Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy
Vitex, also known as chaste tree berry, is an herbal supplement derived from a flowering plant.
Used for hundreds of years to address women’s health issues like PMS, cramps, and menopause, it’s still a relevant supplement today. Vitex has done better than placebos in several studies and has plenty of science-backed benefits.
Here’s how to make use of this popular women’s health supplement.
What is Vitex & How Does It Work?
Vitex is an herb that has medicinal benefits for many women’s health issues, as well as other conditions. It has been successfully used for everything from sleep problems to depression to cramps and more.
Vitex seems to have such great benefits for women because it naturally increases estrogen and progesterone levels without being a direct form of either. Vitex works to lower levels of the hormone prolactin, which is associated with lactation.
When prolactin is high, estrogen and progesterone levels may be suppressed. As vitex lowers prolactin, estrogen and progesterone may rebound and return to normal levels.
It has similar benefits for men when prolactin is suppressing testosterone levels. (1) In order to achieve these hormone-related benefits, studies show that at least 500 milligrams per day need to be taken.
Vitex also works like the neurotransmitter dopamine and can also boost dopamine levels. This can promote feelings of balance, calm, and well-being. By increasing dopamine, prolactin levels can also be lowered. (2)
Vitex can also help improve sleep and the circadian rhythm by increasing the natural production of melatonin. (3)
8 Health Benefits of Vitex
Because of the way that vitex works, it can provide numerous health benefits in the body. While most of the benefits impact women’s health issues, it has some notable support for men, too.
These are the top research-backed ways to use vitex or chaste tree berry.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a collection of symptoms that can affect women during their monthly cycle. Symptoms usually appear a few days or a week before a period is expected and may last several days into the new cycle.
For some women, PMS can be severe. With few pharmaceutical treatments, many women turn to herbs for relief. Vitex is the herb most research-backed for providing relief of PMS symptoms.
Common symptoms of PMS include:
- Mood swings or changes
- Sleeplessness and insomnia
- Cramping and pain
- Food cravings
Nearly 75 percent of reproductive-aged women experience PMS on a regular basis. It is thought to be caused by a variety of factors, including imbalances in estradiol (estrogen) and progesterone and elevated levels of prolactin. (6)
One study found a 93 percent decrease in PMS symptoms when taking vitex. (7)
For vitex to be effective against PMS, studies found that doses should be around 400 milligrams per day.
This helps the herb to decrease prolactin levels and provide balance to progesterone and estrogen, as well as increasing dopamine. (10)
2. Breast Tenderness
For some women, breast tenderness can be an unpleasant part of their cycle. While mild breast pain can be part of normal PMS, some women experience cyclic mastalgia, which is related to menstruation and not only pre-menstrual syndrome.
3. Migraine & Headache
Both migraines and headaches can significantly impact one’s ability to function in daily life. Headaches can be a common symptom of PMS or can be related to other hormonal imbalances in women.
Migraines can also be triggered by hormonal changes, too, including perimenopause.
A study of 100 women found that vitex was able to cut monthly migraines in half in 42 percent of the patients, and a total of 57 women had fewer headache days, too. (13)
While more research needs to be done to understand specifically how vitex can reduce head pain, it’s believed to be associated with the ability to balance hormones, but also to act on the opioid system, providing a sort of in-born pain relief.
In order to have benefits for migraine and headache relief, vitex has to be taken consistently throughout the cycle. It does not work as a single-use pain reliever to be taken whenever head pain begins.
It works consistently throughout the cycle to address underlying causes of headaches, not temporarily relieving pain from them.
A painful disorder of the female reproductive system, endometriosis happens when tissue from the endometrium (uterine lining) grows where it should not.
Sometimes this can be on the outside of the uterus, in the fallopian tubes, or even in or around the intestines. Symptoms of endometriosis include extremely heavy menstrual bleeding, pain, and inflammation. (14)
Research has found vitex to be an important herbal remedy that can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of endometriosis.
There is no cure for this disorder, but vitex can help to decrease inflammation by normalizing reproductive hormones, particularly by increasing progesterone. This can reduce the number of symptoms felt from the disorder. (15, 16)
Acne can be caused by a number of things, but in women, it is often tied to reproductive hormones that are imbalanced. Acne that is tied to the menstrual cycle especially is due to abnormal responses by estrogen and progesterone.
All of the topical creams or treatments in the world won’t solve acne that has an underlying cause of hormone imbalance.
