Ever since I posted this article about treating female hormonal acne, there’s been some discussion about Vitex (also known exclusively as Agnus Castus in Europe… I think I confused quite a few European readers with that one!)

Vitex is an herb that can potentially be used to naturally regulate hormones, which will hopefully lead to clearer skin and fewer PMS symptoms.

What’s the deal? How do I know if Vitex is right for me? How much to take? What about potential side effects? 

I’m learning right alongside you guys, so this is some information that I have taken in since listening to your feedback. I am also going to be sharing with you a little Q & A on Vitex from a reader named Andrea, who posted this in the private forums of the last 7 Day Candida Cleanse Challenge (next one starts May 13th 2013! Sign up now).

How Do I Know if Vitex is Right For Me?

While Estroblock (aka DIM  – the other major supplement I recommended in that article) generally seems to be pretty side effect free and, I feel, worth giving it a shot just to see if it works…. however, some women who take Vitex do experience side effects. Not all, or even most – but some do. So you may want to proceed with a bit more caution.

It seems to be that women who have the hormonal imbalance of low progesterone are the ones who need Vitex. Vitex supports the pituitary gland to tell the ovaries to produce the correct amount of progesterone.

How do you know if you have low progesterone? Common symptoms that may come and go throughout the month include:

  • acne
  • weight loss
  • swollen belly
  • hair loss
  • hair on the arms and face
  • hot flashes and sweats
  • irritability especially before period
  • mood swings
  • irregular periods

These are also common symptoms that appear after women quit the birth control pill. Low progesterone is usually the imbalance they have, and Vitex often works very well for them to help balance things. Even if you haven’t recently quit birth control pills, if you have these symptoms, Vitex is likely to help.

I also recently read a comment from a reader who said “Vitex should only be taken if you have irregular periods. If you have very regular periods, then it could make things worse”

What Are Potential Side Effects?

Some women experience nausea, headaches, dry mouth, insomnia, weight gain, more acne, or even mild depression when taking Vitex. Sorry, I know that sounds scary.

However, the vast majority of women do not experience these things, and the good thing is that now you are aware of them. Since you know what to look for, if you do start to experience them, you can just quit taking the herb. From what I’ve read, the symptoms always go away very quickly after you quit taking it and are not permanent.

There are also some potential drug reactions. I won’t get into listing all that, but if you are on medication, then be sure to research drug interactions with Vitex to make sure there isn’t an issue. I also would not take it while you are on hormonal birth control.

Can I Take Estroblock and Vitex at the Same Time?

Yes, you can. Estroblock is for helping your liver to naturally metabolize bad estrogens that come through your body from our environment (like from plastics and numerous other sources so they can be hard to avoid). Vitex helps you naturally regulate your own progesterone. So they kind of do two different things and can be used together.

And here’s the little Q&A from Andrea, who shares her experience with Vitex and answers some more questions that you may have:

What is the Dosage you are Taking?

I have always been taking 400mg of Vitex Agnus Castus. The ones I take are from a UK Health Food Shop called Holland and Barrett. The company Good ‘n Natural Select Herbals make the brand I use. Directions say “take two capsules twice daily, preferably with meals, swallow with water, don’t exceed dose”.

Did you Experience any Side Effects?

Only seemingly good ones. I reckon I have been on Agnus Castus for a year.

I was on various contraceptive pills for about 10 years. I always felt terrible and had migraines, felt like my body was hollow (very odd feeling), felt on edge and irritable when I came off the pill to have a period, as per the instructions. My body did not like synthetic hormones.

All doctors dismissed my theory that the pill was causing my terrible crashes. I changed pill and changed pill on their suggestion. I dreaded my period and got very down and would often have to take a day off work a month to “cope” with the hormone crash.

Getting totally fed up I decided to say to the doctor I wanted to totally come off the pill. They tried to convince me otherwise but I wanted to try. It’s my body after all. It took a fair few periods to rid my body of the synthetic hormones. I was careful not to get pregnant but eventually decided I did not want to rely on barrier methods (sorry if this is a bit personal or if you have different views on contraception to me – but I thought I would be honest with you about my journey).

I spoke to a friend who had a coil (IUD) fitted. Did my research, spoke to my female doctor and went ahead.  I decided to have the non-hormonal coil and have to say I’m VERY happy. Contraception with no side effects (periods are a bit heavier) and no barriers.

I still experienced PMT and could be a real b***h a few days before my period, getting very frustrated and angry but the physical illness I felt reduced massively. Fed up with synthetic rubbish I visited Neal’s Yard in the UK who are good at all herbal stuff. She recommended Angus Castus for my PMS.

Being cautious of one person’s opinion I called the helpline at Holland and Barrett who also recommended it to me for my symptoms. I definitely think Agnus Castus has helped me. As they are powerful things, I can still be affected by hormones physically and in mood. But I am better than I was!!

What is Your Overall Evaluation?

Very good. Will take a while to work into your system. Not 100% cured me but certainly lessened the hormonal waves. I have to say I still feel ropey for a day before my period (headache) but happy to go to work. Hormones are seriously powerful things.  Although they are a nightmare sometimes, it’s what makes us female and able to have children so I would not be without them really. Can lessen their side effects though.

Would recommend but would say you need to investigate with an herbalist if it will fit with other medication you are on/other health issues you may have. Also keep hydrated. Hydration helps with flushing out toxins.

For How Long Have You Been Taking It?

A year I reckon. I have to say I am good at taking pills in the morning with breakfast. At dinner I seem to forget. To this end, I have only really been taking my brand of Agnus Castus once a day, not the stated twice! I am a bit rubbish and don’t help myself sometimes!! 🙂 Maybe after writing this I will try to get better!!

How Soon Did You See Any Results After Taking It?

Couple of months. The key is to decide you are going to try something and stick with it for months. It will take a while to build into your system and don’t expect marked results right away. The best things come to those who wait! I don’t see me coming off mine. They are now just part of my routine and have never considered stopping them.

I know what it’s like to research medicines/herbal remedies… it’s a nightmare. There are often good stories and nightmare stories sitting alongside one another.

I would say that I do not know you or any of the medication you are on so would not “recommend” Agnus Castus to you. You will have to make the decision yourself. However I would highly recommend you pop to a health food shop/herbalist and seek their advice. They will know if the herbs will “go” with your body.

I have only seen good things in myself while taking Angus Castus. Learning to listen to your own body is something I have had to learn. I know what my body feels like before a period/when my period is due, so these days try to plan around it to give myself a fighting chance.

Personally I try to have an easy time before my period, i.e. not make huge going out plans, but try to book some relaxing me time in to read or chill out. I try to eat a little more before period to keep blood sugar levels up (avoiding major raw sugar and going low GI stuff). This boosts my body. I know when to give in and take pain killers and go to bed. Oh the joys of being female  🙂

All the best, hope the lengthily above ramberlings assists you.  – Andrea x.

Watch Me Talk About Vitex Agnus Castus in Video Form

Have you used vitex or are using it? What have your experiences been with it?