Balancing Act

The chaste berry (vitex agnus-castus) is a distinguished member of the herbalist's pharmacopoeia, having proven its worthiness over many centuries. The physicians of Ancient Greece prescribed chaste berry to suppress sexual urges, speed the healing of wounds, treat spleen symptoms, and to ease childbirth. The English followed the lead of the Greeks and used chaste berry to suppress libido, as did the Catholic Church, which adopted the tradition of putting some of the herb into the pockets of novice monks, to aid them in their chastity vows. While there is no scientific evidence of chaste berry as a libido suppressant, these practices and beliefs likely led to Vitex's common moniker: chaste berry.

Delicate Balance

Vitex may not help you control your urges, but it really shines at restoring the delicate balance of the female hormones. One of the key factors in becoming pregnant is to ensure regular menstrual cycles and ovulation. Vitex has proven its worth on both fronts and is often useful in correcting ovulatory dysfunction.

Early American physicians used Vitex to bring on menstruation in cases of delay and also as a means of stimulating breast milk production in new mothers. Today, the value of Vitex in stimulating female hormones is still prized and it is used in modern times to treat ovulatory dysfunction, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Most problems surrounding menstrual irregularities are due to deficient progesterone production during a woman's luteal phase. This is known as corpus luteum insufficiency, or luteal phase defect. The condition is characterized by very low levels of the hormone progesterone at the 3 week mark in a woman's menstrual cycle. One of the results of this progesterone deficiency is a tendency for the formation of ovarian cysts. On the other hand, women who suffer from PCOS have too high levels of the hormone prolactin. Vitex is helpful for both of these conditions: PCOS and luteal phase defect.

Step It Up

Where there is amenorrhea, the lack of menstruation may be due to a concurrent lack of ovulation. In this case, the body may be making enough FSH to prod the ovaries into producing egg follicles, but doesn't manufacture enough progesterone to stimulate the release of the eggs (ovulation). Vitex acts on the pituitary and hypothalamus glands by stepping up the manufacture of luteinizing hormone (LH) while inhibiting the release of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). The effect of this is to force progesterone levels to rise so that the balance of estrogen to progesterone is equalized.

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