Women face a lot of health issues that are unique to them. Adult women, in particular, can experience health issues surrounding their menstrual cycle. Period pains, the risk of anemia during the monthly cycle, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and similar issues are all common.1
Some women manage their day-to-day health using diet, exercise, and basic lifestyle changes, perhaps taking the odd over-the-counter painkiller if they are struggling with cramps or migraines. Others turn to supplements to help manage their monthly cycle and the issues surrounding it. Vitex is one popular supplement among adult women, but what is it, and is it worth the money?
What Is Vitex?
Vitex, or more scientifically, Vitex agnus-castus, is colloquially known as chasteberry. It is a popular supplement, and it is used to remedy a wide range of issues, especially for women. Proponents of the supplement believe that it can be effectively used to remedy PMS and menopause symptoms.2
The supplement comes from the Verbenaceae family of plants. The fruit of the plant was originally used to reduce male libido during the middle ages, hence the name “chasteberry,” and it has a long history in traditional medicine. In Turkey, it is used to reduce anxiety and as a digestive aid.3
Uses for Vitex
Vitex is thought to have a lot of value in terms of women’s health. It is believed to be useful for PMS symptoms, acne, and menopause symptoms.
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That’s quite a list of potential conditions that it can help with. It is thought that vitex works by balancing female hormones, reducing the level of prolactin in the blood, and thereby improving the balance of estrogen and progestogen. Studies do back this theory up. While more research is needed for a more definite conclusion, the results of recent studies show evidence that vitex extracts could help to reduce the severity of PMS and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.4
One study conducted in Japan involved 69 female participants. The women were given a dose of vitex extract each day for the duration of three menstrual cycles and were asked to rate the severity of PMS symptoms including irritability, anger, bloating, fatigue, sleeplessness, and breast fullness. A statistically significant decrease in symptoms was observed in the vast majority of the study participants after three months. Eight of the participants reported some side effects from the use of vitex extract. However, the side-effects were minor.5
When it comes to managing symptoms of menopause, results are limited. While some older studies showed incredibly positive results, others have found that vitex is no better than a placebo.6,7 When it comes to menopause, it could be that symptoms are so broad and complex that a more varied approach is required.
Is Vitex Safe?
There is a lot of misinformation out there surrounding herbal remedies. For the most part, vitex is well-tolerated, and those who do experience symptoms usually report only mild issues. However, there are some cases where vitex should be avoided.
New research suggests that it is not safe to use vitex while nursing.8 For women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding, however, it is likely safe to use vitex in small quantities. Researchers have tested doses of 30 to 40 mg of dried fruit extract or three to six grams of dried herb and found that most people do not report adverse effects with those doses.9
The use of herbal remedies is not recommended, however, for those who are using birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or antipsychotic medications. If you cannot take vitex because you are taking medication or you find that vitex does not work for you, there are other options that you can use to help reduce the side-effects of menopause or ease period pains.
Regular exercise has been shown to help reduce cramping and improve mood, which makes it useful for those who are struggling with menstrual symptoms.10 Those who struggle with exercise or who want something gentler to help with their symptoms may find that yoga, meditation, massage, or aromatherapy (or some combination of those things) could help them to relax, reduce the intensity and severity of mood swings, and reduce cramps.
Lavender, in particular, has been found to be helpful with both the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS, with studies showing that it offers a statistically significant improvement in symptoms after regular inhalation therapies.11 This is a popular essential oil that can be used topically or aromatically in a room diffuser or personal diffuser like Sleepy.
Small lifestyle changes such as diet improvements, exercise, drinking more water, and finding ways to reduce stress can often help with PMS, period pains, and menopause. Women who are going through menopause may find that lavender, rose, or jasmine essential oils could help them. In fact, there are studies which support the use of aromatherapy and massage oils as a method of improving menopausal symptoms.12
Remember: herbal remedies and essential oils are intended as a form of complementary therapy, not as a primary method of treatment. They can be helpful for managing minor symptoms and as a form of self-care. However, for women who are struggling with very heavy periods, severe cramps, or debilitating mood swings or hot flashes, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor to get personalized advice and to rule out other more serious underlying conditions.
If you’re a generally healthy individual but are looking for some relief for PMS or menopause symptoms, vitex could be a great potential option to incorporate into your routine in small doses.
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