The medicinal herb vitex, also known by the common names chasteberry and monk's pepper, has been used for hundreds of years as a component of naturopathic medicine. For men, vitex has been used most commonly as an anaphrodisiac, or a product to reduce sex drive. Women traditionally used vitex to treat menstrual problems, infertility and complications of pregnancy. Despite its historic use, vitex has been the subject of relatively little research. There is no compelling evidence supporting or refuting its safety during pregnancy.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Scientists are currently uncertain about how vitex affects the human body. The National Centers for Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests that it may operate by affecting levels of female reproductive hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone 1. It also appears to affect the neurotransmitter dopamine, which influences mood and certain reproductive activities. There is no available research determining how these effects might influence the viability of a pregnancy or the development of a fetus.
- Scientists are currently uncertain about how vitex affects the human body.
- There is no available research determining how these effects might influence the viability of a pregnancy or the development of a fetus.
The Fennel Herb and Estrogen
In modern naturopathy, vitex is most noted for its use as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. A well-designed 2001 study published in the "British Medical Journal" found that vitex relieved several common symptoms of this condition, including mood disruptions and physical discomfort. Because similar problems are common during pregnancy, it is at least plausible that vitex can ease these discomforts during gestation. However, no studies have investigated chasteberry's specific benefits to pregnant women.
- In modern naturopathy, vitex is most noted for its use as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome, or PMS.
- A well-designed 2001 study published in the "British Medical Journal" found that vitex relieved several common symptoms of this condition, including mood disruptions and physical discomfort.
The NCCAM specifically advises against the use of vitex during pregnancy, noting that its hormonal effects could be detrimental to the mother or unborn child. Although there is no clear evidence of risk, it is possible that vitex might increase the risk of birth defects. Hormonal effects associated with vitex could also lead to preterm labor, postterm labor, or other pregnancy complications. Well-designed clinical trials are needed to determine vitex's impact on fetal development and on gestation itself.
- The NCCAM specifically advises against the use of vitex during pregnancy, noting that its hormonal effects could be detrimental to the mother or unborn child.
General Side Effects
Dosage for Agnus Castus
Even in nonpregnant individuals, vitex can lead to certain uncomfortable side effects. According to the NCCAM, however, vitex has not been known to cause serious side effects. Minor problems such as dizziness, rash and digestive upsets are among the most common problems associated with the herb. As a precaution, women should generally avoid vitex supplements unless they are under a health care provider's guidance, particularly during pregnancy and lactation. Only a qualified practitioner can make an appropriate decision regarding the use of medicinal herbs.
- Even in nonpregnant individuals, vitex can lead to certain uncomfortable side effects.
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- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Chasteberry
- "British Medical Journal"; Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit extract: prospective, randomised, placebo controlled study; January 2001
- Natural Standard. Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Guide - E-Book An Evidence-Based Reference. St Louis: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2016.
- Die MV, Burger H, Teede H, Bone K. Vitex agnus-castus Extracts for Female Reproductive Disorders: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials. Planta Medica. 2012;79(07):562-575. doi:10.1055/s-0032-1327831.
- Momoeda M, Sasaki H, Tagashira E, Ogishima M, Takano Y, Ochiai K. Efficacy and Safety of Vitex agnus-castus Extract for Treatment of Premenstrual Syndrome in Japanese Patients: A Prospective, Open-label Study. Advances in Therapy. 2014;31(3):362-373. doi:10.1007/s12325-014-0106-z.
- Van die MD, Burger HG, Teede HJ, Bone KM. Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste-Tree/Berry) in the treatment of menopause-related complaints. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(8):853-62. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0447
- Westphal LM, Polan ML, Trant AS. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of Fertilityblend: a nutritional supplement for improving fertility in women. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 2006;33(4):205-8.
- Daniele C, Thompson coon J, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Vitex agnus castus: a systematic review of adverse events. Drug Saf. 2005;28(4):319-32. doi:10.2165/00002018-200528040-00004
- Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. Updated June 17, 2011.
Juniper Russo, an eclectic autodidact, has been writing professionally since 2008. Her work has appeared in several online and print-based publications, including Animal Wellness. Russo regularly publishes health-related content and advocates an evidence-based, naturopathic approach to health care.