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Umeboshi is a Japanese salty-sour plum (ume). The plums are pickled with sea salt and sundried for three to four days in the hottest days of the summer, then pickled again with sisho leaves. Increasingly available in western health food shops, umeboshi is highly alkaline and antibiotic. It is revered in Japan a~ a digestive aid, blood purifyer, general tonic and intestine regulator.
A wild herb with fragrant flowers, valerian is cultivated for its root and its essential oil. A tincture of the oil is well known as a strong sedative that counteracts anxiety, calms nervousness, and reduces heart palpitations, spasms and epileptic fits. Valerian is a wonderfully soothing herb which promotes sleep and is a good painkiller. Traditionally used to prevent fainting, valerian can help in the treatment of digestive ulcers and reduce the urge to smoke. Available from health food stores, pharmacies and herbalists. Also widely incorporated in nutritional formulas.
Caution: Valerian should not be prepared as a tea unless prescribed by a doctor. Prolonged use of the herb can cause depression
An essential amino acid needed for the formation of protein in the body, valine has a stimulating effect. It is one of the three branched chain amino acids and, in combination with the other two, leucine and isoleucine, valine benefits muscles. It assists the repair of muscle tissue in cases of injury. Available from health food stores and in nutritional formulas.
Vanadium has recendy been discovered as an essential nutrient in human nutrition. Named after the Scandinavian goddess of beauty, vanadium is a trace element that appears to improve insulin action. Vanadium supplements (mosdy as vanadyl sulphate) have improved glucose tolerance in animals, inhibited cholesterol and increased bone mineralization. As a result, vanadyl sulphate is now commonly used by diabetics. Vanadyl sulphate is found in many foods. Its best sources include buckwheat, parsley, mushrooms, black pepper, dill and shellfish. No deficiency symptoms of vanadium have been noted so far, but a daily intake of 10-60 mcg is considered normal. An upper limit was recendy set at 1.8 mg a day.
The vegan diet is a strict form of vegetarianism that promotes the use of fruits, vegetables and spring water, and excludes any animal foods, even those accepted by many vegetarians, such as dairy foods or eggs. Vegan diets have proved beneficial in detoxifying the blood, preventing various diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis and curing inflammations and allergic conditions such as asthma and hay fever. Allergies and inflammations are known to arise from leukotrienes, metabolic derivatives of arachidonic acid. This is an essential fatty acid found exclusively in animal products. The elimination of animal products, as in the vegan diet, is thought to prevent the formation of leukotrienes and their related diseases. Obviously, a strict, long-term vegan diet is not suitable for everyone, and could create deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc and proteins, leading to fatigue and anaemia. However, this effect can be avoided by the use of concentrated foods such as brewer's yeast, bee pollen, spirulina, blue-green algae, chlorella, or by taking supplements. Another way to avoid protein deficiency among vegans is to eat the correct plant protein combinations, for instance, by combining grains and legumes at the same meal and in the correct proportions to yield usable protein (see Complete Nutrition). Soya products such as miso and tofu are also very helpful for increasing protein intake. It should be remembered, however, that nutrient requirements vary from person to person, and that for many people strict dietary restrictions can cause nutrient shortages and deficiency symptoms unless supplements are used.
A vegetarian diet excludes the use of animal meats, but not necessarily the use of other animal products such as eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese. It depends on the individual interpretation of vegetarianism. However, all vegetarian diets are high in fibre and, usually, the protein problem is less acute than in the vegan diet, since vegetarians use some animal protein, which supplies vitamin B12, and they also use high-protein soya products freely, such as tofu and miso. In general, vegetarian diets have been shown to be effective in lowering high cholesterol levels and hypertension, preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease, alleviating constipation and reducing the risk of colon cancer, breast cancer and kidney stones. A vegetarian diet can also help to prevent osteoporosis, since a high protein diet and sugar are known to increase excretion of calcium in the Urine.
A herb that grows wild in meadows and roadside verges, it is also widely cultivated as a garden plant. It was traditionally regarded as a 'sacred' herb, and infusions of verbena leaves are used by both herbalists and homeopaths. Taken in a single dose, these infusions are diuretic, they loosen phlegm so that it can be coughed up, stimulate vomiting, promote perspiration, relieve indigestion, and can benefit ulcers and colitis. Vervain is also a sedative, relieving depression and anxiety, inducing sleep and alleviating certain types of migraine.
