If you’re struggling to get pregnant, should you consider taking vitex for fertility? See what studies and medical experts have to say.
Vitex, aka chasteberry, is key to hormonal and reproductive health for several reasons. First, this native Mediterranean herb has been used across different cultures for centuries to promote female hormonal balance. Second, vitex is one of the best natural allies to help alleviate PMS symptoms (yes, that’s right, you can use chasteberry to tame painful period cramps, headaches, and even hormonal acne). Later on, it also may help combat symptoms during menopause like vaginal dryness and hot flashes.
Given its power to improve these facets of hormonal health, you might be curious as to whether vitex influences pregnancy. Does vitex increase fertility, or have a substantial impact on conception otherwise?
Here’s a look at the scientific literature behind vitex for fertility and menstruation. Plus: three doctors who specialize in women’s health weigh in on the connection between vitex and fertility.
How Vitex Impacts Pregnancy Hormones
Before trying to find a clear-cut answer about vitex for fertility, it’s important to understand how the herb impacts hormones specific to pregnancy.
Vitex impacts prolactin (PRL), a hormone produced in the pituitary gland whose primary functions involve pregnancy and the production of breast milk. People who have shorter luteal phases (the second half of the menstrual cycle) have highly elevated prolactin levels. Simply put, this imbalance poses a challenge to people trying to get pregnant.
A doctor may run a prolactin test to see if someone’s prolactin levels may impact fertility. For reference, the Pituitary Society states that normal prolactin levels for women are less than 25 ng/ml.
Next, vitex also impacts progesterone, a sex hormone integral to the menstrual cycle and to pregnancy. “Progesterone is the hormone of feeling relaxed and stress-free,” starts Dominique Fradin-Read, MD, MPH, Founder of VitaLifeMD in Los Angeles. “First, vitex reduces the production of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) while supporting the luteinizing hormone (LH).” In turn, these processes lengthen the luteal phase by increasing progesterone levels. A 2017 systematic review also suggests that vitex can bind to estrogen receptors, influencing estrogen activity; that balance of the hormones estrogen and progesterone can only help regulate your menstrual cycle.
Further, a 2015 article titled “Progesterone and the Luteal Phase: A Requisite to Reproduction” states that without both the follicular (first half) and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle working in series, “natural reproduction is not possible.”
Studies on Vitex for Fertility
Findings on Prolactin + Progesterone
A 1993 randomized double-blind study tested the efficacy of 20 milligrams of a vitex supplement, compared to a placebo group, involving 52 women.
Within three months, researchers measured lower prolactin levels, more normalized luteal phases, and an elimination of issues with luteal phase progesterone synthesis in the vitex supplement group.
A 2014 study on using vitex as an herbal treatment for PCOS found that it could potentially help regulate irregular menstrual cycles (therefore stimulating ovulation). The hormonal outcomes of the research included balancing luteinizing hormone and prolactin, which assisted with cycle regulation.
Findings on Conception
Next, a 2006 double-blind placebo-controlled study tested the impact of a vitex supplement—which also included a proprietary blend of other vitamins and minerals—involving 93 women who experienced recent difficulty getting pregnant.
How long does it take for vitex to work for fertility? Within three months, the vitex group showed better hormonal balance. Further, 26 percent of these women became pregnant, while only 10 percent of those in the placebo group did.
Another more recent study that involved couples taking vitex in conjunction with maca and folate (a key ingredient in prenatal vitamins) resulted in a pregnancy rate of 37 percent. The number of women who ovulated increased from 10 percent to 42.9 percent by the end of the study.
An Important Consideration
While these results seem to show positive correlations between vitex and fertility, it’s important to go beyond face value.
LA-based OB-GYN and integrative women’s health expert Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD, FACOG, aka Dr. Suzanne, voices an important point regarding studies behind herbal meds. “They always use smaller samples than conventional pharmaceuticals, and therefore they draw less powerful conclusions.”
ARE THERE SIDE EFFECTS OF VITEX?
In general, vitex is safe for most people to take. The side effects of vitex can include acne, stomach issues, dizziness, nausea, itching, or heavier menstrual bleeding, says Leena Guptha, PhD, ND, DO, Academic Dean of Online Education at Pacific College of Health and Science. If you have certain hormone-sensitive conditions including a history of breast, ovarian, or uterine cancers, you should probably not take vitex. “Because chasteberry can alter progesterone and possibly estrogen levels in your body, people with hormone-related conditions such as breast cancer should not use chasteberry,” Dr. Guptha adds.
All Said, Does Vitex Help Fertility?
Simply put, taking a vitex supplement for fertility has potential—but with caveats.
At any rate, Dr. Gilberg-Lenz still recommends vitex to promote general hormonal balance for some patients. To begin, she says that “the evidence seems fairly strong for using vitex for PMS and PMDD. I’ve also used, with some success, vitex for PCOS and other menstrual disorders.”
By addressing menstrual concerns first, she believes that vitex “can consequently restore or increase fertility in a well-selected population.” However, she says its impact depends on the cause of the specific fertility problem at hand.
Lastly, despite the use of vitex in her medical practice, she reminds us that her experience is anecdotal and that we shouldn’t regard it as evidence-based.
Next, Dr. Fradin-Read concurs that infertility results from various hormonal imbalances. That said, she sees the potential for vitex to bolster the foundations of fertility.
Dr. Fradin-Read reiterates that a weak luteal phase and lack of progesterone hinders successful pregnancy. She recognizes studies such as the ones above illustrating success with vitex to increase progesterone secretion, which is essential to support implantation in the uterine lining and maintain healthy fetal development.
If you know or suspect that you have fertility issues, always explore your concerns with a medical professional. This consultation is especially important before you decide to take vitex, as additional treatments may be necessary.
Is Taking Vitex While Pregnant Safe?
“The safety profile for vitex is very good, and adverse events have been shown to be infrequent, mild, and always reversible,” assures Dr. Fradin-Read. “Still, its use in pregnancy and lactation isn’t currently recommended based on a lack of studies on evidence of safety.”
What to Look for in a Vitex Supplement
You can take chasteberry in a few different forms, including tinctures, capsules, or even dried chasteberry. The right dose depends on the supplement brand. For example, HUM’s Moody Bird contains 300 mg of vitex. Dr. Gilberg-Lenz warns that not all nutraceuticals are created equally. To begin, “product quality is a major issue,” she says. When looking for a vitex supplement, be sure to find one from a reputable company. As with any supplement, always look for the research behind a given formulation.
Moreover, she continues, “it’s imperative to use these products with a qualified doctor who understands both herbal and conventional medicine to avoid contraindications and conflicts.”
The Bottom Line
So… Can vitex help you get pregnant? It’s hard to say with finality exactly how to take vitex to get pregnant. However, several studies and women’s health MDs suggest it can have a strong, positive impact on female hormonal balance, which in turn can enhance success of a healthy pregnancy.
At the very least, it’s worth consulting your doctor to see if supplementing with vitex while TTC (trying to conceive) can potentially ease fertility struggles. As a final reminder, it’s important to discuss taking chasteberry for fertility—as well as any new supplements—with a medical professional to see what will work best for you.