Vitex for PCOS – to take or not to take? Overall, the research on vitex and PCOS is looking promising for most #cysters — but still, one size doesn’t fit all.
As holistic registered dietitians, we see and hear about this type of confusion and controversy all the time… and we don’t blame anyone for it! The world of holistic nutrition and herbal medicine pertaining to women’s health is complex and ever-changing, to say the least.
The purpose of this article is to shed some light, so you can hopefully find more clarity and peace of mind when it comes to the potential role of vitex in your PCOS healing journey.
Read on to learn when, how, and why you might want to consider taking vitex for PCOS – and when you should hold off.
Disclaimer: This is not medical or nutritional advice! This article was written only for educational and informational purposes. Make sure to consult a trusted practitioner to receive custom guidance on your PCOS journey.
Affiliate disclosure: This article contains affiliate links*. As an affiliate for Mountain Rose Herbs and Starwest Botanicals, if you make a purchase through an affiliate link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Table of Contents
What is vitex?
Vitex agnus-castus, (aka “chaste tree berry”, “chasteberry”, “monk’s pepper” or “vitex”), is a popular herb and shrub that has been cultivated and taken as a medicine for over 2,000 years, specifically for gynecological disorders.
This plant originates from the Mediterranean and Central Asia, but it now also grows in various parts of the U.S. – including central Texas.
In central Texas, vitex shrubs blossom with beautiful lavender-colored purple flowers during the spring months of April, May and June – and then bear tiny green, aromatic berries from early July into the fall season each year.
The prime time to harvest vitex berries in Central Texas and in most other warm regions is during July through October.
While it’s a blessing to be able to harvest vitex berries locally, anyone interested in making their own DIY vitex berry tea infusion or herbal tincture may also do so by purchasing dried vitex berries* online or from a local apothecary such as Mountain Rose Herbs* or Starwest Botanicals*.
From a functional nutrition and herbal medicine standpoint, we agree that vitex can make a wonderful plant ally for an entire spectrum of women’s health issues, including PCOS in some (but not all) cases.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects approximately 5 million women of reproductive age in the U.S. alone, according to the CDC.
This endocrine disorder is also impacting ~4 to 20% of females within childbearing age worldwide, according to a 2020 report from the Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences. (1)
PCOS signs and symptoms
The primary features and symptoms of PCOS may include some or all of the following:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- High levels of androgens (such as testosterone) in the body
- Multiple cysts on the ovaries.
- Insulin resistance/ high fasting insulin levels
- Excessive hair growth
- Weight gain
- Difficulty getting pregnant
PCOS also happens to be one of the most common causes for infertility in women.
What causes it?
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it is thought to be related to a combination of genetic and lifestyle/environmental factors.
Newer studies are also investigating links between PCOS and your gut microbiome (the ecosystem of microbes living in your gut). (2)
Why address PCOS sooner rather than later?
Leaving PCOS unchecked for too long may also potentially lead to other types of complications, including but not limited to:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of heart disease
As holistic and functional nutrition practitioners, we often find that it’s possible to manage PCOS primarily through a combination of the right diet, herbs and lifestyle modifications which focus on balancing blood sugar levels, reducing stress, and optimizing gut health.
For the purposes of this article, let’s now zoom in on vitex!
Vitex benefits for PCOS: the research
Nowadays, vitex is often taken anecdotally for a wide range of women’s health conditions such as breast tenderness, improving ovulation, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), low progesterone levels, menopause, PCOS, and more.
While more research is needed, the hypothesis right now is that vitex seems to work directly with the Hypothalamic-Pituitary Axis (HPA Axis), a special network of nerves and pathways which regulate gene expression, hormonal synergy, and more. (3)
As registered dietitians, we took it upon ourselves to see what the latest research has to say.. and when it comes to vitex and PCOS, overall it’s very promising!
But still, one size doesn’t fit all. Below you can check out all the details about the potential benefits and contraindications of taking vitex for PCOS – and as always, make sure to consult with a trusted healthcare practitioner to receive custom protocols for your individual needs.
May help improve menstrual regularity
Studies show that vitex has successfully helped women with PCOS to improve menstrual regularity.
- For example, a 2019 study published by the DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences concluded that the ability of vitex to help regulate menstrual cycles could be comparable to oral contraceptives (birth control pills) – but without the slew of unwanted side effects. (4)
- Another study found that a group of women with PCOS who took vitex saw improved cycle length, an increase of mid-luteal phase levels of progesterone, less amenorrhea, and improved luteal phase basal body temperature (indicative of healthy ovulation). (5)
While more research is needed, the above research is implying less PMS symptoms and healthier cycles among PCOS sufferers who take vitex!
Vitex has also been shown to help reduce high androgen (testosterone) levels, which subsequently leads to less unwanted androgen-related symptoms like acne and unwanted facial hair (“hirsutism”) among women with PCOS. (5, 6)
Does vitex reduce libido?
It is traditionally believed that vitex can reduce sexual desires and hints to its name “chaste berry.” However, vitex doesn’t seem to reduce libido unless you have male organs.