Vine leaves are commonly used in Mediterranean cooking and contain important bioflavonoids, such as anthocyanidins which are potent antioxidants, and other flavonoids. These factors promote blood circulation, strengthen veins and capillaries and help retain their flexibility. The leaves are also recommended in the treatment of varicose veins and haemorrhoids. Available from specialist ethnic grocers.
Vitamins are micronutrients, a group of about twenty organic substances other than proteins, carbohydrates, fats, numerals or salts. Vitamins are extremely complex chemical substances. Being essential to human nutrition, they are found in minute amounts in foods. The first ones were discovered in 1911 by Dr Casimir Funk, but by now they have been isolated and synthesized. Like their name implies, they contain a vital part, with an amine group attached. Vitamins do not contain calories and are not a source of energy, but they are vitally important as constituents of enzymes, the organic catalysts that release energy and sustain life. Vitamins are indispensable for normal metabolism, growth, well-being, body development and reproduction. Vitamins work together, enhancing each other's effects, and their shortage is known to cause deficiency diseases. Vitamins are not formed in the body but must be supplied by plant or animal foods. The few exceptions include vitamin A which can be formed in the body from its precursor, beta carotene; vitiating D formed by the action of ultraviolet light on the skin; and vitamin K formed by intestinal bacteria. As a general rule, vitamins are unstable, easily destroyed by air, oxidation, heat, light, drugs and aging. Vitamins are broadly classified into water-soluble vitamins (such as the B complex and C) which are measured in milligrams, and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) measured in international units (i.u.). Although each one of us basically needs the same vitamins, we are all individuals biochemically. Personal requirements vary with metabolic rate, food intolerance, genetic makeup, lifestyle, sex, age and body size. Requirements for vitamins A and C for example, can vary up to twentyfold between different people. Vitamins are seriously depleted in the body by smoking, alcohol, drugs, stress, the contraceptive pill, crash diets and by common diets rich in refined carbohydrates such as white sugar, polished rice and white flour, from which most vitamins have been removed during processing. Balancing diet shortages with vitamin supplements, above the Recommended Daily Allowances, is therefore highly recommended by nutritionists to prevent deficiency symptoms and sustain a feeling of well being. Megavitamin supplementation, that is, taking vitamins in extremely high doses for specific conditions, should be done only under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant, fat-soluble vitamin that occurs in two forms. In animal foods such as fish oils and liver, it occurs as retinol which is readily used by the body or stored in the liver. In vegetable foods, it occurs as beta carotene and other arytenoids (provitamin A) which must first be converted in the body to retinol, before becoming usable as vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for growth, development and fertility. It boosts the immune system and helps to fight colds, increasing resistance to infections of mucous tissue linings such as eyes, ears, throat, lungs and bladder. Together with beta carotene it improves vision, especially night vision, by forming a photosensitive pigment called visual purple.Vitamin A maintains a healthy-looking skin, preventing acne, dermatitis and skin cancer. High doses of retinol and beta carotene can also prevent cancer of the lungs, bladder and breasts. Deficiency symptoms include red itchy eyes, impaired vision, dry or rough skin and a predisposition to colds and infections.
Vitamin A is stored in the liver until needed and, in spite of its wide prevalence, deficiencies do occur. Most vulnerable are dieters, people on low fat regimes and vegans, since only a small part of the beta carotene is converted to retinol if the fat intake is low. Vitamin A supplements are therefore important in unbalanced diets. The Recommended Daily Allowance for adults is 5,000, and for children 3,000 i.e. Requirements increase during illness, but decrease when using oral contraceptives. Most nutritionists recommend a daily dose of 10,000'i.u. for adults. Excessive doses in the order of 50,000, taken regularly over periods of a few months, can produce toxic effects.
