If you’ve been hanging around any online fertility community for any length of time, you’ll have come across this fabulous herb: Vitex. Unfortunately it is propped up often as THE natural quick fix to any fertility issues, leaving so many disappointed and lost when it doesn’t work. So in this post, let me walk you through how Vitex regulates your cycle to help you figure out if it is right for you.
Vitex – or Agnus Castus or Chasteberry – is not new to the fertility scene. As most excellent herbs, it has been around and known in well.. forever. There is a good reason it is celebrated in many fertility communities! However, to know if it will help you fix your specific fertility problems you need to understand how it works.
Yes, I meant to write help you fix your fertility problems, because nothing can fix them for you. Healing is done by your body itself! We are all made with an incredible ability to heal ourselves. Just think for example of how you recover from a cold alone or how a cut in your skin heals. Pretty amazing!
The same applies to your fertility. If you aren’t conceiving while timing it right or you have menstrual problems & irregularities, you need to figure out why that is so you can take measures to help your body heal itself. Trust me… it wants to! It’s in the business of keeping you healthy and alive you know!
How Vitex affects your hormones.
First of all, it works on several parts of your hormonal system; directly on the hypothalamus, and indirectly on the pituitary gland & the ovaries. As a recap of their jobs:
• Hypothalamus – the hormone boss
• Pituitary gland – the one that stimulates egg production & release in ovaries
• Ovaries – the ones that mature & release eggs, and also produce progesterone
So contrary to popular belief, it does not “just” lengthen your luteal phase. That would suggest it only works on your ovaries, and yes that is one of the end-results, but it does so much more and already much earlier in the cycle!
What Vitex “does”, is stimulate dopamine receptors in the brain. You may know dopamine as the “happy”-hormone, or the “reward”-hormone. It is that hormone that is released when we fall in love, have sex or have a work-out for example.
Dopamine however, also has an effect on the rest of your hormonal system. Vitex through a complex thing called dopamine-receptor binding (forget that bit or research it online if you’re curious) increases the effect of dopamine in your body.
When dopamine is high, it tells the anterior pituitary gland to take it easy on the prolactin production.
The problem of high prolactin
Why that matters for your chances of conceiving?
Well, prolactin is the hormone needed for milk production. It is highest at the end of pregnancy and after giving birth so you can nurse your baby. However, it also inhibits the production of another hormone called GnRH. This hormone, that is also produced by the hypothalamus, tells the anterior pituitary gland to reduce FSH & LH production. Those are the hormones responsible for egg maturation & ovulation in the ovaries.
In other words:
high prolactin → lower GnRH → lower FSH & LH → disruption of egg maturation and ovulation.
This is great if you are indeed nursing and not ready for a baby quite so soon again (clever natural contraceptive!) but it is quite a bummer if that is not the case and you are trying to conceive!
What Vitex in that case does is bring up the dopamine effect to lower prolactin so that you can produce more LH (luteinising hormone) and have that egg released already!
In a diagram again:
intake Vitex → higher dopamine effect → lower prolactin → higher FSH & LH → egg maturation & ovulation
Vitex: not for luteal phase defect?
So you ask, “what about this luteal phase defect thing that is plastered all over the internet?”
Well, yes, Vitex can ALSO lengthen your luteal phase. However, it still has to do with the prolactin levels and not with directly raising progesterone as often is suggested. Lower prolactin levels let the anterior pituitary produce better levels of FSH & LH. That last one, Luteinising Hormone, is both to release and egg as well as maintain the corpus luteum that is left behind in the ovary after ovulation. This little guy is the one responsible for the progesterone production until a placenta takes over.
The only way to know (without blood tests) if your luteal phase is lengthened with Vitex, is through charting. If before Vitex your days between ovulation and your period are less than after taking Vitex, then it has likely helped you have a longer luteal phase.
If, on the other hand, you test Vitex without charting and your cycles lengthen then it could also be because you were not ovulating at all before due to high prolactin levels, and now you are.
Charting is the only way to know the before and after.
Is Vitex for me?
All that said, Vitex could work for you if you indeed struggle with high prolactin levels due to low dopamine. That means that if your prolactin levels are high because of another reason such as for example a (benign) tumor, then Vitex is not likely to help. Also, if you are not ovulating or have irregular cycles because of other hormonal imbalances, toxicity or PCOS, then at best it may help a little but not fully.
In any case, Vitex will only help you while you are taking it, unless at the same time you are also sorting out the reason for you low dopamine. Homeopathy is a great way to do that as it resolves the deeper issues of symptoms rather than covering them up. Mary also had high levels of prolactin but was able to change that with homeopathic treatment and finally fall pregnant and carry her baby full term!
Want to know more specifically how to figure out if Vitex is worth a shot for you? Check out the post “Is Vitex for you?”.