9 Things You Didn’t Know About Vitex

Vitex is an herbal remedy which a few years ago, you probably wouldn’t have heard of. But as of the time of this writing, you may be hearing more and more about this herb for treating hormonal imbalance.

9 Things You Didn't Know About Vitex

Even with Vitex finally moving into the spotlight, there is probably still quite a bit that you do not know about this Mediterranean herb, even if you have done some research on it and are thinking about taking it yourself.

In fact, a lot of people who do take Vitex also may have significant knowledge gaps concerning this herbal medicine as well.

In this article, we will go over some things that you may not know about Vitex, but should find useful. Let’s get started.

1. Vitex is known by many names.

The first useful thing to know about Vitex is that it goes by many names. These include:

  • Vitex agnus-castus (the scientific name for the plant)
  • Chaste tree berry
  • Chasteberry
  • Chastetree
  • Monk’s pepper
  • Abraham’s balm

So, any time you run into information about any of these, they are referring to the same herb.

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It also can be useful to know this when you’re shopping. You will most commonly find products labeled either as “Vitex” or as “chasteberry” or “chase tree berry.”

Key Point: Vitex goes by many names. This is helpful to remember while shopping or researching.

2. Vitex may or may not be an anaphrodisiac.

Many people believe that Vitex suppresses libido, acting as an anaphrodisiac in both men and women.

Based on my research, however, as well as my experiences, the jury is still out on this. There are scientific reasons to believe that Vitex could either suppress or enhance sex drive.

I have written up an entire article on this for those who are interested in how Vitex affects libido. See “Is Vitex Really an Anaphrodisiac?”

Key Point: While most people believe that Vitex suppresses libido, there is not sufficient scientific evidence to assert that this is a fact at this time.

3. People take Vitex for a lot of reasons.

On occasions when I have asked a medical professional about Vitex, they have typically known very little about it, except that it is something that is sometimes taken for treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Treating PMS symptoms is one of the reasons why people take Vitex, but it is not the only one.

Following are some additional conditions which some people attempt to treat using this herb:

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Fibrocystic breast disease (FBD), breast pain and breast tenderness

WebMD says that Vitex is “possibly effective” for the two conditions above along with PMS.

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People also use Vitex for:

  • Bone fractures (possibly ineffective, according to WebMD)
  • Infertility
  • Intrauterine device-related bleeding
  • Repelling insects
  • Dementia
  • Acne
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Low milk supply while lactating
  • Eye pain
  • Nervousness
  • Menopausal symptoms or perimenopausal symptoms (i.e. hot flashes)
  • Insomnia
  • Swelling
  • Preventing miscarriage
  • “Other conditions”

All of the conditions above aside from the bone fractures (as notated), WebMD says there is “insufficient evidence for.”

My use for Vitex actually falls into the category of “Other conditions”:

  • Menstrual-related migraines

There are also some “other conditions” uses I can think of that WebMD has not mentioned, including the traditional use of Vitex as an anaphrodisiac. 

Vitex is a dopamine agonist, so I also suspect that there are a range of potential ways people are using the herb which are related to conditions where raising dopamine would be beneficial. 

People also use Vitex to counter “estrogen dominance” and low progesterone. Estrogen dominance is not a condition currently recognized by the mainstream medical community, but it is a colloquial way to refer to a hormonal imbalance where the ratio of estrogen levels to progesterone levels is too high.

Key Point: Vitex is useful for more than just PMS! While there is “insufficient evidence” for most current uses, there is a growing body of research (see below).

4. A lot more research is available on Vitex now than there used to be.

One of the reasons that many people don’t know a lot about Vitex is that even a few years back, there used to not be much you could know about it.

When I started taking Vitex for the first time for female hormones, I suspected I had “estrogen dominance” or something similar. 

I found a forum post where someone gave what sounded like a viable description of how Vitex acts on the pituitary gland to promote dopamine, in turn reducing prolactin and estrogen while promoting progesterone.

The person seemed to have a solid grasp on biochemistry, but there were no references to go with it, so I was pretty much my own guinea pig when I decided to try it.

The last time I think I asked a doctor about Vitex was maybe 2016 or 2017. At the time, all she had heard was that some people took it for PMS. But she didn’t have anything in her database stating that Vitex works.

Ironically, I think it was maybe a few weeks later that I ran into this 2017 study on Vitex published in Clinical Phytoscience.

