Vitex: my ticket off the hormone roller coaster

I believe this is a first for me, but… TMI Alert! In this post I will be talking (tactfully but forthrightly) about Women’s Things, namely periods, hormones, and menopause. I will pause a moment and let any gentlemen and uninterested folks leave the room.

Girl talk -- run away! Run away!

Girl talk — run away! Run away!

<Muzak… doo doo doo… Richard Clayderman… dingle dingle, la la….>

OK, everyone ready? Good.

For the last few months I’ve been riding what can only be described as the Roller Coaster from Hell. Or possibly TO hell. Or maybe a combination of the two, endlessly looping from misery to mania to misery and around again.

I’m not known, in the first place, for being even-tempered — this may be partly due to Asperger’s and partly just my nature — but this was beyond the pale. Everything, and I mean everything, was upsetting me — work, leisure time, pets, chores, TV commercials, get-togethers with friends, traffic jams, scary movies, specks of dirt on the hallway floor. Anything at all would send me into either a towering rage or a prolonged bout of gut-wrenching sobs. Often both.

Welcome aboard the Hormone Express.

Welcome aboard the Hormone Express.

For a while I thought I was just having more meltdowns (“Asperger tantrums”) than usual. But it was the sobbing that finally clued me into the fact that there was something else at play here. I am infamously not a crier, except in rare cases like when I watch the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Laura’s dog goes missing, or when I hear the “Humming Chorus” from Madame Butterfly.

I began to wonder if I was seriously depressed, and was considering making a (rare) doctor’s appointment and asking for a course of antidepressants. But as I see her rarely, I knew she’d do a full history, which always (for us girls) includes “When was your last period?” (Guys who are snickering here: may the Gloved Finger of Probing sober you up in a big hurry!)

And so I had a look at my calendar and, to my horror and dismay, noted that the worst “brain hurricanes” seemed to coincide with the significant bits of my menstrual cycle — the actual period, and mid-cycle, or ovulation.

I also noticed that my once regular periods (my doctor used to joke that I could set my watch by them) have become a bit unpredictable — sometimes every 22 days, sometimes 40.

I have been blessed my entire life with periods that are no trouble at all — negligible PMS (easily managed by Evening Primrose Oil), no hemorrhaging half to death or migraines or cramps or any of the myriad miseries many women seem to suffer with the arrival of “Aunt Flo.” My hero, Temple Grandin, suffered terribly with the ups and downs of hormones throughout her life, and I know hormonal cycles are often extremely troublesome for other Aspergian women. Thankfully, not for me. Until now.

This has been fun but I've got to scream now!

This has been fun but I’ve got to scream now!

Needless to say, this turn of events was a huge — and unhappy — surprise. I had always hoped to sail unbothered through menopause, which I’d always looked on as being a somewhat “Western” construct cooked up by Big Pharma (marketing opportunity!) and by women with too much time on their hands and a tendency to whinge.

(On the other hand, Temple Grandin, always a pragmatic thinker, says in her most recent book, The Autistic Brain, that she was  relieved to finally hit menopause and say goodbye to “all that nonsense.” I love that.)

But, alas, it seems “sailing through” is not in the forecast for me. I am, after all, creeping up on 50, and it seems I am not to be spared the joys of perimenopause, which is the precursor to actual full-on menopause and the start of the whole shutting-down-of-the-baby-factory process.

(For those of you with a penchant for languages, peri is from the Greek word meaning “around” or “about,” and menopause is from the Greek meaning “I am homicidal and will rip the limbs off anyone who approaches me.”)

Currently my only issue is the mood swings (“only” as in “only a sucking chest wound”) — although I presume that as time ticks along, my body will begin to go through other changes, such as the notorious hot flashes (currently being enjoyed by my friends J and W, who can now almost literally fry eggs on their foreheads).

Perimenopause forecast: scattered storms and a chance of destruction.

Perimenopause forecast: scattered storms and a chance of destruction.

