Vitex (Chasteberry) Herb Benefits & Uses for Women

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Benefits and uses of Vitex (chasteberry)
Wellness Mama » Blog » Natural Remedies » Vitex (Chasteberry) Herb Benefits & Uses for Women

Sometimes a plant holds a lot more than meets the eye (many times, actually). I’ve written before about the health benefits of herbs and spices, and today I’d like to cover an herb we don’t hear about every day but that every woman should know about. Ever heard of vitex?

Also called chaste tree or chasteberry, vitex is a large and graceful shrub with purple flowers similar to a lilac. Gardeners love it for its striking blooms and pleasant scent, but those who know about medicinal plants prize it for other reasons.

What Is the Vitex or Chaste Tree Plant?

The vitex plant or chaste berry tree (the Latin is Vitex agnus-castus L., if you want to get technical) is native to Asia and the Mediterranean. Cultures in China, Greece, and Italy used vitex long before its introduction to the United States. Now it’s commonly found in southern gardens because of its ability to withstand warmer temperatures. Vitex is also known as “poor man’s lilac” because of the similarity of the bloom appearance.

In our case, it’s not the landscape we’re after, but the fruit of the chaste tree. This small brown berry (known as the chasteberry) is edible and has a peppery flavor.

Use of the chaste tree berry for medicinal purposes dates back over two thousand years. Many believed chasteberry could suppress libido (although there is no scientific evidence that it does.) The Greek physician Dioscorides prescribed it to soldiers’ wives so they could remain “chaste” while their husbands were away at battle. In the Middle Ages it is said that monks took it to help with the vow of chastity. This is also why chasteberry is known as monk’s pepper.

Vitex Benefits for Female Health

Basically, if you’re a woman, this herb can probably help! When it comes to easing symptoms of PMS — breast tenderness, cramps, cranky mood, and all — vitex is the queen of herbs.

Eases Symptoms of PMS and PCOS

Many clinical trials show chasteberry’s ability to ease PMS and menstrual-related difficulties. Compounds in vitex bind to certain pain receptors, which eases pain in addition to the hormone normalizing effect. In one randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study (translation: very credible), 178 women took vitex in capsule form for 3 full cycles. Compared to the control group, the women in the test group experienced 50% improvement/reduction in symptoms. These include mood swings, anger, irritability, headache, breast tenderness, and bloating.

This is good news for PMS and even PCOS sufferers, especially with the generally safe profile of this herb.

Supports Progesterone and Luteinizing Hormone

Luteinizing hormone (LH) is important to a healthy reproductive system and largely responsible for triggering ovulation in the body. Studies on chasteberry show the herb supports LH production, which in turn normalizes progesterone and the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. This is valuable if it corrects a luteal phase defect, which may contribute to infertility and even miscarriages.

For these reasons, vitex is widely prescribed by doctors in Germany and other parts of Europe for endometriosis. (Doctors prescribing natural remedies? It can happen!)

Regulates Irregular Menstrual Cycles

As I mentioned, vitex is especially helpful for those with irregular cycles since it helps balance female hormones. This applies also to those coming off of hormonal birth control, as it can take years for the cycle to completely regulate on its own. I know it’s a controversial subject, but there are many reasons to consider the switch from hormonal birth control to more natural alternatives.

May Help Memory and Brain Function Post-Menopause

Chasteberry’s balancing action on the hormones also may make it useful for some women during menopause. A 2015 study published in Basic and Clinical Neuroscience found that giving rats vitex extract orally improved memory and learning. The thought is that vitex protects against “menopause-related cognitive decline” with fewer side effects (read: cancer risk) than other forms of estrogen replacement.

Less Certain Claims

Some herbalists suggest vitex to help with fertility and even through the first trimester to help prevent miscarriage. While larger studies need to be done in regard to fertility/pregnancy to know its true impact, smaller studies suggest a connection. It is difficult to know the true effect since some of these studies were small pilot studies or used other herbals along with the vitex.

It seems that the claim that vitex can restore missing periods (amenorrhea) are overblown based on current data. At most, the research indicates it may help luteal phase defect by evening out irregular periods.

Interestingly, although many cultures have used vitex to support lactation and boost milk supply, there is little scientific data to support this at this time. This study suggests scientists aren’t really sure if it hurts or helps, so more research is needed.

How Vitex Works

How exactly does a plant accomplish these things? Current scientific understanding suggests that vitex works by regulating and supporting the pituitary gland, which is considered the master gland for hormone production.