That study is still among the most comprehensive I have read in terms of explaining conditions Vitex might be useful to treat, existing research evidence in support of those uses, and the mechanisms at play. 

But since then, I have spotted many, many more studies appearing in journals on Vitex.

This 2017 study is, however, a great example of why I assert that a lot of people don’t know how much research is showing up regarding Vitex.

WebMD, as you know, still says that Vitex may only be useful for treating several conditions based on existing evidence.

But this study illustrates that there is already research emerging to support some of the conditions that WebMD is not yet confident about.

For instance, take infertility. If you went only by what WeMD says (listing infertility under “insufficient evidence for”), you might not think to give Vitex a try.

But if you reference the study I just linked to, you would find this:

“Improved fertility was later confirmed in a trial involving 44 infertile patients due to luteal phase defects, treatment with 40 mg of a dried Vitex agnus castus (VAC BNO 1095) preparation increased both, serum progesterone and estradiol [23, 24]. Following this treatment ovulatory cycles were present in 93% and fertility rate was restored in 71.4% of the patients. These results are comparable to those shown in Figs. 1 and 2 and indicate that VAC extracts may indeed be helpful in cases of infertility.”

The study also explains why Vitex may be helpful in treating infertility:

“How can the effects of VAC on luteal function be explained? Continuously high prolactin levels inhibit the hypothalamic pulse generator [25]. This results in infertility because normal gonadotropin release is inhibited … It appears therefore safe to conclude that VAC preparations contain dopaminergic substances which normalize the exaggerated height of prolactin pulse which allows normal luteal progesterone secretion, thereby preventing luteal insufficiency and promoting fertility.”

There are other research papers you can also find now providing further support in this area.

This paper states:

“Vitex agnus-castus (AC) is a phytopharmaceutical compound and is shown to be widely used to treat PMS and PMDD. In addition, it was shown to be beneficial in post-menstrual cases and it can also contribute to treatment of infertility cases in both men and women. Dopaminergic compounds available in this plant help to treat premenstrual mastodynia as well as other symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome.”

Here is a statement from a study on a proprietary blend of Vitex and green tea:

“FertilityBlend™ is a well-tolerated supplement that could be an attractive option for the optimization of reproductive health in some women. In the current pilot study, nutritional supplementation … resulted in a pregnancy rate of 33% as compared to 0% in the placebo group.”

So, if you are interested in using Vitex, it is important to understand 1-that research is in the early stages, and 2-new data is emerging with increasing frequency.

That means that you should take the time to do your own journal research, not just go by the latest information you find on institutional websites like WebMD which may not be up-to-date.

You should also be aware that your mainstream health provider may know very little about Vitex, and probably is not following the latest research on it as it is such a specialized interest.

For me, it has been both interesting and vindicating to follow research as it has emerged on Vitex over recent years.

You will recall that when I started using it, there was almost no research available, particularly on my particular use.

I still have not found a lot of data on my particular use (there do not seem to be a lot of researchers interested in Vitex and migraines throughout the menstrual cycle). But there is now some indirect support for the way that I use this herbal supplement.

After all, we now have evidence showing Vitex can potentially help alleviate symptoms of PMS and PMDD. Migraines commonly manifest with both conditions. In fact, I do usually get a migraine right before my period, though most of mine occur in the week after my period.

It is also great that there are finally some detailed studies we can read regarding the effects of Vitex on our biochemistry. We no longer have to take on faith what we’ve read on internet forums—there are now journal articles talking about how Vitex reduces high prolactin (hyperprolactinemia) and helps balance estrogen and progesterone levels.

Key Point: If you overlooked Vitex in years past because of the lack of research, you might want to check into it again. There are still mainstream sources lagging behind on the latest updates on Vitex. A lot more studies have been conducted in recent years, and we have a lot more data to go off of now.

5. Large and small doses of Vitex may affect the body in different ways.

How much Vitex should you take to treat a condition? You might think that large and small dosages act on the body in the same way to different degrees, but the reality appears to be a little bit more complicated than that.

Check out this research:

“The mechanism of action is presumed to be via dopaminergic effects resulting in changes of prolactin secretion from the anterior pituitary. At low doses, it blocks the activation of D2 receptors in the brain by competitive binding, causing a slight increase in prolactin release. In higher concentrations, the binding activity is sufficient to reduce the release of prolactin.”