Long story short, I said “Enough, already!” to the yelling and crying, and headed down to my local wholistic dispensary (yep, I live in that kind of neighbourhood) where I pleaded with them to give me something to help me. The nice man smiled knowingly and said the magic word — Vitex — and sold me a bottle of same.

Vitex sounds like a brand name, but it’s actually from the Latin name of the plant, Vitex agnus-castus, otherwise known as Chasteberry. And the word “Chasteberry” refers to its use centuries ago in monasteries to keep the monks’ sexual drives under control. (I am not making this up!)

There is loads of information about Vitex and its uses, side effects (few), and history on the Internet, and I strongly suggest that you Google the heck out of it before ingesting this — or any other herbal supplement  — and talk to your doctor first. Although herbal supplements and naturopathic remedies are only loosely regulated here in Canada (and thus not taken terribly seriously yet), many preparations have very potent and well-known side effects and interactions, and can really mess you up if you take too much or mix them with another drug you’re on.

For Aspergian women who are taking any sort of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication (even herbal ones like St John’s Wort), or any kind of hormone therapy — even the birth control pill — it is essential that you speak to your doctor first before considering taking Vitex.

The star of our show.

The star of our show.

Anyway, I’ve been taking these little nuggets of Happy for about three weeks now and they do seem to be helping. I’m familiar with the placebo effect and this is definitely not it: try talking yourself out of a murderous rage or 30 minutes of bawling along to an episode of Roseanne and you’ll see what I mean.

For the first time in months and months, I feel “together” enough to do a bit more socializing, and it’s been more than three weeks since I smacked the crap out of my laptop or the vacuum or that cupboard door that won’t stay shut. I can focus on my work again (honestly, at one point I wondered if I’d had a stroke because I couldn’t hold a thought in my foggy, soggy brain for more than … hey, look! a puppy!). I can watch Star Trek TNG (or the news, or a commercial for lawn fertilizer, come to that) without a box of tissues in my lap (seriously…).

Vitex apparently takes about three months (!) to get fully into your system and be truly effective, but (fingers crossed) so far so good.

Stay tuned for the first week in August, when I’ll crack out the Little House on the Prairie DVDs and perform the ultimate in field testing.

~ A.G.

Field testing: Bring out the big guns, baby.

Field testing: Bring out the big guns, baby.


36 thoughts on “Vitex: my ticket off the hormone roller coaster

    • Ha – you are a very brave man. 😉

      I’m glad you liked it, though, and I hope it’s useful for both of you.

      Thanks for reading!

      A.G. 🙂

  1. It’s great to see someone writing about menopause and AS! I’m experiencing the same symptoms as you plus night sweats and fatigue. It crept up on me and took me about a year to realize what was happening.

    I just turned 44 last month so that might be part of why I wasn’t immediately thinking peri-menopause when my periods started getting all weird after always being like clockwork. Two years in now and the fatigue is the worst. I can kind of spot the mood swings coming and mine don’t seem to be as severe as yours (most of the time). Also, if you get hot flashes, try vitamin E. I’ve been taking for about 3 months and the night sweats (and occasional daytime hot flash) are fewer and less severe.

    • Hi – thanks for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed the piece! Yep, it took me a while to clue in as well. It’s not like hormonal changes just land on us one day with a thud; they occur really gradually — the “frog in the slowly boiling pot” thing.
      I honestly thought I was just becoming more cranky and “Asperger-y”, and it wasn’t until I started watching the calendar that I went “uh oh…”.
      Like I said, hormones play a really big part in women’s lives, and probably more so in the already edgy lives of Aspie women. So it’s maybe something we should be looking at more closely.
      Thanks again for reading, and for your comment!
      (P.S. — No hot flashes yet but I’ll pass your Vit. E info along to my two friends who are suffering pretty badly!)

