Vitex (also know as chaste tree) is often said to be great for fertility, but is it for everyone? You’d think so by reading fertility forums and blogs! But often times it can make a woman’s symptoms worse.
Join Kelly LeGendre and I as we talk about vitex; what it is, how it works, who should take it (and who shouldn’t), as well as proper usage.
And make sure you scroll below the video to grab her top fertility tip and a three-day fertility menu! I’ve also added the show notes in case you’re a reader and not a watcher.
Vitex for fertility
Kelly LeGendre, the creator of The Fertility Fix program, is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist who has been helping women grow their families naturally for over a decade. After the birth of her son (who was conceived while following the first iteration of The Fertility Fix plan!), she left her acupuncture practice to focus on helping make motherhood a reality for other women worldwide. Kelly uses a research-based approach to naturally optimize fertility through a combination of functional nutrition, lifestyle modification, and herbal medicine. You can find her website at TheFertilityFix.com and she is also on Facebook.
Top fertility tip
Do everything in your power to reduce your stress level! Women don’t realize what a huge effect stress has on their hormone levels, but it takes whatever else is happening inside your body and amplifies it. Stress increases insulin resistance, interferes with thyroid function, lowers progesterone, makes it more difficult for your liver to break down excess estrogen and other toxins, and causes inflammation by impacting gut health. No matter how much you clean up your diet, if your stress level is still through the roof, your health (and fertility) will suffer.
Where to buy vitex
Mountain Rose Herbs vitex extract
Gaia vitex extract available on Amazon
Not an exact transcription, so check out the video for the entire conversation, but here are some of the main points from our talk!
What is vitex?
Vitex, also known as chaste tree, is a bush/herb native to the Mediterranean. The berries are used in herbal medicine.
What actions does it have on the body?
It works on the hypothalamus to stimulate dopamine production and when dopamine is up, it suppresses prolactin which has a cascading effect to raise progesterone.
It can be useful in women with progesterone deficiency issues, but Kelly always tries to use other options to raise progesterone first.
Is this a herb for both men and women?
No, this herb is for women only. It may decrease testosterone and impair sperm motility in men.
Is it estrogenic?
Vitex does have a slight estrogenic effect, but it tends to raise estrogen and progesterone at the same time. So women with high estrogen want to be wary taking it.
What reproductive issues should we be taking vitex for?
Kelly uses it primarily for luteal phase defects (where the second half of the cycle after ovulation is too short). Vitex is usually only used after options haven’t worked.
It’s also important to know that dopamine and progesterone have the same precursor hormone, pregnenolone. And if you are low in pregnenolone, she tries to raise those levels first as vitex will force the body to produce more dopamine which could cause deficiencies in other areas causing a “crash” later.
What other natural remedies should be tried first?
Lifestyle - Pregnenolone is also used to produce cortisol, and if you have high levels of stress for a long period of time, the body uses this precursor for stress instead of progesterone production.
Women tend to gloss over this recommendation and move on to more exciting remedies, but reducing stress, and figuring out better ways of dealing with it, are really important and make a big difference.
Diet - Consuming a lot of vitamins and minerals as well as good fats is important in hormone production.
Sugar needs to be cut out as it can cause the body to preferentially produce serotonin instead of dopamine.
Caffeine needs to go as it can raise cortisol levels.
A focus on whole foods is important.
Supplements - replacing nutrients you may be deficient in can also be helpful. Magnesium, zinc, B6, and vitamin C can all help in the production of progesterone and its precursor hormones.
Can vitex be used for PCOS or annovulation?
PCOS responds so well to diet and lifestyle changes that those should be primary in those experiencing PCOS. Because they aren’t ovulating progesterone will be low. But once we can get them ovulating through dietary changes, then we can look at progesterone levels and see if they have any luteal phase problems.
What is the best form to use – tea, capsule, or tincture?
Alcohol extracts the constituents from the plant so tinctures are going to be your best bet.
How much vitex should you take?
It’s important to work with someone who knows the herb well as they can figure out the correct dosage for your situation. Normally Kelly recommends about 30-40 drops per day in water, upon waking, and on an empty stomach.
How long does it take for it to have a positive effect on the body?
It normally takes about 3 months to see any changes due to vitex.
Should you take it throughout your whole cycle, or just post-ovulation?
Kelly has most of her patients use it during the luteal phase or last half of the cycle. (from ovulation until the first day of your period)
Is it bad to take along with other herbs or supplements (what about Maca)?
