Vitex is a beautiful shrub native to Greece and Italy whose berries have been used in herbal medicine for centuries. It is considered one of the most popular herbs in Europe and other Western nations for the support of gynecological imbalances.
Modern clinical research and traditional use of Vitex have shown its amazing ability to help balance fertility hormones. Since Vitex does not contain hormones, it has a supportive, gentle and non-direct action on the body. Vitex is one of the most useful fertility herbs available to us.
How Vitex Works
Our current understanding of Vitex is that it has a supporting and regulating effect upon the pituitary gland. The pituitary is known as the “master gland” because it controls many vital bodily functions such as sending chemical signals to the ovaries, telling them how much hormones to make. This communication is known as the hormonal feedback loop.
Vitex has been shown in studies to:
Inhibit follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH): Vitex increases the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH), which in turn increases progesterone.
Lengthens a short luteal phase: Studies have shown Vitex to be effective at lengthening the luteal phase shares Angela J. Hywood, ND in Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health by Aviva Romm, MD. While Vitex does not contain any hormones itself, it does help the body to increase its own production of luteinizing hormone (promoting ovulation to occur), which in turns boosts progesterone levels during the luteal phase of the cycle.
Increased progesterone levels: Vitex has been shown to stimulate the formation of the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum is responsible for the secretion of progesterone.
Research Scientist Christopher Hobbs, Ph.D., L.Ac. A.H.G., shares of two German studies from the late 1980s in his book Vitex the Women’s Herb proving Vitex efficacy for supporting healthy corpus luteum function. In one study of 45 women, 86% responded positively with normalized or significantly improved progesterone levels (Therapiewoche and Z. Allgemeinme).
Reduces advancement of mild endometriosis: Vitex is used in Germany by gynecologists to treat mild endometriosis and prevent it from advancing.
May help prevent miscarriage: Vitex has a beneficial impact on progesterone levels. If miscarriages are due to low progesterone, Vitex may help to normalize or increase progesterone levels. Vitex may be considered safe to use during pregnancy, but make sure to consult with a healthcare practitioner when using this herb during pregnancy. Also make sure to read our ‘Use During Pregnancy’ section below.
Relieves PMS: Clinical research, shared in Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health by Aviva Romm, MD, has shown that Vitex may be very beneficial for PMS symptoms, especially depression, headaches, rashes, acne, allergies and sensitivity of the breasts.
In a 1994 German study published in the German Obstetrics and Gynecology journal Therapie Woche Gynakol, 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.
Lack of menstruation (amenorrhea): In a six and a half month open German study of 15 women with amenorrhea, 67% had resumed a menstrual cycle by the sixth month of use. Progesterone levels also increased (Gynäkol Praxis).
Irregular menstruation: Vitex has been shown to help balance both an absent menstrual cycle as well as aid a menstrual cycle that is heavy or too frequent.
Uterine cysts: Vitex has been found to be helpful at reducing cysts that are growing within the smooth muscle layer of the uterus.
Stabilization of menstruation after stopping birth-control pills: After discontinuing estrogen-containing birth control pills, Vitex taken for several months has been shown to help stabilize the cycle and induce ovulation more quickly.
Helps stimulate milk production in new mothers: For over 2,000 years, Vitex has been used to help stimulate mother’s milk. Begin using Vitex right after birth and continue for 10 days or more as needed.
Acne: Vitex is known to help improve skin health for those with Acne Vulgaris and Post-gestatory acne (acne as a result of taking oral birth control). Along with appropriate dietary changes, Vitex may help acne.
How to Use Vitex
For optimal results, Vitex should be taken long-term. Clinical research shows that Vitex may start working within 10 days, but full benefits may not be experienced until 6 months or longer. For PMS, results are normally seen by the second menstrual cycle, but for lasting changes, it may need to be taken for up to a year or more depending on how long the imbalance has been present.
Vitex is making fundamental changes in the delicate chemistry of the body; this is why it takes some time to have an effect. Since Vitex is a harmonizing and nourishing herb; it works behind the scenes to restore balance in a gentle way. Unlike a refined synthetic drug which forces the body to change, Vitex works to nourish and support the system bringing about long-term balance.
Vitex Use & Dosage
Vitex is generally suggested to be taken once a day in the morning on an empty stomach (half an hour before breakfast). If Vitex is being used as part of an herbal blend containing other herbs, use as directed on the bottle. Vitex should be used all month long without a break.
- Capsules: 900-1,000mg a day
- Tincture: 60-90 drops a day
Which is the best Vitex to take?