  2. Pingback: Monday Morning Musings (6/10) | Musings of an Aspie

    • Thanks for the mention! :o)
      There are actually a lot of different herbal “remedies” for the ups & downs of hormones & perimenopause, and actual menopause. All I had to do was walk into the naturopath & say “mood swings” and they handed me the Vitex.
      But there’s Maca Powder, Black Cohosh, all that stuff. Do your research, but help is there.
      I think women in the last long while have shied away from the whole “blame your moods on PMS” thing (esp. because it gets used by others as a weapon to put us down when we’re cranky — that’s a whole ‘nother blog…) but I think there is some truth to it, particularly for Aspie women.
      As I said, Temple Grandin suffered horribly from hormonal ups & downs — it just exacerbates what Asperger’s is already doing to our brains.
      Something to keep in mind….
      Asparagus Girl. 🙂

  3. This is a really great post. I had the good fortune to be diagnosed Aspie at the same time as going into the menopause! (woah! Aspiergian does sarcasm!) It has that been a hell of a ride! So some of my mood swings are part of the weirdness that is post-diagnosis time and some is the big Mo. One thing that has helped loads recently is that I have taken up swimming. I go three times a week and work hard and it has really made a big difference to my mood. So perhaps getting the old endorphin rush might work for other women too?
    Anyway, excellent blog 🙂

    • Hi there,
      Oh, that sounds like fun! (hheheh.. sarcasm there too! :-D)
      But I agree completely — exercise is essential not just for humanoid life forms in general, but for Aspies (and maybe peri/menopausal Aspies women) in particular: it is a good way to blow off steam and regulate mood, no matter who you are.
      I hear of WAY too many Aspies who sit indoors all day playing online games or sitting & staring at computer/TV screens and then wondering why they feel so low. It’s like our mums said when we were small: “Turn off that TV and get your bum out the door for some fresh air and exercise!”
      Sounds like you’ve figured out what really works for you & I’m glad you shared that.
      Thanks for reading, and for the kind compliments. 🙂

  4. Thank you for this! I’m not quite of the age to go through perimenopause or menopause itself yet, but it’s useful to collect information for when it starts in some years’ time. I greatly appreciate you being willing to blog about it for the rest of us females.

    🙂 tagAught

    • Thanks for writing in and I’m glad it was helpful. I honestly had no idea what was going on because people don’t talk about it much. Hopefully that will change in time.
      A.G. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Autism and Menopause: More Questions Than Answers | Musings of an Aspie

  6. This is really useful, thanks! My husband has noted (sensibly only after I made comment) that i seem to be getting ‘worse’ ( read more aspie) lately. I am nearly 42 and suspect this may be the onset of perimenopause, deep joy! I will look out for this herbal remedy now 🙂

    • I hope it helps! As a caveat, I’d say ask one of the staff at the store where you buy your supplement whether it’s the right one for you — Vitex helps with mood swings, and there’s another one entirely to help with hot flashes. Even your family doctor might be helpful in this regard — menopause is one of the rare areas where “traditional medicine” (i.e., pharma-based) often gives way to naturopathy, so if you trust your doctor, s/he might be able to recommend something natural, and do some bloodwork to check your hormone levels. (I haven’t had that done, myself — the mood swings convinced me! :-P)
      Thanks for reading! 🙂

  7. I have slowly been going crazy for three years, and finally listened to myself (and not my doctors). I came across Vitex in my research on hormones several weeks ago and since taking it, have finally calmed down a bit. It is great to hear from a fellow Aspie who has seen some success with Vitex–this encourages me to keep taking it even when I have those days when I am hopelessly mired in a stew of my own rage/tears and feel like it’s hopeless. I was 37 when all the crazy started, so pretty early, but definitely perimenopause. Hopefully Vitex will allow me to make it to menopause without killing someone (not likely, but I have a rich fantasy life). Thanks so much for this post. I look forward to exploring your blog further.