The good news is that research has found vitex to be beneficial for addressing hormone-caused acne. (17)
It works by lowering prolactin levels which let estradiol and progesterone rebound to their normal balanced levels. This decreases acne outbreaks and in some cases may get rid of them entirely.
Other types of acne that are not caused by reproductive hormones are often associated with certain bacteria that live on the skin and lead to breakouts.
Vitex has also been shown to be antibacterial and can prevent the bacteria that trigger acne from replicating. So even if your acne is not tied to your menstrual cycle, vitex may be able to help. (21)
6. Prostate Health
Vitex isn’t only for women. Older men can experience a prostate disorder known as benign prostate hyperplasia or BPH.
The disorder itself does not cause prostate cancer, but it does lead to an enlarged prostate, which independently increases the chance of developing prostate cancer. BPH can also lead to problems with urination and discomfort.
Prostates are naturally at risk of becoming enlarged with age, mostly due to changes in hormones. (22)
Research has found vitex to be effective at helping to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and BPH, most likely because it can reduce prolactin and normalize testosterone levels while also fighting inflammation. (23)
Menopause occurs in women after their menstrual cycle has ceased for 12 months or longer. Most women undergo the transition from menstruation to menopause in their 40s or 50s, with 51 being the most common age of onset in the United States.
Perimenopause occurs when menstruation starts to become irregular. The transition between perimenopause and menopause typically takes between five to 10 years before periods fully cease.
During perimenopause estrogen and progesterone levels steadily fall. The rapid time of hormone change can lead to numerous unpleasant symptoms, including:
- Hot flashes
- Mood disorders
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Dry skin
- Night sweats
- Irregular periods (sometimes with several months in between)
Women going through perimenopause can feel significantly worse than when they had PMS, and often there is no easy relief.
Studies have found that vitex, however, can bring relief for many of these perimenopausal symptoms. (24)
Women taking vitex for perimenopause or menopause experienced reduced hot flashes, better quality sleep, and improved mood.
Some who had prematurely entered perimenopause regained normal menstrual function, too, making vitex an important tool for healthy fertility (more on that below).
Vitex has a powerful effect on female fertility in a few key ways.
First, women who have short luteal phases (the number of days following ovulation, before the period starts) are at an increased risk for infertility or miscarriage.
Luteal phase defects usually happen because progesterone levels are too low. Vitex can help to correct a luteal phase defect by lowering prolactin levels (which may be the cause of suppressed progesterone in the first place) and increasing fertility. (27, 28)
Second, vitex can help to address certain hormonal conditions that may cause difficulty in getting pregnant. Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can result in problems with ovulation, periods, and normal reproductive hormones.
This is often due to excessively high levels of prolactin. Vitex has proven to be every bit as effective as pharmaceutical medication aimed at reducing prolactin levels and helping to normalize hormones. (29)
Finally, vitex can help women who have struggled to get pregnant to optimize their chances. A study of 93 women who had been unable to conceive tracked women who took vitex or a placebo.
After 90 days, the vitex group had better hormone balance and 26 percent had already become pregnant. Less than half of that in the placebo group were able to conceive. (30)
It is impossible for women to get pregnant if they are not ovulating, and ovulation can’t happen unless they are also having regular periods. In some cases the cause of infertility is a lack of ability to menstruate.
Research on vitex found that it works to normalize menstrual cycles in women who had irregular periods. This is in part because it helps to promote healthy levels of estradiol and progesterone, which in turn trigger normal menstruation, ovulation, and even pregnancy events. (31, 32, 33)
Cautions & Side Effects
Supplements can be every bit as potent as medications. If you currently take any prescriptions or have any medical conditions, you should never start taking a supplement without your doctor’s approval.
The FDA does not regulate supplements like it does pharmaceutical drugs. While research is clear that vitex has health benefits, it is not medically cleared for use as a treatment.
Supplement companies will often differ in their doses or extract strength, so if you’re going to take vitex, it’s important to choose a high-quality brand. Get a recommendation from your healthcare practitioner if you are unsure.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take vitex. Children should not take vitex either.
Vitex is considered safe and has few side effects when taken correctly and as directed. In most cases, the only symptoms that may mildly occur include nausea or upset stomach, headache, or heavier menstrual flow for the first few cycles. (34)
If you take any other medications, especially those that have an impact on hormone levels, do not take vitex. This can include hormone replacement therapy, hormonal birth control, or antipsychotic medication.
How to Take Vitex
Vitex is most often studied at doses between 200 to 500 milligrams. For fertility or menstrual relief, 500 milligrams is the most-studied dose, and for menopause 200 milligrams is more common.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.