this way. 

Vitex also works by binding to an opioid site in the body (the same site where morphine and codeine bind). This reduces symptoms such as anxiety, irritation, breast pain, and depression, all of which are common with hormonal imbalances.

Potential advantages of Vitex over standard treatment plans

A large percentage of people on the African continent still depend on herbs to treat their medical conditions.

This is evident in the number of street hawkers who sell herbal concoctions known as agbó in Yoruba (a Nigerian tribe), as well as herbal shops found almost everywhere, and, more recently, clinics like Paxherbal, which treat patients exclusively with herbs.  

Many times, patients admit to using herbal medications before seeking orthodox treatment. 

The increasing use of complementary or alternative medicine is also gaining traction in America and Europe. In the U.S., sales increased by 6.8% in 2014 for the eleventh time in a row, while in Europe, 18.8% of the population used one form of supplement or another. 

The increased interest in herbal medicine, particularly Vitex, for treating hormonal imbalances may be related to the various side effects, contraindications, and complications associated with standard medications. 

Clomiphene, metformin, nafarelin, spironolactone, hormone replacement therapy, and birth control pills are common treatments for hormonal imbalances. However, concerns have been raised about the long-term safety of these medications and their use in specific individuals. 

These medications are generally not safe for people who have hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity or who are pregnant or lactating. Long-term complications of these medications include weight gain (which is one of the reasons many women dislike birth control pills), menstrual irregularities, and mineral imbalance. 

These are some of the reasons that people are turning to Vitex. 

How safe is Vitex?

Apart from being hormone-sensitive, Vitex chaste tree is generally safer and well-tolerated by the body than some standard treatments. However, it still has some mild side effects, which may include gastrointestinal upset, itching, and headaches.

Also, since it's often in supplement form (such as the popular Vitex Berry), it's not properly regulated, and you may not know the right dose to take. If you want to try complementary treatments like Vitex for treating hormone-related issues, consider speaking with your doctor first.

Causes of hormonal imbalance

Hormonal imbalance can manifest in different ways and may be caused by factors beyond our control, like menopause. It may also be influenced by modifiable factors, like obesity. Recognizing these causes is key to identifying possible solutions to hormonal disturbances.

The following are some of the causes of hormonal imbalance:

  1. Endocrine disorders: The endocrine system includes the organs that produce hormones. Conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, Addison's disease, diabetes, and adrenal fatigue are all disorders of the endocrine system capable of disrupting hormonal balance.
  2. Hormone-disrupting chemicals: Chemical agents have become an integral part of our daily lives, from food additives to pesticides and cosmetics. However, the WHO has expressed concern about the safety of some of these chemical agents and their potential to disrupt the endocrine system.
  3. Hormonal therapy: Contraceptives and other forms of hormonal treatment introduce artificial hormones into the body. This can affect the natural balance of endogenous hormones.
  4. Menopause: During menopause, the body stops making hormones that support the menstrual cycle. This decline in hormones produces varying degrees of symptoms that can affect a woman’s quality of life.
  5. Obesity: Obesity is implicated in PCOS, which is an endocrine disorder. It can also be due to other causes, like genetics and lifestyle. 

The symptoms of hormonal imbalance can vary significantly from one person to another. Here are some common symptoms of hormonal imbalance:

  • Mood swings
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Menstrual disorders 
  • Low sex drive
  • Tiredness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

While these symptoms are general indications of hormonal imbalance, other medical conditions can cause them.

There are different approaches to addressing the issue of hormonal imbalance, like hormone replacement therapy (HRT), medications such as birth control pills, lifestyle modifications, and changes in diet. Some people also turn to herbs like Vitex as an alternative way to balance disrupted hormones.  

Final thoughts

Vitex chaste tree holds promise as a natural remedy for addressing hormonal imbalances, offering potential benefits for those seeking alternative treatments.

Further research and consultation with healthcare professionals are essential to fully understand its efficacy and safety in individual cases. Incorporating Vitex into holistic wellness routines may offer a valuable addition to conventional treatments for hormonal health.