This article explains:

There are several different theories about how it works:

  1. Binding dopamine receptors, which works to reduce secretion of prolactin by the pituitary gland, in turn inhibiting estrogen and progesterone.
  2. Binding opioid receptors, which decreases the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone.
  3. Vitex contains many estrogen-like compounds that have an impact on the menstrual cycle.

Since vitex works by correcting hormonal imbalances, it is not a fast-acting drug but a long-term remedy. In studies participants supplemented with vitex for as long as 3-5 months before measuring results.

How to Use Vitex

Vitex is available in capsule form or tincture form. It has a bitter taste, so often capsules or a tincture with other herbs is the best option. The most inexpensive option is to grow or order the dried berries and make a tincture at home. To make a tincture, the proportions from this recipe can be used with just vitex in place of the other herbs.

As I mentioned, vitex acts slowly, so it often takes several months to see its full effect. Since it supports the body’s own hormone cycle rather than providing any hormones itself, it works more slowly while the body adjusts to normal hormone production.

The University of Michigan Health website recommends 4 months of use for noticeable effects, with a daily dosage of 40 drops of tincture/concentrate or 1 capsule (powdered).

Caution/Side Effects of Vitex

Given its long historical use, vitex seems to be a very safe herb. I definitely recommend checking with a doctor before taking even natural supplements or herbs, especially when pregnant or nursing.

Mild and infrequent side effects reported include nausea, headache, stomach upset, and skin irritation. According to this article, women with a history of depression should avoid taking vitex.

Those using hormonal contraceptives should use caution when taking vitex due to its hormonal effects. There’s no evidence that vitex interferes birth control but it makes sense that there could be some interaction.

Finally, be aware that vitex may cause some changes in the menstrual cycle. This will stabilize over time, but if you chart your cycle for natural family planning purposes, expect to see some irregularities while your body adjusts.

It is not recommended for men, though maca is a great fertility-promoting herb for both men and women.

This article was medically reviewed by Jessica Meyers, MPAP, PA-C, RH(AHG), who specializes in herbal protocols and functional medicine. You can also find Jessica on Instagram. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Have you tried vitex before? Will you now? Share below!

Vitex- and herb for hormones and fertility

Sources
  1. Schellenberg R. Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit extract: prospective, randomised, placebo controlled study. BMJ. 2001;322:134–7.
  2. Blumenthal M. German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. Commission E. The complete German Commission E monographs: therapeutic guide to herbal medicines. Austin, Tex.: American Botanical Council, 1998.
  3. Wuttke W, Jarry H, Christoffel V, Spengler B, Seidlová-wuttke D. Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)–pharmacology and clinical indications. Phytomedicine. 2003;10(4):348-57.
  4. Dugoua JJ, Seely D, Perri D, Koren G, Mills E. Safety and efficacy of chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus) during pregnancy and lactation. Can J Clin Pharmacol. 2008;15(1):e74-9.
  5. Westphal LM, Polan ML, Trant AS, Mooney SB. A nutritional supplement for improving fertility in women: a pilot study. J Reprod Med. 2004;49(4):289-93.
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

164 responses to “Vitex (Chasteberry) Herb Benefits & Uses for Women”

  1. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    I’ve been taking vitex for almost two months. I’ve recently gained over 10 pounds – out of seemingly nowhere – and tonight I wondered if this might be the reason why! I’ve read online that weight gain is an uncommon side effect. Could that be why I gained weight recently?

  2. Anna Avatar

    I swear by Vitex for baby blues and postpartum depression. It pulled me out of PPD after I had my first baby, and since then, it’s been my go-to for postpartum hormonal balance. Along with proper rest and nutrition, this has been a lifesaver.
    By the way, I didn’t see anything in the article you referenced about the caution to avoid using Vitex when there’s a history of depression. It certainly helped me!

  3. Lindsay Avatar

    After spending thousands on fertility, I had six miscarriages ?. I started taking vitex extract and was pregnant after the first cycle. I now have two perfect kids from taking vitex. However, when I took it while nursing, it decreased my milk supply every time. It’s amazing how simple the answer was. I tell everyone I know who has trouble with trying to have a baby.

  4. Jennifer Avatar

    Interesting, I have had some skin irritation (severe itchiness and redness on facial skin) since starting to take vitex gummies. I thought due to something else but maybe not!