B complex is a group of water-soluble B vitamins that occur together in many vegetables and animal foods. Rich sources include liver, brewer's yeast, raw wheat germ and brown rice. Although certain functions of many B vitamins overlap, all have their own characteristics and they cannot replace one another. Moreover, they interact with each other in many bodily functions. They are vital for such activities as energy production, carbohydrate metabolism and proper nerve function. They have a wide range of effects, from alleviating stress to preventing atherosclerosis. Their deficiency symptoms include fatigue, nervousness, depression, anaemia, weak digestion, poor appetite, constipation, hair loss and high cholesterol levels. B vitamins are depleted by refined sugar and flour, and by alcohol and, being water-soluble, the B vitamins in raw vegetables readily dissolve into the cooking water, enriching the soup or cooking liquid. It is important therefore to save the cooking water of vegetables or brown rice as this provides a rich source of B vitamins. When taking supplements of B vitamins, it is best to consume the whole B complex. Excessive supplementation of only one of the B vitamins disrupts the balance and can promote elimination of the others. When a specific B vitamin is needed to treat a particular condition, say B6 for dieting, it is best to take an additional source of B complex in order to maintain a proper balance of the other B vitamins.
This was the first B vitamin to be identified and, as it was discovered in rice husks, thiamine became commonly known as the care for beri-beri, a fatal Asian disease caused by eating polished rice. It was realized that the symptoms of beri-beri, such as mental disturbances, muscle wasting, hypertension and heart attacks, could be cured simply by eating raw brown rice.
As a coenzyme, thiamine is essential for energy production, carbohydrate metabolism and nerve function. As an antioxidant, it can help to prevent arthritis and atherosclerosis caused by free radical damage. Together with vitamin C and cysteine, thiamine also helps to protect from the damage caused by smoking and smog. Thiamine has been called the 'morale vitamin' due to its salutary effect on the nerves. It promotes a feeling of optimism, helps to overcome stress, depression, anxiety and poor memory, stabilizes appetite and maintains normal heart function; it is important to growth, lactation and fertility. Deficiency symptoms include fatigue, water retention, poor appetite, heart palpitations, low thyroid function, nervous exhaustion, irritability, fear, anxiety and confusion. Among the best natural sources of thiamine are brewer's yeast, rice bran, raw wheat germ, whole grains, peanuts and green and yellow vegetables. The vitamin is destroyed by alcohol, coffee, tea and raw fish. The Recommended Daily Allowance is 1.4 mg for adults and 0.7 mg for children, but many people use supplements containing 50 mg to ensure a feeling of well-being. Requirements increase during stress, lactation or illness.
First identified as the yellow-green pigment in milk, riboflavin is vital for metabolism and energy production. Together with vitamin A, it contributes to good vision and promotes growth and fertility. Large doses have been reported to prevent athlete's foot, improve eczemas and allergies and counteract a sweet tooth. Riboflavin is not destroyed by cooking, but it is sensitive to light - which is why milk, which is a good source of riboflavin, should not be kept in clear containers or exposed to strong sunlight. Riboflavin deficiency symptoms include the cracking of the lips at the corner of the mouth, tongue inflammations, a sensation of sand in the eyes, cataracts, migraine, scaly skin on the face, dental problems, anaemia and heart disease. Among the best natural sources of the vitamin are milk, liver, brewer's yeast, dairy products, leafy green vegetables, fish and eggs. The Recommended Daily Allowance is 1.7 mg for adults and 1 mg for children, although most popular supplements contain 50 mg. Since riboflavin is excreted through the kidneys, excessive consumption or supplementation will result in yellowish-green urine, but this is perfectly normal.
Also called nicotinic acid, niacin was discovered while searching for the cause of pellagra, a common endemic disease of the eighteenth century, which is characterized by the three Ds - dermatitis, dementia and diarrhoea. It is a water-soluble vitamin available in two forms, niacin and niacinamide. Niacin assists metabolism, digestion and energy production and improves blood circulation, preventing blood clots and heart attacks; it lowers high cholesterol levels safely and effectively when taken in daily doses of 3 g or more and is vital to a healthy nervous system, alleviating nervousness, mental disorders and suicidal tendencies. It also enhances insulin secretion and has been reported to benefit new cases of diabetes. In higher doses of 50 mg, niacin releases histamine which produces a temporary hot skin flush for a few minutes. This reaction can be prevented by using niacinamide instead of niacin or by using 'flush free' niacin products. (Histamine is a chemical released during allergic reactions, but which is also vital to various functions of the body such as growth, wound healing and orgasm.) Severe deficiencies of niacin can bring about the symptoms of pellagra, although nowadays this is somewhat rare. However, lower deficiencies are very common and symptoms can include fatigue, indigestion, bad breath, arthritis, headaches, high cholesterol levels, headaches and lost sense of humour.
