Natural Health Benefits of Vitex Agnus Castus (check the Evidence rating *)
*** Good Evidence of a health benefit.
** Some Evidence of a health benefit.
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence.
Premenstrual Syndrome ***
Fibrocystic Breast problems **
Female fertility problems **
Menstrual acne **
General menstrual problems *
Vitex Agnus Castus has been used as a medicine since ancient times. Hippocrates even mentions the use of vitex for a wide variety of womens conditions.
Vitex has effects on the hypothalamus and pituitary function changing gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) and follicle stimulating hormone releasing hormone (FSH-RH) to normalise the secretion of the hormones prolactin (reduces) and oestrogen / progesterone ratio (reduces).
Due to this action it has in recent times been found to be effective for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and other general menstrual problems such as absent menstruation, painful menstruation, heavy menstruation, and endometriosis.
Vitex does not contain hormones, rather it contains many different constituents, including flavonoids, iridoid glycosides, and terpenoids. The combined effect of the whole fruit extract, rather than one of its individual constituents, appears to be necessary for its medicinal activity.
The main action of Vitex is upon the pituitary gland, where it influences the production of a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH). This indirectly increases progesterone production and helps regulate the menstrual cycle. Increased progesterone helps with breast tenderness associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Vitex also helps to decrease mildly elevated prolactin levels, and in this way benefits women who have symptoms of infertility related to prolactin imbalance.
Evidence for Vitex is good. A double-blind trial found that women taking vitex had a slightly greater relief from symptoms of PMS, including breast tenderness, cramping, and headaches, than those taking vitamin B6, a common well known remedy for PMS.1
In another controlled clinical trial using 20 mg per day of a concentrated vitex extract for three menstrual cycles, results showed reduction in most symptoms of PMS, including irritability, mood swings, headache, and breast tenderness.2
These trials support that vitex should be considered for women with irregular periods, infertility, and mildly elevated prolactin levels that are the cause of PMS in women.3 4 5
There has also been one small trial showed reduction of acne associated with PMS, may also be reduced using vitex.6
Generally Vitex Agnus Castus is regarded as extremely safe.
Side effects may include minor stomach upset and a mild skin rash with itching.
Vitex Agnus Castus is not recommended for use during pregnancy and should not be used concurrently with hormone therapy (e.g., estrogen, progesterone).
Herb – Drug Interactions
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with vitex, but to be safe it should not be used concurrently with any type of hormone therapy.
Where does Vitex Agnus Castus come from and what parts are used?
Vitex Agnus Castus grows in Mediterranean countries and central Asia. The dried fruit, which has a pepper-like aroma and flavor, is used in herbal medicine preparations.
How much is usually taken?
Vitex Agnus Castus is normally taken once in the morning with liquid for several months consecutively.
Vitex is not a fast-acting herb and is unlikely to give immediate relief to the discomfort associated with PMS.
Symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, frequent or heavy periods, normally require continuous use for four to six months.
Infertile women with amenorrhea (absent menstruation) can remain on vitex for 12 to 18 months, unless pregnancy occurs during treatment.
The German Commission E monograph recommends a daily dose of 30–40 mg of the dried herb, in capsules or in liquid preparations.7
(Zaakirah Rossier, Health24, updated October 2010)
Lauritzen C, Reuter HD, Repges R, et al. Treatment of premenstrual tension syndrome with Vitex agnus-castus. Controlled, double-blind study versus pyridoxine. Phytomed 1997;4:183–9.
Schellenberg R. Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit extract: prospective, randomized, placebo controlled study. BMJ 2001;20:134–7.
Dittmar FW, Böhnert KJ, Peeters M, et al. Premenstrual syndrome: Treatment with a phytopharmaceutical. Therapiwoche Gynäkol 1992;5:60–8.
Loch EG, Selle H, Boblitz N. Treatment of premenstrual syndrome with a phytopharmaceutical formulation containing Vitex agnus castus. J Women Health Gender-Based Med 2000;9:315–20.
Bone K. Vitex agnus-castus: Scientific studies and clinical applications. Eur J Herbal Med 1994;1:12–5.
Amann W. Improvement of acne vulgaris following therapy with Agnus castus (Agnolyt). Ther Ggw 1967;106:124–6 [in German].
Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 108.