No known contraindicated herbs for vitex, but maca seems to be another overused herb right now.
The only research done on maca in women is to raise estrogen levels post menopausally. Women with early menopause or premature ovarian failure may have good results with it, but if a woman has low progestersone the last thing they need is more estrogen in their systems.
And because they do opposite things, there is no need to take maca and vitex together.
If you are taking hormones or going though medicated cycles for assisted reproductive therapies, you shouldn’t be taking herbs that help to balance your body’s hormones. The herbs are trying to naturally balance while the prescriptions are trying to take over and do what needs to be done so it’s counter-productive.
If you are taking it while trying to conceive, can you continue it during pregnancy?
This is really something to talk to your midwife or OB about as there are no studies that show it’s safe…and yet there are no studies that show it’s unsafe.
The concern with going off of it abruptly is that vitex is artificially getting your body to produce progesterone and if you stop taking it without using supplemental progesterone it could make miscarriage more likely. Other alternatives are progesterone creams or prescriptions.
Vitex and breastfeeding – should you take it while breastfeeding and does it reduce milk supply?
Not aware of anything that has shown that it can bring back cycles while breastfeeding. But it has traditionally been used to increase milk supply in the immediate post partum period, and yet at others times it can be used to reduce prolactin levels – it all depends on the individual situation so check with a practitioner that knows the herb.
There hasn’t been really any research that has proven it safe or unsafe, but taking herbs that affect hormones makes Kelly somewhat wary as it’s not something you really want to pass on.
Additional information added after the show
Vitex can make depression worse, and in some cases can even promote suicidal ideation. So women who have a history of depression should be VERY cautious with it. This is especially true for low dopamine-type depression, the symptoms of which include apathy and having a really hard time getting excited about anything.
3 day fertility menu
The diet I recommend to my clients centers around real, whole foods. You need plenty of good fats and protein to create the hormones needed to conceive and sustain a healthy pregnancy, so I try to include a wide variety of them.
I also focus on LOTS of veggies to provide necessary vitamins and minerals, plus the micronutrients and fiber that are needed to break down and remove surplus hormones and other endocrine disrupting toxins from the body. Cruciferous veggies are especially good for helping the body eliminate excess estrogen, so I try to include some everyday.
Sugar, alcohol, and caffeine have been proven to have negative effects on endocrine balance, so I recommend excluding them completely while trying to conceive.
Meat, eggs, and dairy should always be grass-fed and organic to avoid added hormones and maximize good fats, and fruit and veggies should be organic when feasible.
While my plan isn’t paleo, I highly recommend Melissa Joulwan’s paleo cookbook, Well Fed, to anyone trying to transition to a way of eating that includes more cooking. In it, she outlines what she calls the “weekly cook-up”, where you basically spend an hour or two once a week grilling chicken, browning ground beef, prepping veggies, and making a few sauces, then all week-long all you have to do is throw a few things in a pan with a little oil and some spices, and voila—dinner is done in 10 minutes flat!
Melissa’s got a quick primer on her website, plus links to recipes and a few meal plans with more detailed info and shopping lists here . I’ve started doing a weekly cook-up recently and it’s absolutely revolutionized the way I cook (and eat), because I always have something on hand that’s healthy and quick to prepare. To save even more time, make enough at dinner to have leftovers for lunch the next day.
Breakfast: Steamed greens (I like a spinach, kale, and chard blend) with butter, two eggs over easy with salt and pepper, topped with diced avocado
Lunch: Bean chili with ground beef, pico de gallo, and plain, full-fat Greek yogurt over mixed greens
Snack: Small handful of raw almonds and blueberries
Dinner: Chicken breast or thighs, stir-fried with avocado oil, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes and Greek seasoning, small green salad with olive oil and vinegar
Breakfast: Steamed greens with butter, turkey sausage, and sweet potato
Lunch: Leftover Greek chicken and veggies over mixed greens
Snack: Plain, full-fat Greek yogurt with raspberries
Dinner: Paleo Pad Thai, riced cauliflower sautéed with onion in butter and chicken stock
Breakfast: Steamed greens with butter, two eggs scrambled with salt, pepper, and garlic, topped with feta or goat cheese
Lunch: Leftover pad thai and small green salad with olive oil and vinegar
Snack: Veggies (cucumber, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, etc) with hummus or guacamole
*as with any dietary changes, see your health care provider (preferably a holistic practitioner) for personal recommendations.
If you have any questions concerning vitex that we didn’t answer, please feel free to ask in the comments and we’ll get it answered as soon as we can!