Megadoses of a few grams of niacin a day have been used successfully to treat clinical depression and schizophrenia and it is assumed that such illnesses are indicative of a much higher requirement for niacin. Niacin supplements have also been used to treat alcoholism and smoking. Among the best natural sources of niacin are liver, brewer's yeast, eggs, fish, rice bran, wheat bran, peanuts, sunflower seeds and wheat germ. The Recommended Daily Allowance is 20 mg for adults and 13 mg for children. However, niacin supplementation of 50-100 mg a day can be safely used for greater benefits. Niacin and niacinamide supplements are available on their own or included in B complex or multivitamin formulations. Niacin supplements are best taken with meals.
One of the busiest of the B vitamins, pyridoxine is an antioxidant vitamin and is involved with more than sixty enzymes, taking part in many and varied metabolic functions. It promotes muscle energy by releasing stored sugar tram the liver; it helps to metabolize fats and control obesity, lowers cholesterol and prevents atherosclerosis; it regulates the sodium-potassium balance, preventing waterretention; it maintains a correct acid-alkaline ratio and assists the functions of nerves. Pyridoxine also inhibits the release of histamine and is therefore beneficial to asthmatics and allergy sufferers, and it helps to synthesize nucleic acids, antibodies and red blood cells. In addition, it promotes healthy pregnancies, strengthens the immune system and assists blood formation. Pyridoxine supplements of 50 mg daily can effectively prevent morning sickness in pregnancy, and higher doses of 200 mg daily are reported to be effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome, reducing the need for surgery. Pyridoxine is also involved in brain chemistry, promoting the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, and it has been found helpful for controlling occurrences of epileptic seizures. Together with magnesium, pyridoxine inhibits the formation of oxalic acid salts, such as calcium oxalate, thus helping to prevent kidney stones.
Pyridoxine is not stored in the body, and is depleted in milk by pasteurization, partially destroyed by cooking, and mostly removed from grains by refining. Alcohol and the contraceptive pill are among its greatest antagonists, and any woman on the pill should consider taking pyridoxine supplements. Deficiency symptoms include water retention, linear nail ridges, tongue inflammations, inability to tan, numbness of hands and feet, convulsions in children, depression, tremors, hypoglycaemia, diabetes, appetite loss, high cholesterol levels, kidney stones, osteoporosis, arthritis, allergies, asthma, anaemia and poor dream recollection.
Some of the best natural sources of pyrodoxine are brewer's yeast, liver and kidney, sunflower seeds, raw wheat germ, walnuts, molasses, cabbage, milk and eggs. The Recommended Daily Allowance for adults is 2.2 mg, and 1.7 mg for children. The normal nutritional supplementation range is between 50 and 100 mg daily. As it is a water-soluble vitamin, pyridoxine supplementation is best divided throughout the day and taken at intervals.
solated from liver extract in 1948, vitamin B 12 was identified as the food factor that prevents the fatal condition pernicious anaemia. The vitamin is water soluble and contains the mineral cobalt, hence its name. It comes in several forms, of which cyanocobalamin is the most common.
Although cobalamin is required in tiny amounts, measured in micrograms, it is essential for the functioning of all cells and is principally involved in energy metabolism, immune function and nerve function. Together with folic acid, the vitamin forms red blood cells to prevent anaemia, and promotes growth and appetite in children, increases energy, improves brain functions such as memory and learning ability, maintains a healthy nervous system, stabilizes menstruation and prevents post-natal depression. Vitamin B 12 is used to treat a wide range of conditions, such as fatigue, depression, Alzheimer's disease, asthma, infertility, multiple sclerosis, noise-induced hearing loss and AIDS. The absorption ofB12 depends on a stomach secretion called the 'intrinsic factor'. Many people with reduced secretion suffer unknowingly from a deficiency of the vitamin, which can take years to manifest since B 12 is stored in the liver - unlike the other water-soluble vitamins. B 12 deficiency is thought to be especially common in the elderly, and affects primarily the brain and nervous system. Apart from fatigue and depression, deficiency symptoms include