Vitex agnus-castus, aka Chasteberry, is a fertility-promoting herb with a long, safe history of human use. For centuries, Vitex has been recognized for its medicinal properties and has been utilized for a number of health complaints, including hormonal imbalances, skin conditions, Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), and infertility.
More recently, Vitex has been shown in several clinical studies to help stimulate and stabilize the reproductive hormones involved in ovulation, and menstrual cycle balance & regularity. Some studies also document a statistically-significant increase in fertility among women using Vitex, with more pregnancies achieved among Vitex users than in control groups using a placebo.
Vitex works by acting on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (parts of the brain), which in turn send signals to other parts of the body (such as the ovaries) to trigger the production of reproductive hormones. Vitex has been shown to help increase the level of luteinizing hormone (LH) while gently balancing the secretion of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) in the body. This helps promote an ideal ovulation process (when the egg is released from the ovary) – very important if you’re trying to conceive.
Vitex is also particularly supportive in maintaining progesterone levels during the “luteal phase”, or second half, of a woman’s cycle. This is the part of the cycle that occurs after ovulation (see below).
A very large percentage of fertility issues (and menstrual disorders in general) are related to insufficient progesterone function during the luteal phase. If progesterone is deficient, a fertilized embryo will not be able to implant and/or grow to term successfully. All of this is known as a Luteal Phase Defect. Insufficient levels of progesterone may also contribute to the formation of cysts on the ovaries, such as in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Another way that Vitex may promote fertility is by balancing the levels of prolactin in the body, another hormone known to interfere with fertility when out of balance. Vitex does this by influencing the body’s dopamine levels, a natural antagonist of prolactin. Symptoms of high prolactin (also known as hyperprolactinemia) in females include irregular or no menstrual periods (oligomenorrhea/amenorrhea), milky discharge from the breasts when you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding (galactorrhea), vaginal dryness, acne, excessive or new body hair (hirsutism), headaches, and low libido.
Even if you’re not trying to conceive, but you struggle with PMS, Vitex may be able to help. PMS refers to difficult physical, mental and emotional symptoms that generally occur in the one to two weeks before a woman’s period. Symptoms often vary greatly between women and resolve around the start of flow (or bleeding). Clinical research has shown that Vitex may be very beneficial for some of the most common PMS symptoms such as low mood, headaches & migraines, acne, allergies, and breast pain & sensitivity. In one study, improvement of PMS after only one month of use was experienced by 32% of the women who participated in the study. After three months, 84% of the women experienced improvement. Another study showed that Vitex is statistically as effective as fluoxetine (commonly known as Prozac) in the treatment of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS. Read more about the different types and see which one you may be suffering with here.
Vitex is generally well-tolerated by those who take it. Side effects are generally mild and uncommon, and may include skin itching and/or irritation, and irregular menstruation (usually this manifests as spotting before your period). Often, three months of use are necessary before improvements can be seen. Generally, it’s recommended to stop Vitex once you realize you’re pregnant.
All in all, Vitex is a fantastic herb for fertility, helping with a range of issues such as low progesterone, lack of ovulation, irregular menstrual cycles, and so much more. It’s essential that you consult a health care practitioner, preferably one with a strong knowledge of herbal medicine (such as myself – Dr. Tanya McEachern, ND), before you start using any herbs to improve your health. Book a free 15-minute consultation with me online if you have any questions about your fertility.