So, if you want to treat high prolactin levels, it is important that you take enough Vitex in a dose to do so. At a low dose, you could actually do the opposite of what you are intending.

The majority of Vitex supplements that you can purchase on the market today are at high doses. Most are around 400 mg. 

So long as you are taking such a product, you can rest assured that the Vitex you are using will help to reduce your prolactin levels rather than increasing them.

Key Point: Higher doses of Vitex can help to reduce your levels of prolactin. But low doses of Vitex can do just the opposite, increasing prolactin levels.

6. Vitex can interact with some drugs and supplements.

Vitex is compatible with many drugs and supplements, but there are some that can interact with it in undesirable ways.

  • Birth control/HRT: It is possible for Vitex to reduce the effectiveness of birth control medications. So, if you are using birth control, Vitex may or may not be a fit for you, depending on the reasons that you are taking hormones. You should check with your healthcare provider before starting Vitex.
  • Fertility drugs: If you are taking fertility drugs and then start taking Vitex on top of those, you can end up with the possibility of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. 
  • Dopamine agonists: You should proceed with caution if you are going to be taking any other medications or supplements which increase dopamine. Drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease fall into this category, as do some antipsychotic medications. The anti-nausea medication Reglan is another dopamine agonist which could interact with Vitex. Herbs like lemon balm or St. John’s Wort which increase dopamine could potentially be problematic as well. You might be able to stack Vitex with some drugs and herbs in this category, but you may wish to consult with a medical professional first.

Key Point: Like any other medication or herbal supplement, Vitex has the potential to interact adversely with certain other drugs or herbs.

7. It seems that you can take Vitex for a long period of time without issues.

I have found multiple references which say that you can take Vitex for up to eight months safely.

If you run into the same references, you might assume that you can only use Vitex for that length of time.

Indeed, I have also found sources advising that you discontinue it after a certain number of months, asserting that its effects will remain after your body has completed making its “adjustment.”

I have no idea whether that is correct in some cases or not.

While it sounds plausible that someone might need Vitex as a dietary supplement temporarily to get their body back into the proper swing of things following some kind of temporary disruption to hormone levels, that certainly doesn’t apply to every use case.

For example, take my situation. I have no idea what the root underlying reason is for my pain issues. Why do I have migraines? I have no idea; it could be genetic for all I know. 

Why do I need to increase dopamine and progesterone while reducing prolactin and estrogen to experience an improvement? There are some potential mechanisms to explain why that might help—but the point is, If I suddenly were to quit taking Vitex tomorrow, my hormone and neurotransmitter levels would return to being unbearable for me to coexist with.

So, do I quit taking Vitex every eight months? Nope. I decided a long time ago that putting my body through regular off-cycles would only lead to further hormone imbalances.

I found no indications through research that taking Vitex for longer was likely to compromise women’s health. 

On the contrary, what I found was that “eight months” simply was the longest study run to date.

That meant that nobody could say with any certainty that Vitex would be safe or unsafe after that length of time—only that it had been used safely and had been tolerated well for up to that duration of time.

So, I decided to take a chance, and have been taking Vitex for years now without any pause and without any problems.

Obviously, that does not prove anything as I am an anecdote, not a set of data. But I can at least say that for my part:

  • Although Vitex’s positive effects reached a plateau at around the six-month mark (as expected), there has been no reduction in effectiveness past that point.
  • I have not experienced any negative side effects that I am aware of from this long-term use.

So, while I would not be comfortable making recommendations for someone else, I do feel comfortable continuing to use Vitex for the long run.

Plus, there are two other reasons why I feel relatively safe being a guinea pig passed the eight-month mark:

  • Firstly, when I asked my doctor about it, she thought it was entirely sensible to continue since I have had no adverse effects and she could find no studies indicating that long-term use would be unsafe.
  • Secondly, the 2017 study points out that it is hypothetically possible that Vitex could have a protective effect against breast cancer.

Beyond that, the massive quality of life improvement on Vitex greatly reduces my stress and helps bolster my mental health. 

Key Point: It is common for people to say that you can take Vitex for up to eight months. But research has not established a time limit past which this herb becomes ineffectual or harmful. So, if you feel comfortable taking it for longer, you can consider it. While I cannot provide medical advice with respect to this, I can say that I have used it with seemingly no adverse effects for a number of years without breaks now.