- For example, it’s been said that monks have anecdotally taken vitex to reduce libido (via lower testosterone levels) for centuries, which is why you may have also heard vitex referred to as “monk’s pepper!”
May improve fertility
When taking vitex for a total of three months a group of women achieved twice the amount of pregnancy rates to the placebo group. (7) This study wasn’t specific to PCOS; however, we find there’s generally a lot of overlap among women with PCOS and women struggling with infertility issues.
Other studies – specifically among people with PCOS – are concluding that vitex can in fact help improve and optimize fertility in many cases of PCOS, likely due to vitex’s ability to optimize ovary quality and function and to help protect ovaries from oxidative cell damage. (8, 9, 10)
Still, there are a few relatively new conflicting studies on this topic (11) – so it’s always a good idea to proceed with caution and consult your treatment team before taking vitex for fertility.
Frequently asked questions
How much vitex should you take if you have PCOS?
Dosing and use of vitex may vary depending on your individual goals. Low doses of vitex may have different hormonal outcomes than high doses of vitex. For instance, vitex can potentially reduce or raise prolactin depending on the dose.
But generally speaking, a recommended vitex dose can typically range from 200 to 1,000 milligrams of standardized extract.
- In tincture form, this equates to ~1 to 4 “dropper-fuls” (the amount you can fit into a dropper with one squeeze of the rubber top) of vitex tincture per day.
Since one size never fits all, make sure you’re working with a trusted provider who is qualified to help you determine the proper dose of vitex, whether you’re navigating PCOS or any other type of hormonal imbalance!
Herbs can act differently in the body than pharmaceuticals, especially vitex. This means timing (and length of time) in addition to dosing are also key!
When should you take vitex?
Vitex is most often recommended during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Anecdotally, some practitioners advise that we take vitex in the morning if you’re only taking it once a day.
In our experience, it doesn’t seem to make a difference whether you take vitex before, during, or after a meal.
How long can/should you take it for?
Some studies are suggesting that you take vitex for a minimum of 30 days (or one menstrual cycle) to determine whether or not it is effective. (12)
Based on our own experiences in private practice, assuming that vitex is clinically indicated and well tolerated without any adverse effects, we generally recommend taking vitex for a minimum of 3 to 6 months, for more optimal PCOS health outcomes.
While more research is needed, taking vitex alongside acupuncture for up to 10 months was deemed safe according to a 2019 case study published by Integrative Medicine. (13)
What’s the best form of vitex to take for PCOS?
In clinical herbalism, anecdotally we’re taught that the best way to take vitex is in tincture form, since the alcohol helps to extract the alkaloid constituents in the vitex berries.
But some studies that featured vitex in capsule form have shown us that vitex can still work effectively when taken in capsule form.
Where to buy vitex?
When purchasing an herbal medicine supplement, make sure you’re choosing a product that is organic and/or wildcrafted and ethically, sustainably harvested, with no chemicals or synthetic preservatives.
Below are a few of our favorite go-to brands for vitex:
- Texas Medicinals (tincture)
- Mountain Rose Herbs (tincture)*
- Starwest Botanicals (tincture)*
- Mountain Rose Herbs (capsules)*
- Gaia (capsules)
- Pure Encapsulations (capsules)
- Herb Pharm (tincture)
Interactions and contraindications of vitex
Vitex may interact with oral contraceptives, hormone therapy and is not recommended when pregnant – since it can actually induce premature lactation.
You should also avoid vitex if you’re taking any type of medications that alter dopamine levels (such as in cases of Parkinson’s disease).
If you’re on medication of any kind, consulting with a trusted provider who can provide you with custom guidance is always important.
All in all, taking vitex for a minimum of 1 to 6 months could be helpful for most women with PCOS in that it can help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce unwanted symtpoms related to high androgen levels (like acne and insulin resistance), improve fertility, and even protect your ovaries from cell damage.
On the other hand, everyone has their own unique reponse to vitex, so in rare cases, people with PCOS may find that vitex can make their symptoms worse.
Vitex is not recommended if you’re taking any kind of birth control, hormone replacement therapy, or medications impacting dopamine (like in cases of Parkinson’s) or when you’re pregnant/nursing.
When in doubt, make sure to consult a trusted, qualified expert who can help you!
Want to learn more?
If you’d like to read more evidence-based holistic health articles about PCOS and hormone balance, you may want to check out the following posts:
If you’re looking for more integrative approaches to women’s health on YouTube, make sure to check out the Women’s Nutrition Clinic Youtube Channel – a community for women looking to educate themselves on integrative and alternative approaches to female health.
Eleni is a Registered Dietitian. In her private practice (Women’s Nutrition Clinic), she specializes in women’s health and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). More specifically, supporting women to make nutrition & lifestyle changes using holistic, integrative and functional nutrition approaches.
Eleni is passionate about shifting health care for women and works to empower females when it comes to advocating for their health.
Wellness isn’t just a job to her, but a way of life. She has traveled around the globe to study various diets, sustainability, plant medicine and to immerse herself in different food cultures.
As an educator and professional in the wellness space, Eleni commits to providing sound and impactful nutrition education. She continues to work towards marrying the principles of healthy living and eco-conscious living through client care, online platforms and volunteer work.