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, rightly earns its designation as “the women’s herb” 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. Later in life, it also may help combat symptoms during menopause.
Given its power to improve these facets of women’s health, you might be curious as to whether vitex influences reproduction. 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: two doctors who specialize in women’s health weigh in.
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. Women who have shorter luteal phases (second half of the menstrual cycle) have highly elevated prolactin levels. Simply put, this imbalance poses a challenge to women trying to get pregnant.
A doctor may run a prolactin test to see if a woman’s 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 female sex hormone. “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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
All Said, Does Vitex Help Fertility?
Simply put, it has potential—but with caveats.
At any rate, Dr. Suzanne 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 it safe to take vitex while pregnant?
“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
Dr. Suzanne 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. 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 can potentially ease fertility struggles. As a final reminder, it’s important to discuss taking vitex—as well as any new supplements—with a medical professional to see what will work best for you.