Natural remedies including herbs have been around for centuries and used as treatments for a variety of different ailments. Vitex (also known as vitex agnus castus or chasteberry) has been used as a fertility remedy for centuries. But what about vitex for PCOS? Can this herb promote fertility in people with PCOS? Let’s delve into the science-backed evidence on vitex’s potential for mitigating PCOS symptoms.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is an endocrine disorder affecting roughly 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth worldwide.
It is often characterised by a hormonal imbalance involving higher-than-normal levels of androgens (‘male’ hormones like testosterone), which lead to an array of symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles, acne, hirsutism, alopecia and fertility issues.
PCOS cannot be cured but its symptoms can be managed using medication, supplements and lifestyle changes. People often try natural remedies like herbs to manage PCOS symptoms.
What is vitex?
Vitex agnus castus, known colloquially as vitex, chasteberry, chaste tree, Abraham’s balm, lilac chastetree or monk’s pepper is a plant natively found in the Mediterranean.
The leaves, flowers and seeds can be harvested to create alternative medicines. The leaves, flowers and berries can be consumed as a tincture, syrup or elixir, or simply eaten.
The berries, in particular, have been used as a tonic herb for fertility.
But does it hold promise for PCOS? Let’s turn to scientific research.
Potential benefits of vitex for PCOS
Vitex is commonly used in countries like Germany to support fertility and wellbeing, but what does the evidence say about using vitex for PCOS?
May improve menstrual regularity
A symptom and diagnostic factor of PCOS is irregular menstrual cycles. Studies investigating the effect of vitex on menstrual regularity in people with PCOS are mixed, with some suggesting that vitex improves regularity and others suggesting no effect.
May improve fertility
A nutrition supplement containing vitex, green tea and certain vitamins and minerals, including folate, was seen in a 2006 study to improve fertility in people trying to conceive. The suggested mechanism for vitex helping with fertility is that vitex lowers prolactin levels. High prolactin levels can make it more challenging to conceive.
This study was not carried out on people with PCOS however, and it only had a small sample size of 93 people. More high-quality evidence is required.
>> Read More | PCOS and Fertility: the ultimate guide to conception
May reduce androgen levels
Reducing elevated androgen levels is a key aspect of managing PCOS symptoms. Preliminary studies suggest that vitex may help in this area, potentially easing symptoms like hirsutism but, interestingly, there is also evidence that refutes this.
In a rodent study, rats with PCOS who were given vitex actually had higher levels of testosterone. As with most herbal treatments, more evidence is required to understand the impact, specifically on people with PCOS.
Does vitex help PCOS?
Although this evidence sounds promising, unfortunately, vitex does not appear to be a good supplement to help with PCOS management. This is because vitex increases progesterone levels by increasing LH (luteinising hormone) levels and suppressing prolactin levels.
This sounds positive, as this can result in increased ovulatory cycles but people with PCOS often already have high LH levels. Excessive LH levels can cause the ovaries to secrete more androgens, which in turn impacts fertility outcomes.
Therefore, if you have PCOS and high LH levels, vitex is unlikely to help your symptoms and improve fertility.
Vitex for PCOS dosage
There is not enough scientific evidence to conclusively recommend a dose of vitex for PCOS. Commonly in the research, 4 to 40 milligrams per day are used.
Vitex dosage varies, depending on the specific product and individual needs. It’s always best to follow the package instructions or consult a healthcare professional to determine the correct dosage for you if you choose to take vitex.
How long does it take vitex to work?
More evidence is needed to understand how long vitex takes to work, but generally, herbs and other traditional medicines take at least 3 months to see any changes.
Side effects of Vitex
While generally safe, vitex may lead to side effects including:
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Menstrual irregularities
- Skin disorders
As always, listen to your body and consult with a healthcare provider if you experience adverse effects.
Vitex doesn’t have enough evidence as of yet to conclusively support its use for managing PCOS. Therefore, it should be treated with caution.
Whenever you want to start a new supplement regimen, it is vital that you become aware of the potential drug interactions. Consult a healthcare professional before introducing new supplements to your routine.
Who shouldn’t consume vitex?
There are groups of people who shouldn’t consume vitex. The following groups of people should not consume the herb:
- People taking dopamine-related medications
- People taking medicine for Parkinson’s disease
- People on birth control pills
- People on hormone-replacement therapy or those who have hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer
- People who are pregnant or breastfeeding
Always speak to your healthcare professional before trying a new supplement.
Alternatives to vitex for PCOS
As vitex doesn’t have enough high-quality evidence to conclusively support its use for PCOS, we can look at other supplements and lifestyle changes that may help with PCOS management.
Inositol is an insulin sensitiser that has positive emerging evidence supporting its use for PCOS, and in particular, studies have found that inositol may improve ovulation regularity and egg quality.
Omega-3 is an essential nutrient we all need to consume, but for PCOS it may be even more beneficial because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that it improves outcomes in people with PCOS who have insulin resistance and high triglyceride levels.
Read more | Best supplements for PCOS
Key takeaways: vitex for PCOS
There are many different medications and natural remedies available that may improve PCOS outcomes. As PCOS cannot be cured, your aim should be to manage symptoms using these tools. Vitex has the potential to regulate menstrual cycles, enhance fertility, and reduce androgen levels but more research is needed. It’s also vital to be aware of possible side effects and interactions. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.