Vitex comes in many forms, including loose herbs, capsules, tea, tincture and powder. We find that capsules and tincture offer the most consistent results since it is easier to control the dosage. Many of the compounds needed from Vitex are easily extracted in alcohol (tincture) versus water (tea). Vitex is very strong tasting, almost bitter, so I would not suggest making a tea unless you blend other herbs with it; that is one reason capsules are so convenient.
Does Vitex Work for Everyone?
Vitex generally works for most adult women in their childbearing years (from age 18-perimenopause), but there are some cases where it may have no effect.
Women who have less than ideal lifestyle habits will probably not experience the full effects of Vitex. For those who have low energy reserves, weak immune systems, eat mostly processed foods, have been on antibiotics or steroids for a while – changes in diet and lifestyle are necessary prior to beginning the use of Vitex. Without making these changes in addition to using Vitex, you may not experience results.
Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause. Perimenopause typically begins at the age of 40. As perimenopause progresses toward menopause, it is normal for menstrual cycles to become irregular and for hormone levels to fluctuate. As ovarian reserve diminishes and egg health declines, FSH levels may rise. For some women Vitex may be helpful in maintaining regular cycles and lowering higher FSH levels, but Vitex cannot reverse the aging process. It may or may not be effective for women in perimenopause; each woman is different. Vitex cannot bring back the menstrual cycle in women who have gone through menopause.
Safety & Side Effects
Vitex has been used for over 2,000 years with no significant side-effects reported. Some minor and infrequent side-effects (1-2% of users may experience some) have been nausea, gastrointestinal upset, skin reactions, and headache. Women with a history of depression taking Vitex for menstrual irregularity may experience an exacerbation of depressive symptoms.
Even though it has been shown to have no interference with oral contraceptives (birth control), due to limited research, Vitex should not be used in conjunction with prescription medications that contain hormones in case it may interfere with their activity.
Some women do experience a shift in their cycle when they first begin using Vitex. The length of the menstrual cycle may shorten or lengthen temporarily before it finally stabilizes. This is just the body balancing itself out and is completely normal.
- German Commission E has approved the use of Vitex for menstrual cycle irregularities, premenstrual disturbances, and mastodynia.
- The Botanical Safety Handbook has categorized Vitex as a class 1 herb. Class 1 herbs are herbs that can be safely consumed when used appropriately.
Vitex use During Pregnancy
It is believed that Vitex’s ability to increase progesterone levels has explained the positive results seen by herbalists and midwives who used it to help prevent recurrent miscarriages in women. No studies on humans have been done yet supporting this, only traditional use. There have been reproductive toxicology studies with female rats where they were given up to 80 times the concentrations used clinically in humans, showing no difference in offspring compared with the rats given none.
German research shows Vitex can be taken safely through the end of the third month of pregnancy and may help prevent miscarriage. Vitex is still considered safe to take after the third month, but it is thought that it may stimulate lactation too early, so for this reason it is suggested to not continue after the third month of pregnancy. Also, during the third month of pregnancy, the placenta takes over progesterone production, so Vitex most likely won’t be needed.
Vitex is a fantastic herb for fertility, helping with a range of issues such as PMS, low progesterone, lack of ovulation, irregular menstrual cycles, lack of a menstrual cycle, acne, and so much more. Vitex offers many benefits but requires patience and consistency of use. I find that it works best when used all month long and taken as one dose in the morning on an empty stomach.
- Hobbs, Christopher, L.Ac. (2003). Vitex, The Women’s Herb. Summertown, Tennessee: Healthy Living Publications.
- Loch EG, Katzorke T. Diagnosis and treatment of dyshormonal menstrual periods in general practice. Gynäkol Praxis. 1990;14:489–495. In Hobbs, C. Vitex, The Women’s Herb. Summertown, Tennessee: Healthy Living Publications. pp.68-70.
- Peters-Welte C, Albrecht M. Menstrual abnormalities and PMS: Vitex agnus castus [translated from German]. Therapie Woche Gynakol . 1994;7:49-52. In Hobbs, C. Vitex, The Women’s Herb. Summertown, Tennessee: Healthy Living Publications. pp.57-60.
- Romm, Aviva. (2010). Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St. Louis Missouri: Churchill Livingstone.
- Mills, S. & Bone, K. (2005). The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. pp. 333-36. St. Louis, Missouri: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier
- Gardner, Z., & McGuffin, M. (Eds.). (2013). American Herbal Products Association’s botanical safety handbook (2nd ed., pp. 930-931). Vitex agnus-castus L. Boca Raton, Florida: American Herbal Products Association, CRC Press.