a pins-and-needles sensation, impaired memory, red tongue, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, heart palpitation and apathy. More acute deficiencies include symptoms such as loss of co-ordination and senile dementia. B12 is found in significant quantities only in animal products, and its richest sources are liver, kidneys, sardines, eggs, fish and cheese. In non-animal foods, B 12 is found in fermented soya products (miso, tofu, tempeh), algae (spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae) and bee pollen. Vegans and strict vegetarians are well advised to take B 12 supplements to prevent deficiencies. The Recommended Daily Allowance is 2 mcg for adults and 1 mcg for children. Supplements are available in potencies of between 60 mcg and 2,000 mcg. Some people are not able to absorb B12 easily, and therefore need to take high supplementary dosages, either orally or by injection.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that was recognized as a care for scurvy long before it was isolated in 1933. In recent years, it has received a great deal of public attention as a care for the common cold. But vitamin C does much more than just prevent scurvy and colds. For example, as an antioxidant, it delays ageing and prevents age-related diseases, from arthritis to Parkinson's disease; as an antihistamine, it alleviates allergies; and as an antipollutant, it eliminates toxins from the body. However, the chief function of vitamin C is the production of collagen, the structural protein that holds our bodies together. fu such, it hastens the healing of wounds, prevents bleeding gums and strengthens capillaries and blood vessels, preventing heart attacks and strokes. Collagen is also the subcutaneous' cement' , and facial wrinkles can be a sign of a life-long deficiency in vitamin C.Vitamin C is also a powerful booster of the immune system and is well known for its ability to increase resistance to infection and disease by increasing the production of anti-bodies and interferon, which fight microbes and viruses. Scientific studies have confirmed that megadoses of vitamin C can reduce the risk of a wide range of cancers, and also inhibit tumour development and prolong the survival of cancer patients. In dosages of at least 1,000 mg a day, vitamin C helps to lower cholesterol by speeding its conversion to bile. Vitamin C also aids the absorption of iron, preventing anaemia and provides protection against the devastating effects of smoking and alcoholism. Deficiency symptoms of vitamin C include susceptibility to colds, infections and allergies, easy bruising and the slow healing of wounds, inflamed gums and defective teeth, fatigue and anaemia, and nervousness, anxiety and depression. Among the best natural sources of the vitamin are fresh citrus fruits, peppers, guavas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, papaya and kiwi. The natural vitamin C in fruits and vegetables is highly perishable as the vitamin is unstable and disintegrates, not only in cooking, but also in peeled fruits and vegetables. The Recommended Daily Allowances of viamin Care 60 mg for adults and 45 mg for children. However, these are ridiculously low dosages that can mainly prevent scurvy. For optimal benefits, doses of a few grams a day are recommended. Vitamin C tablets that contain bioflavonoids are preferable.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, supplied either by food or exposure to the sun. It is known as the 'sunshine vitamin' since the sun's ultra violet rays convert subcutaneous cholesterol to vitamin D. There are two major forms of vitamin D - D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol); vitamin D2 is the form added to milk and used in nutritional supplements. Vitamin D promotes absorption of calcium and phosphorus, both of which are vital for strong bones and teeth and for preventing rickets in children. Vitamin D assists the assimilation of vitamin A and maintains a healthy nervous system, normal heartbeat and efficient blood clotting. It is mainly stored in the liver. In food, the vitamin is absorbed with fats through the intestines: when produced by the sun, it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Typical deficiency symptoms include porous bones and teeth, leading to rickets, tooth decay, fatigue and arthritis, and one report links myopia (short-sightedness) to vitamin D deficiency. The vitamin is scarce in vegetables and its best natural sources include fish liver oil, sardines, herring, salmon, tuna and fortified milk. The Recommended Daily Allowance is 400 i.u for adults and children.
