Vitex is a plant known for its medicinal properties. It is also known as monk's pepper or chasteberry. There are about 250 known species of vitex, and though many varieties have been studied and used in herbal medicine, vitex agnus-castus is the most common.
The fruits, leaves, and bark of the vitex shrub are used as herbal remedies.
Vitex is native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia, but it grows in a variety of climates and can be found worldwide. It is a large flowering shrub or small tree with gray-green leaves that smell similar to sage.
Vitex is extremely attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Its use as an herbal medicinal treatment is documented as far back as the Roman Empire in the first century.
The main use of vitex is to treat female reproductive conditions. Many studies support the use of its fruit extracts as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Research shows that these extracts are better tolerated than some conventional treatments, like conventional hormone therapy.
Scientists attribute its effectiveness to the plant containing dopamine and estrogen blockers that mitigate the impact of hormonal changes.
Vitex is composed of many natural chemicals, but two are of particular interest. Some varieties of vitex contain turpines, which give the plant its pigments and protect it against extreme temperatures. Studies have shown that turpines have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties.
Another compound in vitex is flavonoids, which have anticancer, anti-osteoporosis, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects.
Research suggests vitex has real promise in treating certain forms of breath cancer, specifically breast cancer involving cell line T-47D.
One study demonstrated that the dried and ripened fruit of the variety Vitex rotundifolia significantly reduced the growth of cancer cells. While more research is needed, this outcome is promising.
One study showed that Vitex negundo is effective at treating some forms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The study also shows that it can affect glucose tolerance and hormones that factor into PCOS and fertility, including luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone.
The use of vitex to treat PCOS is still being studied, but it could be a safe, affordable option that is easy to distribute to women who need it.
Vitex for wound healing is being studied, and results have been positive, particularly in Vitex pinnata. Finding alternatives to treating wounds is essential, especially as resistance to antibiotics becomes more of a problem.
In this study, researchers reviewed the effects of vitex on wound healing in rats. Results show that the leaf extracts from Vitex pinnata can scavenge free radicals and have effective antibacterial properties.
One study compared the results of vitex to fluconazole, an antifungal that treats vaginal yeast infections. The results showed that vitex was effective in smaller doses and acted as a more potent treatment for yeast infections than fluconazole.
Due to concerns about drug resistance in the fungus that causes yeast infections, this study shows promise for using vitex in this way in the future.
Vitex is also a potential treatment for atherosclerosis. One study looked at the effects of flavonoids and acids from the Vitex rotundifolia fruit on LDL and HDL cholesterol oxidation. Results show that these supplements effectively act against oxidation of both types of cholesterol, so vitex supplementation could help prevent atherosclerosis.
Toxicology depends on the variety of vitex. Studies show that the adverse effects of Vitex agnus-castus are reversible and mild. They include nausea, fatigue, mild GI complaints, acne, dry mouth, and a red rash.
Experts disagree about the herb's effects on lactation as there is conflicting evidence for whether vitex decreases or increases breast milk production.
No negative drug interactions have been reported for vitex, but further study is needed. Scientists recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid taking vitex.
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