Is Vitex Right for Me?
First Off, What is Vitex?
Vitex, or the Chaste Tree Berry, is the fruit of a shrub indigenous to Western Asia and the Mediterranean. For centuries, this botanical has been an important part of medicine and culture throughout Europe and Asia.1 It’s applications range from being used as an anaphrodisiac (sex drive reducer) to fertility enhancer (ironic we know; all will be explained).
History of the Vitex:
In ancient Greece, women who wanted to honor the Greek goddess Demeter by remaining chaste, would spread the flowers and leaves of the Chaste Tree on their couches and beds as well as adorning their own bodies with them. They believed that the Chaste Tree reduced sexual urges, thus better enabling the user to avoid sexual activity. This belief was held throughout the Middle Ages as well when Christian monks used Chaste Tree Berries as a spice that they believed reduced their sexual urges and helped them to remain pure.1
Ironically, Vitex has not been shown to reduce sexual urges at all (yay!). However, some of it’s less-famous traditional uses have been validated by modern science, such as an ability to promote hormonal balance in menopausal women and as an effective fertility aid.1-2 In this post, we’ll talk a bit more about this ancient herb and hopefully answer any questions you may have about its safety, efficacy, and uses. We’ll also discuss when not to use Vitex, because it’s not right for everyone.
Scientifically-Backed Uses for Vitex
Well, we already mentioned that the most famous use for the Chaste Tree Berry has proven to be unfounded, thank goodness. We at Wholesome Story are not in the business of lowering people’s sex drives. We do like providing safe, effective supplements that can support healthy bodies though, and that’s why we include Vitex in our supplement line.
- Firstly, studies show that Vitex may be a fertility-boosting herb. This botanical can increase pregnancy rates in some women due to its hormone-modulating effects. Vitex may work by increasing luteal hormones and reducing prolactin. If that happens to be what your body needs in order to make a baby, then it may be helpful for you.1,3
- Second, research shows that Vitex can help soothe some of the symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, spotting, and other unpleasantries.1-2 If you’re not working on making babies, but rather struggling with age-related changes of your baby-making parts, you might find Vitex helpful.
- Another common use backed by science is soothing PMS symptoms. Just like with menopause, PMS can be an aggravating part of being a healthy, normal woman. Vitex has shown to be helpful in reducing unpleasant PMS symptoms such as breast pain/tenderness. It’s thought to have this effect because it’s relatively high in dopaminergic compounds which can help to reduce high prolactin levels, which are often associated with breast pain.1-3
- Last but not least, Vitex may be helpful in maintaining your youthful glow…sans zits. Apparently, this ancient herb can help promote healthy, clear skin, (cue the cheesy, slow-mo commercials). Really though, many people report their skin is clearer and healthier when using Vitex.1,3
When NOT to take Vitex:
There are some reasons why Vitex may not be a great option for you. As with many supplements, Vitex can have undesirable effects for some people and/or when taken with certain medications. Here are some reasons why we would recommend someone NOT try Vitex.
- If you’re on any kind of synthetic, hormonal medication, Vitex may not be a good choice. Because this herb is a hormone-modulator, you shouldn’t take Vitex without your doctor’s approval if you are on hormonal birth control, hormone replacement therapy, or fertility drugs. That’s not to say it’s a bad choice necessarily, but we recommend you get a qualified opinion from a medical professional before taking it.1,3
- If you’re taking any dopamine-receptor agonist drugs, such as those used to treat Parkinson’s Disease, talk with your doctor before adding Vitex to your routine. Since Vitex has shown an ability to act on our dopamine systems, it could interfere with your medication.1,3
- If you’re pregnant, don’t take Vitex. There are no studies to indicate what kinds of effects this herb can have on expectant mothers. Besides which, most pregnant women would have little use for the herb anyway.1-3
- If you’re breastfeeding, talk with your doctor before taking Vitex. Studies have shown that Vitex may increase milk production in some women, but it can decrease it in others. Don’t risk your health and the health of your baby by taking Vitex during lactation without consulting a qualified physician.1
Is Vitex Safe?
After all those warnings and talk about Vitex affecting the hormonal systems of the body you may be wondering if it is safe to take at all. Well, barring any allergic reactions, Vitex is indeed safe for most people.1-3 However, just because it’s safe doesn’t mean that it will produce desirable effects. As we’ve said, Vitex works on hormones and while the effects it produces can be quite helpful and desirable, that’s not always the case. Vitex can cause unwanted hormonal effects if the person taking it is accidently aggravating an already out-of-balance hormonal system. While not dangerous, worsening any hormonal imbalances will likely be unpleasant.
The long and short of it:
Vitex could be just the thing you’re looking for. It is safe to try for most people but may produce unpleasant side effects for some. For this reason, we recommend speaking with your doctor about trying Vitex if it’s something you’d like to do. Your doctor will be able to advise you about how Vitex could interact with any medications you’re taking and/or what kinds of effects it could have on your hormones. Every body is different and we want your body to receive individual attention from a qualified health professional.
Vitex is a wonderful herb that can be incredibly helpful, but it’s not for everyone. If you think Vitex may be right for you, talk with your health care provider and make a plan to try it! If they direct you away from it, know that it is only one in a myriad of beautiful, wholesome plants that may be able to help you. At Wholesome Story, we believe that nature has what you need, you just have to know where to look.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plants foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopath, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
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- Chhabra GS, Kulkarni KS. Vitex Agnus Castus - an overview. Journal of Natural Remedies. http://informaticsjournals.in/index.php/jnr/article/view/432/432. Published 2011. Accessed December 11, 2021.
- Schwarcz J. Does chasteberry curb the Sex Drive? Office for Science and Society. https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-supplements-you-asked/you-asked-does-chasteberry-curb-sex-drive. Published August 1, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2021.
- Ring M. Vitex: from Mosby's Guide to Women's Health. Vitex - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/vitex. Published 2018. Accessed December 11, 2021.