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I am fascinated by the myriad ways herbs rebalance and nourish the body, and vitex may take top prize (though I say that about all my favorite medicinal herbs). This amazing herb has been used for its tonic effect for centuries, and I personally have used it several times with perfect results. Vitex, also know as chasteberry, is most often used to regulate menstrual cycles and boost fertility.
Vitex is known as chasteberry because it was said to be used by monks to reduce libido, but there is no evidence that it does so.
The berries from this medicinal plant stimulate and balance the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis, promoting ovulation and regular cycles. Vitex acts on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands inside the brain by increasing luteinizing hormone (LH) production and mildly inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). The result is a shift in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, in favor of progesterone.
Vitex doesn’t contain phytohormones like many other plants and herbs, so it doesn’t have a direct hormonal action on the endocrine system. Vitex has performed well in clinical trials where it has been shown to increase progesterone and improve PMS symptoms. Normal progesterone levels are essential for conception.
I regularly recommend vitex to women transitioning off birth control pills, as it helps regulate estrogen-progesterone balance by boosting progesterone levels, which can be low after stopping hormonal birth control.
Benefits of Vitex
- Lengthen cycles that have a short luteal phase. The luteal phase is the second half of your cycle when ovulation stimulates progesterone production. Women who have short luteal phases may have shorter cycles because they’re not ovulating and/or don’t have sufficient progesterone levels after ovulation. Vitex increases luteinizing hormone (LH) which promotes ovulation, in turn boosting progesterone levels during the luteal phase of the cycle. Useful for women who have cycles shorter than 28 days.
- Increase progesterone levels for optimal fertility. As mentioned, vitex stimulates LH and also supports production of the corpus luteum that secretes progesterone. Progesterone makes the lining of the uterus thick for implantation and is necessary to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Vitex is a great way to balance cycles and optimize progesterone levels to prepare for pregnancy.
- May help prevent miscarriage due to progesterone boosting properties. Use caution with this herb during pregnancy, and consult your midwife/practitioner.
- Use to re-establish cycles after transitioning off hormonal birth control. Works especially well with amenorrhea post-pill. I myself used vitex in my 20s after my period was absent for nearly a year after stopping hormonal birth control, and it worked quickly and beautifully! I’ve used it since with similar great results.
- Balance menstrual cycles. Vitex not only works to lengthen the luteal phase; it can also be used to normalize irregular menses.
- Treat PMS: In one study improvement of PMS by the first month was experienced by 32% of the women. By the third month 84% of the women experienced improvement of their PMS. (source)
- Insufficient lactation. Vitex can help milk production. Fenugreek works well here too.
- May reduce uterine cysts, fibroids, endometriosis.
How to Use Vitex for Fertility & Cycle Regularity
Vitex can be taken by women NOT using hormonal birth control from age 18 until peri-menopause (not continuously). It has an excellent safety record and has virtually no side effects. Be aware that it may take up to three months to see optimal results after you begin taking it. Use the herb continuously throughout the month.
It’s best taken on an empty stomach in the morning (set a reminder if needed!). Take 1,000mg of the herb in a capsule: I recommend this brand for top quality and efficacy. You can also use a liquid tincture, like this. You need 60-90 drops daily with a tincture. I’d recommend the capsule (the Gaia brand above is a liquid in a capsule) and the tincture over the dried herb.
To regulate your cycle: Take vitex continuously for six months, then re-evaluate. Have you achieved the desired effect? If not, continue taking it. If you have been taking it for 6 months but notice it’s suddenly stopped working, take a break. I have read and experienced that in some women, the herb loses its effectiveness after six months, at which point you should stop for a month or so, then start again. If after 6 months you are still enjoying benefits, you can continue taking it for a year or more. It’s very safe and has a tonic and balancing effect. The results will depend on your body, your diet, and your hormones.
For fertility: begin taking the herb regularly (daily) three months before you’d like to conceive. This gives it time to work to optimize hormone levels. You can also use this time to detox and clean up your diet to prepare for healthy pregnancy. You can also add this Pregnancy Prep herb blend (that also contains vitex), which works great as an overall fertility booster and cycle regulator. Read more about how to get pregnant here.
Who Should Not Take Vitex
Do not take vitex if you are on hormonal birth control, though you can start it soon after you stop. Very rarely I have heard of women getting reactions such as skin rash (did occur with a client of mine), but that is quite unusual. If you get any reaction, don’t continue taking it.
Do not use vitex along with fertility treatments or IVF.
Though I have seen that vitex can help women with PCOS, I also came across research saying that vitex may worsen certain types of PCOS where LH is too high (because the herb increases LH).
Do not use vitex if you are 18 and under.
Please share your vitex success stories if you’ve vitex!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.