Hope & Hopscotch

Can Vitex help you with low progesterone?

ResearchSaeComment

A friend emailed me the other day - had I heard of Vitex? The information out there is mixed and she wasn’t sure whether to take it or not. I flicked back a quick email with what I knew (which was mostly to avoid it), but after some thought I decided to look into it proper. 

What is Vitex?

Vitex Agnus Castus is the berry from a chaste tree, native to the mediterranean. It’s berries are used in herbal medicine, often used for fertility.

What does it do, really?

Taking Vitex can stimulate your hypothalamus to produce more dopamine. High dopamine levels suppress prolactin (Source) which will go on to increase progesterone production. 

This is helpful because progesterone is key to your fertility cycle. After ovulation, your LH levels trigger a change in the corpus luteum (the now empty follicle in your ovary) which starts progesterone production to supports the developing embryo. 


If the embryo implants successfully, at week 7 the corpus luteum will tag team progesterone production out with the placenta. If pregnancy did not occur, the corpus luteum disintegrates which causes the progesterone production to fall,  triggering the endometrial tissue to break down and your period will start. 

In short, progesterone supports the embryo and maintains your uterus lining so the embryo can implant. 

Why is low progesterone a problem? 

Short Luteal Phases

Your luteal phase is the time post ovulation before your period begins. It should last 11-14 days, which is the lifespan of the corpus luteum. If your luteal phase is shorter than 11 days, it’s likely your corpus luteum did not form as it was supposed to. This is called a luteal phase defect and is associated with low progesterone. (Source)

Early Miscarriages

Up to 35% of women with repeated or habitual miscarriages have a luteal phase defect. This is thought to be a result of an inadequate maturation and development of the endometrium, or the tissue lining your uterus that the embryo implants into. This in part is due to inadequate progesterone levels. (Source)

Low progesterone values are associated with miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies (both considered non-viable pregnancies) and high progesterone concentrations with viable pregnancies. (Source)

How does Vitex help?

By improving progesterone levels, Vitex can help woman with established luteal phase defect (shortened second half of the menstrual cycle) and high levels of the hormone prolactin.

If you have irregular periods, it may normalise your menstruation cycle and encourage regular ovulation (or it may mess it up completely. The research is mixed). 

Is Vitex right for me?

Yes, if you have:

  • Low levels of progesterone post ovulation
  • Luteal phase defect
  • High prolactin levels
  • Irregular periods

If you do not suffer from any of these, it's unlikely Vitex will help you. 

Does it Work?

This double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study (Source) had a small sample of women (30) who had difficulty conceiving take a nutritional supplement containing vitex (chasteberry) and green tea extracts, L-arginine, vitamins (including folate) and minerals.

The monitored their changes in progesterone level, basal body temperature, menstrual cycle, pregnancy rate and any side effects.

After thee months, the supplement group had increased their progesterone levels and increased the number of days with high basal temperatures (indicating ovulation), while the control showed no change. After five months, 33% of the supplement group were pregnant, while the control group had no pregnancies. 

This double blind, placebo-controlled study (Source) had a larger sample (93) of women who had difficult conceiving take Fertility Blend, a supplement containing vitex (chasteberry), green tea, L-arginine, vitamins (including folate) and minerals.

The monitored their changes in progesterone level, basal body temperature, menstrual cycle, pregnancy rate and any side effects.

They monitored the same effects: progesterone level, basal body temperature, menstrual cycle length, pregnancy rate and any side-effects.

After three months, the supplement group had increased their progesterone levels and had significantly increased basal temperatures. Women in the supplement group who had either a short (less than 27 days) or long (>32 days) cycles normalized. The control group (N = 40) did not show any significant changes in progesterone levels, basal temps or menstrual cycle length.

After three months, 26% of the supplement group were pregnant (26%) compared to 10% in the control group (10%; p = 0.01). 

In short, taking nutritional supplementation may complement conventional fertility therapy.

Is it safe?

There have been several studies (SourceSource) that suggest taking Vitex will have no substantial adverse effects.

This study (Source) suggests that an adverse events are mild and reversible. The most frequent complaints are nausea/gastrointestinal disturbances, headache, menstrual disorders (such as cycle irregularity), acne, itchiness, dizziness and skin rashes. 

Where do I get it? How much do I take?

Vitex comes in many forms, loose herbs, capsules, tea, tincture and powder. Capsules and tincture (a liquid extract) ensure you can control the dosage. It's quite bitter, so a capsule is often preferable to tincture. 

For optimal results, Vitex should be taken three - six months. In regards to dosage, it's strongly suggested you visit a neuropath or herbalist to discuss what dosage would be right for you. 

Warnings

  • Talk to your doctor. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your doctor. Or even your clinic's nurse. Or send your clinic an email. It's always better to ask than to guess. Even better to talk to a medical professional rather than take advice from the internet.
  • As vitex affects hormone levels - if you are pregnant, stop taking it. The level of progesterone may alter the development of your baby.
  • This goes for anything that is particular hormone-sensitive conditions like breast cancer or oral contraceptive use.
  • Don't combine with fertility drugs or IVF, as it will interfere with your doses.
  • Don't take it if you're under 18. At that age, your pituitary-ovarian communication system is still growing.
  • Vitex can make depression worse, and possibly promote suicidal ideation. If you have a history of depression be VERY cautious with it.

As always, I'm not a professional or a doctor - my experience is just that, my experience. I've done an awful lot of reading and research which I'm happy to share. If you do have concerns about low progesterone or Vitex, please talk to your doctor.