Mechanism of Action of Vitex (Chasteberry)
“How does vitex help? Vitex does not act as a phytoestrogen (plant estrogen), a term commonly associated with balancing the female reproductive system. Vitex instead works through another important chemical pathway, the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, to balance female hormones. Vitex increases luteinizing hormone production while inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone, leading to an indirect increase in progesterone and a normalization of prolactin levels. The combination of actions produced by vitex seems to restore the estrogen/progesterone balance.”
My experience: For the most part I've found vitex to be an extremely helpful herb in my practice, with just a couple women having a negative effect.
Does Vitex Cause Side Effects?
I’m sharing a thread I found online: http://community.babycenter.com/post/a22279399/chasteberry_vitex_side_effects
Interestingly, the woman who started the thread because she suspected vitex as making her cycle late actually got pregnant! However some women reported a late or early cycle, or headaches.
We cannot say for sure if all these symptoms were due to the vitex. However effecting the hypothalamus-pituitary axis is probably not a fit for every case of luteal phase defect or infertility.
Mechanism of Action of Maca
"The biologist Dr. Chacon has done the most important scientific work to date on the maca plant. In particular, Dr. Chacon isolated four alkaloids from the maca root and carried out animal studies with male and female rats given either powdered maca root or alkaloids isolated from the roots. In comparison with the animal control groups, those receiving either root powder or alkaloids showed multiple egg follicle maturation in females and, in males, significantly higher sperm production and motility rates than control groups.
Dr. Chacon established that it was the alkaloids in the maca root, not its plant hormones, that produced fertility effects on the ovaries and testes of the rats. These effects are measurable within 72 hours of dosing the animals,' she offered in a recent telephone interview from Lima, Peru. Through the experiments, she deduced that the alkaloids were acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary gland, which explains why both male and female rats were afflicted in a gender-appropriate manner. This also explains why the effects in humans are not limited to ovaries and testes, but also act on the adrenals, giving a feeling of greater energy and vitality, and on the pancreas and thyroid as well.
Hugo Malaspina, MD, Works with Maca
Now practicing complementary medicine with an emphasis on the use of medicinal herbs, one of the earliest modern pioneers in the therapeutic use of this ancient herb for an urban population is Hugo Malaspina, MD, a respected cardiologist in Lima. Dr. Malaspina has been using the maca root in his practice for a decade and makes the following observations. 'There are different medicinal plants that work on the ovaries by stimulating them. With maca, though, we should say that it 'regulates' the ovarian function.’"
Maca is an adaptogen, which means the body will use it to self-regulate. Maca also contains a variety of nutrients.
Maca is often sited as helpful for sexual performance in older men, and management of peri and post menopausal symptoms.
My experience: I experimented with maca about 10 years ago when I worked in an herb shoppe. It gave me a good dose of energy. I am currently cautious about prescribing it to women, but after doing this research, I may loosen up on my stance in some cases.
Does Maca Cause Side Effects?
As maca seems to work on the HP axis like vitex, it may not be a fit for everyone. Or, some sources say, you may have side effects at first that could pass. One approach is to start slowly.
Substances that work on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis are working ‘upstream,’ as my talented Standard Process herb representative (and former midwife) Julie Shivley would say. This is a pretty powerful place to start, so starting slowly and ‘watching and waiting’ may be advised.
Sometimes we don’t need to go so far upstream to treat the hormones. Sometimes we need to work more on diet and lifestyle, or focus more directly on the adrenals or the ovaries (downstream, but still potent.)
To get a more accurate idea of where to focus treatment, a cycle-long female salivary panel is very helpful. We can see if in fact the brain is adequately stimulating the ovaries or not. We can also use a adrenal stress index to gauge ‘how far gone’ the adrenal glands are. This can help us decide the best course of treatment. However a medical ‘practice’ is thus named because there does always need to be some degree of trial involved!
You can order a salivary hormone test as part of private treatment booked through bridgitdanner.com.