April showers bring May flowers. We've all heard that right? The concept is that we deal with the rain of spring to enjoy the bountiful blooms that follow. In order to grow, the leaves and flowers need water and nutrients. This saying makes me think about how we approach fertility challenges as practitioners of Chinese medicine. In order for conception to occur, the body needs to be in balance, nourished, and prepared. This is a holistic approach and often involves utilizing acupuncture and herbal medicine for both partners for stress reduction, hormone balancing, digestion support and menstrual cycle support. The tip this month is a look at Vitex, one of my favorite herbs, and how it can be used as part of the "rain" or nourishment to the internal "soil" to create a more optimum environment for conception or "blooms"
Vitex, called Man Jing Zi in TCM, is the fruit from the Chaste Tree. In terms of classification, it is actually in a category of herbs that clear heat from the body. It helps to stop pain and disperses the heat that is created by the inflammatory process. It also has a tonic regulating effect on the reproductive system in both genders, meaning it can strengthen both female and male reproductive success. So what does this tiny berry actually do for reproductive health?
For starters, Vitex acts on the pituitary gland. It stimulates the production of luteinizing hormone which in females, can help to balance progesterone and prolactin levels to support regular menstrual cycles and healthy ovulation. In men, luteinizing hormone stimulates the testes to release testosterone, which is essential for sperm production. This action on the pituitary and luteinizing hormone can be a huge help in promoting a more fertile environment for conception in both men and women.
Vitex can also help with PMS symptoms. Part of the reason for this is in its ability to clear heat. Often, the symptoms of PMS arise out of stagnation. In Chinese medicine, this stagnation if often associated with inflammation and the generation of heat. Vitex can clear this heat and help reduce PMS symptoms, especially headaches, as this herb exerts most of its influence in the upper part of the body. Note the relationship here, it benefits PMS headaches and influences the pituitary gland in the head...amazing! It can also help with breast tenderness and cramping and it is thought that the reason it works here is that by increasing progesterone, estrogen is more balanced and there are fewer prostaglandins. High levels of prostaglandins contribute to painful periods and breast tenderness. A menstrual cycle that is more in balance, regular and with less pain will also help promote healthy conception.
In the clinic, I prescribe Vitex to both men and women when facing fertility challenges and in women, also for conditions related to the menstrual cycle, so you can see why this super powerful little fruit is one of my favorite herbal medicinals. It's important, however, to talk to your herbalist or physician before adding Vitex into your supplementation routine, because it isn't a cure all and isn't the right choice for every patient or condition.
If you know me, you know I love research, so if you're interested, here are a few studies that support the use of Vitex.
**All information and resources found on balancedstonewellness.com are based on the opinions, experience and research of the author unless otherwise noted. All information is intended to motivate readers to make their own nutrition and health decisions after consulting with their health care provider...even if that provider may be the author ;)