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Vitex (man jing zi)

What is vitex? Why do we need it?

Vitex is a type of tree that grows throughout the Mediterranean and central Asia. It is known by a variety of other names, including agnus castus, chaste tree and Monk’s pepper. The tree grows to a height of approximately 15 feet, with small flowers (either white, pink or blue) that are renowned for their ability to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Chaste tree berries have a pepper-like flavor and aroma; they are typically dried and harvested for their medicinal properties.

Vitex works by stimulating the pituitary gland, particularly as it relates to the production of luteinizing hormone. This increases the production of progesterone, which helps regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle. Vitex also reduces prolactin levels, which may benefit infertile women.

Vitex’s most well-known use is in combating the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. A study conducted in 1997 found that women taking vitex experienced greater relief from PMS symptoms, including breast tenderness, cramping and headaches. Other studies have provided preliminary evidence that vitex may help women with irregular periods and infertility; small trials have found that acne associated with PMS may also be reduced with vitex.

How much vitex should I take?

The German Commission E recommends a daily intake of 40mg of dried vitex fruit. Patients may also take 40 droplets of a concentrated vitex extract with a glass of water to be taken in the morning.

What forms of vitex are available?

Dried vitex berries are available at some Asian markets and specialty food stores. Vitex is also available in powdered form in tablets and capsules, and in liquid form in alcohol-based extracts.

What can happen if I take too much vitex? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Vitex is generally considered safe; however, minor cases of upset stomach and skin rash have been reported in approximately 2% of women that take it. In addition, vitex is not recommended for use during pregnancy and should not be used in conjunction with hormone replacement therapy.

At this time, there are no well-known drug interactions with vitex.

References

  • 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, p. 108.
  • Böhnert KJ. The use of vitex agnus castus for hyperprolactinemia. Quart Rev Nat Med Spring 1997;19—21.
  • Bone K. Vitex agnus-castus: scientific studies and clinical applications. Eur J Herbal Med 1994;1:12—5.
  • 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(3):183—9.
  • Milewicz A, Gejdel E, Sworen H, et al. Vitex agnus castus extract for the treatment of menstrual irregularities due to latent hyperprolactinemia. Arzneim Forsch 1993;43:752—6 [in German].

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