8. Peoples’ bodies react differently to Vitex. For some, it works, for others, it doesn’t.

I have seen some people tout Vitex as a cure-all. This is not something which is appropriate to do with Vitex or any other herb, particularly one which impacts so many different hormones.

There are people who seem to think that taking Vitex for a few weeks or months is enough to heal any person of any problem relating to women’s health.

Obviously, as somebody who has a liveable life thanks in large part to this herb, I am a major proponent of it, and even I don’t claim Vitex is a cure-all.

Any two women can easily have vastly different hormonal profiles.

Where one woman’s body might produce excess estrogen, another woman’s body could do just the opposite.

Where one woman might be in need of more dopamine, another could react very poorly to it.

And with so many different mechanisms potentially at play, and so much complexity to hormonal systems, there could be numerous other factors which could impact the way that any given person responds to Vitex.

So, there are two matters to discuss: side effects and results.

With regard to side effects, there are three main possibilities:

  • No side effects or mild side effects
  • Short-term side effects which dissipate with time
  • Long-term side effects

I have read enough reviews of Vitex to know that there are instances of long-term side effects. These, I suspect, occur in people for whom Vitex is not a suitable treatment. Not everybody has a hormonal or neurotransmitter imbalance for which chasteberry will provide the desired counterbalancing effect.

As for short-term side effects, some users do report that their first few weeks or even their first couple of months using Vitex came with some unwanted effects.

For example, one common side effect of starting Vitex is irregular periods. In some women, periods might stop altogether for a while. In others, they could become significantly longer or shorter. 

Often, after waiting out this effect, the irregular cycles will go away as the body adjusts. 

A lot of users (including me) have no short-term side effects upon starting up with Vitex.

The only effect of Vitex I noticed when I started was that my pain levels significantly decreased. This happened within a matter of days, which was both surprising and amazing. 

As for long-term side effects, if Vitex is right for you, these should either be mild or nonexistent.

The only long-term side effect I have noticed (and which I cannot say with certainty is the result of Vitex or just a hormonal change with age) is increased libido.

As far as efficacy goes, these are the possibilities:

  • Great efficacy.
  • Mild efficacy.
  • Uncertain results or no results.

Which you get will depend on a number of factors:

  • Whether Vitex is the right fit for your hormonal profile and condition.
  • Whether you are using a quality brand of Vitex.
  • How consistently you are taking Vitex.
  • Whether you are taking the appropriate dose of Vitex.
  • How long you have been taking Vitex.

For every condition, you’ll find variety in results. Some women trying to conceive get pregnant while using Vitex. Others do not. My guess is that effectiveness with respect to this depends largely on what the underlying cause of the infertility is in both cases, and whether Vitex targets that underlying cause or not.

Obviously, you cannot get “mildly pregnant,” so success with fertility should be either major or nonexistent.

But there are many conditions for which people take Vitex which can feasibly get mildly or moderately or very much better.

For example, consider my head pain. I have had major improvements on Vitex, but it is easy for me to picture someone getting moderate or mild improvements as well.

Key Point: Vitex is sometimes touted as a cure-all, but there is no such thing. Vitex produces varying results depending on how well-suited it is to an individual user’s hormonal profile and condition. It also may produce temporary or long-term side effects in some cases, though in many, it may produce only mild side effects or no side effects at all.

9. Vitex is affordable.

While the price for Vitex has climbed on average over the past few years in response to increasing demand, on the whole, it is pretty inexpensive.

In fact, it is one of the most cost-effective supplements I use. It is worth more than what I pay for it, but as someone without a lot of spare cash, I sure appreciate how inexpensive it is.

So, if you are worried about affording Vitex over the short- or long-term, look into it and think about giving it a try. 

For the price of skipping a few cups of coffee a month (or some other small equivalent), you could find yourself doing better than you have in a long time. 

Key Point: As far as supplements go, Vitex is one of the more affordable ones on the market. Even if you are on a tight budget, it may be worth it.

Conclusion: Keep Researching Vitex to Keep Learning About This Amazing Herb

Even though research is picking up pace on Vitex, we have a long way to go before we have a comprehensive understanding of the physiological effects of this herb as well as all of the conditions which it might be helpful for treating.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you now feel better-informed about Vitex. If you want to remain well-informed, it is important to keep up with current research as it emerges.

You can also follow along with our fertility blog. As I learn more from my own research and personal experiences, I will continue to share information and theories with you. I hope that if you give it a try, it makes as big a positive difference in your life as it has made in mine.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5308513/