Vitex chaste, AKA agnus castus or the vitex chaste berry, is one of the most widely used hormonal acne supplements. This supplement is the partner in crime of Estroblock/DIM, ranking among the elite of acne supplements for women.
As well as the aforementioned names, vitex chaste berry also goes by the name of monk’s pepper. Why? Because vitex chaste is touted as being an anaphrodisiac, and was taken by monks in the Middle Ages to suppress their libido and to avoid failing in their religious celibacy.
Altering hormones is vitex chaste’s speciality. The Romans brewed a drink from the plant’s seeds in order to decrease libido. In Ancient Greece, women were made to take vitex chaste berry while their husbands were away at war (hence the chaste name). In Iran, even today, vitex is a standard treatment for cranking up breast milk production, both the leaves and fruit.
Vitex chaste is synonymous with hormones, and that’s why it is extremely popular as an acne supplement for women. But does it work? The answer is almost certainly yes, for some women, however it works through a different mechanism to the other big cheese of hormonal supplements, DIM.
Vitex chaste clears premenstrual acne
The difference is that Estroblock/DIM reduces acne through regulation of estrogen metabolites, while vitex chaste works through increasing progesterone. By taking both it is theoretically possible that you can wipe out your monthly hormonal acne entirely by using a double-edged sword.
The vitex chaste berry is derived from the chaste tree, growing in the Mediterranean. The berry contains a highly complex mixture of alkaloids, fatty acids, and polyphenols. There’s a couple of unique ones such as the unimaginatively named vitexin and casticin.
As well as its anaphrodisiac properties (as well as aphrodisiac, depending on bodily circumstances), vitex chaste was used in Ancient Greece, Rome and Persia for premenstrual symptoms. In fact, this is the most common usage of the berry in the Western world today.
Common symptoms of premenstrual symptom include: cravings, bloating, depression, and anxiety. Acne is the last on the list. Premenstrual acne is a fear of countless women due to the lack of knowledge on how to prevent it; the menstrual cycle is clearly ingrained, so many women despair of ever finding the solution.
The good news is that vitex chaste may be that solution. Firstly, we have a study on general premenstrual symptoms. 1634 women with PMS were enrolled; each was tested for a variety of symptoms including but not limited to depression, cravings, anxiety and hyperhydration.
After taking vitex chaste over three menstrual cycles, “93% of patients reported a decrease in the number of symptoms or even cessation of PMS complaints”. 81% of patients rated their PMS status as “better or much better” following the treatment. A mere 1.2% experienced side effects from the treatments, a massive 94% experienced no side effects.
Then we have a big review of four different studies analysing the effect of vitex chaste on premenstrual syndrome. Here there was a significant reduction in all symptoms of PMS in the vitex chaste women compared to the placebo, with over 500 women being tested in total. What’s more, women afflicted with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, essentially a similar disease which is the next level in severity above PMS, benefitted hugely. They improved equally well as when given the pharmaceutical drug fluoxetine. Fluoxetine is an antidepressant, but is widely used in the short term to treat the mental effects of PMS such as anxiety, mood swings, and irritability.
Yet another great study surfaced in 2001. The goal was to compare the effectiveness and tolerability of vitex chaste berry with a placebo in PMS-ridden women. Again, each treatment was given to the women over three menstrual cycles. 86 women were given the vitex chaste berry and 84 women were given the placebo. Mean age was 36 years, so women of a variety of ages were included. Included symptoms were irritability, mood alteration, anger, headache, breast fullness, and bloating…
The results showed a much bigger improvement in PMS in the vitex chaste group. Responder rates were 52% for vitex chaste and 24% for the placebo. Only four women out of 86 reported in adverse effects from the vitex chaste treatment.
The conclusion was clear as day: “dry extract of agnus castus fruit is an effective and well tolerated treatment for the relief of symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome”.
The relevance? Vitex chaste can treat premenstrual symptoms. Acne is one of the major premenstrual symptoms, affecting women both young and middle aged…
…and finally, we have the smoking gun: a study on vitex chaste and premenstrual acne itself. The study was conducted way back in 1967, and shows preliminary evidence for an improvement in acne.
The evidence is promising and is backed up by countless positive tales on the internet. Is the scientific mechanism known? Yes – an increase in the hormone progesterone.
Vitex chaste controls acne via a progesterone increase
Progesterone is the most famous female sex hormone next to estrogen. Both men and women have low levels of progesterone, but it’s far more relevant to women’s health and acne due to the fluctuations that levels undergo constantly.
Progesterone’s main roles in the body involve regulation of blood sugar, mood, thyroid hormone production, and of course the menstrual cycle. However, it has a tight relationship to other hormones; “estrogen dominance” can suppress levels enough to cause acne. Out of control estrogen and suppressed levels of progesterone are a major reason why acne worsens during stages of a woman’s monthly cycle.
The problems of low progesterone are as follows. The main one is easily oily skin and blocked pores. Low progesterone causes an elevation in 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme that converts the androgen testosterone into its more active form DHT. Both testosterone and DHT are vital for health but too much DHT will lead to massive stimulation of your sebaceous glands, and massively blocked pores.
Women’s skin is ten times more sensitive to androgens than men’s; DHT is the strongest androgen of the lot. Low progesterone equals high DHT equals oily skin.
Other problems from low progesterone include poor regulation of insulin, poor regulation of blood sugar, and elevated stress levels (an acne-causing monster). Suppressed levels of progesterone most commonly occur during menstruation, but it’s possible to have a permanently lower baseline of progesterone as well.
How does vitex chaste help? The supplement basically normalises your progesterone levels, so if they’re low, the berry will increase production, and if they’re high, it will put the brakes on. The mechanisms are extremely complex. Vitex chaste berry affects a variety of hormonal actors such as luteinising hormone, prolactin (the hormone which stimulates breast milk production) and follicle-stimulating hormone.
How the berry increases progesterone is not vital however; what’s important is that vitex gets the job done, and it does.
As we covered in this article, DIM/Estroblock has an excellent track record of curing women’s hormonal acne. I speculated that its benefits are likely due not to lowering overall estrogen, but by helping the liver to produce beneficial estrogen metabolites instead of unhealthy ones.
The vitex chaste berry is the second most popular female hormonal acne supplement, and works by increasing progesterone. The testimonials aren’t uniformly positive. One woman said that vitex cleared her up 100% within one month, yet another said that she broke out with a rash of acne across her chin and jawline.
Overall, the testimonials are more convincing for Estroblock, but the science is significantly clearer for vitex. Hence, I won’t officially recommend the vitex chaste supplement, or agnus castus as it is known scientifically, but if you’re suffering from PMS-induced acne and willing to experiment then it might work.
Maybe Estroblock has failed to solve your PMS and you’re searching for an alternative; in that case you might strike gold with vitex. The mechanisms are different enough that one might fail miserably while the other one works miraculously. Vitamin B6 is also worth a shot.
Side effects are not particularly common, but can include nausea, headaches, a dry mouth, insomnia, weight gain, and more acne. If you notice these effects from vitex then cease taking it immediately and try something else. Overall, nothing too deadly has been reported.
Thanks for reading!