  5. Tabitha Avatar
    Tabitha

    I just started taking Vitex yesterday. It’s the Gaia brand, 225 mg per capsule, guaranteed potency. So far I have only taken 1 capsule each day. I’m hoping to get pregnant but I’m in perimenopause and my FSH is HIGH, 55. I haven’t been able to test my FSH 3 days after my period because I’m still anxiously waiting/hoping to get it. It was just randomly tested after I asked my OB to do so. I’m now 2 months late. My periods are off but not usually like this. I’m only 40. I’m having constant hot flashes and right after the hot flash I am freezing. There is no happy medium. All day I’m either sweating or freezing. I’ve also lost weight without trying. I told my OB but it was dismissed. I was told to follow up with PCP if it continues. Anyway, I’m trying to determine the correct amount of Vitex to take. I read on some sites that you should take 160-250mg per day, 900-1000mg per day and 1500-3000mg per day. Which amount should I take?????

  6. B. Franke Avatar

    Just started using Vitex for cycle abnormalities… so far I’ve been really impressed… it seems to be working the kinks out!

  7. Shannon Seaboyer Avatar
    Shannon Seaboyer

    Vitex…wonderful stuff! I didn’t realize what a huge difference it was making for me until I stopped taking it. I am perimenopausal and it literally is the difference of sleep or not. Assume this is due to the progesterone support. I encourage anyone in this stage having sleeping difficulties to give it a try. Thanks “Wellness Mama” I have enjoyed your teaching for years. Usually if I’m wondering about something in the natural health area you’re my first stop. Your information sits right. It is well researched and presented. Good job!

  8. Maria Avatar

    I just start taking it this cycle and praying it works because I’ve been experiencing low progesterone and lots of spotting in my LP synce I had a miscarriage 2 years ago and even though I live a clean healthy life I still can’t get pregnant and this spotting won’t go away… I took progesterone for a while and it worked but I stopped it because I feel like if my body get used to it, it will never make it on its own…

  9. Rhiannon Lynn Avatar
    Rhiannon Lynn

    Vitex (I often use the Latin name) WAS used by monks – it suppresses male libido whilst (apparently) raising women’s.
    I take it often in tincture form (5 drops every morning, it tastes odd but rather nice) and it’s working beautifully. Personally, I’d advise using it as a tincture – daily for a month or longer to harmonise hormones (it aids with hormone dis-orders like PCOS) for its tonifying purposes, and I found (I took Vitex for 2 years in my teens) that it regulated, harmonised and eased my cycles better than anything else.
    Capsules are less good (and so much more expensive!) than tinctures, and the herb itself is less well absorbed. (See Susun S. Weed on the subject of capsules).
    My professional opinion, as a herb-woman. 🙂

  10. Polly Avatar

    Vitex is also used for the treatment of mild hyperprolactinemia with galactohrrea (inappropriate lactation in a post-menopausal or non-pregnant or non-post-childbirth woman) caused by a prolactinoma. I use it myself for that reason, as my pituitary tumor secretes prolactin, but is deemed too small to treat with surgery and another condition rules out the use of dopamine agonists which are the usual medical treatment for prolactinoma.
    Prolactinoma is a common cause of infertility in women of childbearing age but because most gynecologists reflexively refer women to IVF, most women never learn they have a prolactinoma at all, regardless of other symptoms of them they might have–like osteopenia, insomnia, or other endocrine disturbances.
    Prolactin is what causes morning sickness, hence women who are very sensitive to it will often have hyperemesis gravidarum. Often a woman can discern she’s pregnant even before a missed period because nausea of pregnancy is SO different from other nausea–the prolactin is what makes it feel different.
    I AM NOT A DOCTOR, but Vitex typically DECREASES serum prolactin levels and prolactin and oxytocin are what sustain pregnancy, so the newly pregnant should ask their doctors for certain before taking Vitex!

  11. Rosalyn Avatar
    Rosalyn

    I take it for night sweats. I am 50, but not in menopause yet. It helped right away. I take 2 tablets a day. The brand I use is Medi Herb Chaste Tree. I highly recommend it!

  12. Kate Avatar

    Ive been taking vitex for a problem with progesterone production and to help regulate issues related to that. An herbalist I know said taking Progesterone is like putting an expensive stereo system in an old car. It’ll sound great, but it’s the same old clunky junker. Taking vitex actually revives the corpus leuteum. It’s like fixing up and restoring the old car.

    He also said a married male friend had taken it and lost all sensation “down there”. Freaked the guy out. He stopped taking vitex and everything went back to normal in that department.

    Just a word of caution to the men out there….

  13. Marybeth Avatar
    Marybeth

    My midwife recommended this for my heavy and extremely long periods. Unfortunately it caused extremely intense migraines. I tried to stick with it and hope it would eventually even out my hormones and the headaches would stop. But after close to a month of being incapacitated, I had to stop. Unfortunately wasn’t on long enough to see if it would have helped my periods.

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