Caution: Prolonged daily doses above 1,600 i.u. can lead to over-accumulation and toxicity symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea, excessive urination, calcification of arteries and kidney damage.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin composed of a group of substances known as tocopherols, which are subdivided into alpha, beta, gamma, and so forth. Of these, alpha tocopherol is the most active. Vitamin E is available in both natural and synthetic forms, with the natural forms designated' d' on supplement labels, as in d-alpha-tocopherol, and the synthetic forms designated' dl' , as in dl-alpha-tocopherol. The two forms are mirror images of one another, but only the natural' d' -form is recognized by the body. 'Tocopherol' is derived from two Greek words meaning 'childbearing', since early studies of vitamin E involved fertility problems. Vitamin E is a most important lipid antioxidant. It binds oxygen and protects the fats in our bodies from the damaging effects of uncontrolled oxidation, peroxides and free radicals. These peroxides attack body cells, immune cells and cholesterol, reducing resistance and causing the degenerative diseases of ageing, such as cancer, heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, senility and diabetes. By binding oxygen, vitamin E alleviates some of the primary causes of death and helps to extend life-span. Vitamin E improves cell respiration (a boon to joggers), promotes fertility and sexual potency, is very effective in preventing the hot flushes of menopause and miscarriages, and protects the body from common pollutants such as ozone, radiation and toxic elements.The vitamin is used in the treatment of many conditions, including atherosclerosis, angina, hypertension, cancer, haemolytic anaemia, allergies, cataracts, eczema, acne, premenstrual syndrome, skin ulcers, burns and digestive ulcers. A recent study has shown that a daily dose of 2,000 i.u. taken regularly can slow the deterioration resulting from Alzheimer's disease. Vitamin E deficiency symptoms include fatigue and premature ageing, sterility and miscarriage, muscular dystrophy, haemolytic anaemia (which is not responsive to iron intake), circulatory disorders such as coronary thrombosis, varicose veins and thrombophlebitis, lameness due to poor circulation (claudication), kidney inflammation, degeneration of sex glands, and slow healing of wounds and burns. Among its best natural sources are raw wheat germ and wheat germ oil, vegetable oils, soybeans, whole grains, eggs and leafy green vegetables. The Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin E is 15 i.u. for adults and 10.5 i.u. for children. However, for optimal protection, much higher doses are recommended. Vitamin E is available in potencies between 100 i.u. and 1,000 i.u. on its own, and it is also included in nutritional formulas. The most popular daily supplement is 400 i.u.
A fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin K tends to be a neglected nutrient because it is rarely deficient. It is known for its role in producing blood-clotting factors, such as prothrombin and, in this way, it contributes to the prevention of internal haemorrhaging and reduces excessive menstrual flow. It is also used to prevent haemorrhagic diseases in babies.In addition, vitamin K has recently been found to promote the building of healthy bones and to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin K occurs in three forms: K 1 (phylloquinone), the natural vitamin K from plants; K2 (menaquinone), derived from intestinal bacteria; and K3 (menadione), which is the synthetic version of vitamin K available for those who cannot absorb it from food. To ensure adequate absorption and production of vitamin K in the body, cultured milk products such as yogurt and buttermilk, as well as vegetable oils, should be included in the daily diet. Antibiotics and overconsumption of sugar and sweets inhibit vitamin K absorption. Deficiency symptoms include delayed blood-clotting of wounds, haemorrhages such as nose bleeds, and a low level of blood platelets. Deficiencies of the vitamin are usually caused by a defect in metabolism, a malfunction of the liver, or by coeliac disease. Coeliac patients should emphasize vitamin K-rich foods in their diet and supplement with vitamins K, A, D and E, and also with calcium and the B-complex vitamins. The best natural sources of vitamin K include kale, green tea, alfalfa, spinach, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, watercress, yogurt, egg yolk, fish liver oil and soybean oil. No official Recommended Daily Allowance has been established, but 300 mcg is generally considered adequate for an adult.
Vitex is a shrub with finger-shaped leaves and violet flowers that grows on river banks in the Mediterranean region.A traditional European plant used already by ancient Greeks, its other name 'chaste tree is derived from the belief that the ripe fruit of the plant would suppress the libido of women taking it. Vertex was used for centuries in Europe to treat pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and the side effects of menopause. Although it does not contain hormones, it helps correct progesterone deficiencies and balance women's hormonal system. It stimulates the pituitary gland to increase production of Latinizing hormone. This in turn increases the level of progesterone during the second half of a woman's cycle, normalizing the oestrogen-progestrone ratio. Vitex also reduces high prolactin levels in the second half of the menstrual cycle which causes breast tenderness and pain. It is commonly used by European herbalists to treat female complaints such as irregular or excessive menstruation, amenorrhoea (lack of menstruation), infertility, menopausal hot flushes, fibroid tumors and cervical dysplasia (abnormal cell growth on the cervix as shown by Pap test).Vitex is now being rediscovered by women looking for a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Vitex is increasingly available in health food shops in liquid extracts which are taken in drops once daily. It is best used over a period of several months continuously. Once improvement has occured, treatment should be continued for another month. Side effects are rare. Less than two per cent of the users reported a minor tummy upset and mild skin rash.
Caution: Vitex is not recommended during pregnancy or during HRT.