    • I met with my Asperger specialist last week about the increasing mood swings since I started perimenopause, and he says there is a lot of evidence that Asperger’s & perimenopause/menopause are a particularly bad combo (as I’m finding out the hard way). Simply put, hormone fluctuations make you much, much more susceptible to the mood swings and irritability that come with Asperger’s. It will, of course, pass in time, but you might want to speak to a specialist about some more ways to make it through this “service interruption,” as he called it. Meditation & mindfulness may help… 😛

      • “service interruption” ^ made me snort very loudly at my desk. LOL. Yep, doing tai chi seems to help in the mornings. I had to memorize some routines so I could do it at home without the froufrou commentary. Currently exploring yoga as an after-work activity, but it’s not fully integrated into my routine yet. It takes me a relatively long time to change my routine, but I think it will help if I can find an instructor who is not terrifically annoying. Skills from CBT and NLP have come to the rescue as well.

        And I saw a tiny box turtle on the side of the road this morning, which completely and utterly made my day.

        Thanks for blogging–it’s really helpful to know I’m not totally alone!

      • Oh, I think tiny box turtles probably are the answer to most of life’s ills! 🙂 I stopped my car on the weekend to let a family of ducks cross the road and that was worth about 7 handfuls of antidepressants. 😀
        I know what you mean about the froufrou commentary; yoga is really helpful to me on a number of fronts, but mostly I just work out alone now. Too many classes spent with teachers earnestly discussing their “moolabundas” (seriously, WTH??) and doing long sessions of Darth Breathing put me right off it. I do find, though, that yoga etc. classes oriented towards runners & athletes have slightly less of the flaky component — check those out if you can.
        Thanks for writing back (again). Now I’m smiling with Vicarious Box Turtle Happiness. 🙂


  8. I just came across your blog as I have been desperately trying to find something for ages to help me get through menopause other than hormone replacements. Your article was witty, informative, and wasn’t trying to see me anything! However,I am definitely going to try the Vitex, But really I wanted to tell you I have just made a cup of tea, my husband is out and I plan to spend the next hour or so reading through some of your other posts. Many thanks and keep along your wonderful path of love and light 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind remarks! I hope the Vitex turns out to be helpful, and thank you again for reading. 🙂


  9. I came accross this because I also want to try out chasteberry, but I really love your writing style. You have talent. I am going to buy chasteberry right away now. So what if it doesn’t work, almost nothing has worked yet for my moodswings (except for 5htp, I really recommend it)

    • Thanks for your kind remarks! 🙂
      I hope the Vitex works. Evening Primrose Oil might take the edge off too. Is your doctor useful at all? Hormones are tricky & basically this whole perimenopause thing kind of blows… Luckily there’s an end in sight! 😀

  10. Thanks
    I’m 48 and can relate I’ve tried vitex before I can’t remember if it helped but I’m trying it again – how long had you been taking it before you notice results? When do you take it?
    Cheers Fran

  11. I’m curious if you gained weight in peri-menopause and if so, did the Vitex work? I’ve gained 22 pounds, and no matter how healthy I eat or exercise, I can’t get rid of the added weight.

    • Yes. Some weight does get added. All my friends have had this happen too. It goes on around the middle. Hopefully it comes off again. 🙂

  12. HI again, I forgot to point out there is a Facebook group called Aspies and Menopause started by Tina B you are welcome to join. Since this is uncharted territory (we are really the first diagnosed generation of women) we need a place to share our experiences. Christine

  13. Thank you so much for writing this – even if it was 3 years ago and I am just now seeing it. I am 44 and have started peri – and the worst part is the mood issues. I am going to try this right away – hopefully with success. My gyno has tried 3 different mood stabilizers – but all have had HORRIBLE side effects. You have given me hope – and I think you!

  14. I am in the midst of the research phase and stumbled across your blog – my absolute FAVOURITE! You manage to write in a way that makes the reader feel like they know you after only a few lines – your personality shines through so quickly – quite the talent.:) Thank you for sharing both your experience and your voice with me.

  15. I get mixed opinions about whether or not I qualify as aspergers. I DO know that as you stated here, VItex has helped me tremendously in terms of reducing reactivity and weepiness. I wonder, have you ever stopped talking it? what happens then? Is it a long term soluition?
    Thank you

    • I’ve tried going off it a few times but I think menopause lasts a looooooooooooong time. I started noticing symptoms again when I stopped taking it, so I just started it again. I’ll try again in a few months! 🙂

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