This has been a very popular question lately, as more and more women are reading about vitex and all the good it can do. I myself was first introduced to vitex in nutrition school, where we were taught that this medicinal herb was used primarily for women’s health issues. My vitex education continued when I took it myself as I was attempting to balance my hormones naturally and regulate my cycles.
What Is Vitex?
Vitex is a medicinal herb that has been used for thousands of years. This herb is also known as Chastetree Berry, and is mainly found in the mediterranean. It is the berries of the vitex plant that are used as medicine, and this plant is mostly used for female health issues. Vitex can be purchased as capsules, tincture and the dried herb to be used as tea.
What is Vitex Used For?
As I’ve mentioned, Vitex is used for the treatment of female hormonal and fertility issues. The main way that Vitex works is by stimulating the pituitary gland in your brain to produce hormones. Specifically, it stimulates the production of more luteinizing hormone (LH) and progesterone. Both of these hormones spike at or around ovulation. The way that Vitex is able to get your body to do this is by suppressing prolactin production. Prolactin is a hormone that when high enough will prevent ovulation from occurring, so reducing levels of this hormone is key to increasing LH and progesterone for successful ovulation and a strong luteal phase.
Vitex is used for many specific purposes, including:
Regaining balance after coming off hormonal birth control (like the Pill)
Moodiness- especially premenstrual depression and anxiety
Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
Breast pain/tenderness (mastalgia)
History of miscarriage
How To Use Vitex
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, vitex can be taken in the form of tea, tincture and capsules. In my personal and clinical experience, I’ve seen tincture as the most effective. Capsules would definitely work as long as the source is of good quality, and hasn’t been sitting on a shelf for a year.
It’s important to note that vitex is a slow-acting herb, and it’s important to be consistent in taking it for at least 3 full cycles or up to 6 cycles to see benefit. Keep your eye on the ball and keep going!
The following dosing information is based on research, however it’s really important to consult a qualified natural healthcare practitioner before taking vitex, to make sure it’s the right herb for you and you’re taking the right amount for your individual concerns.
Power/Capsules: 30mg-40mg once daily
Tincture: 20 drops 2-3 times daily or 5ml daily, taken first thing in the morning
Generally vitex is a safe herb, however it is definitely not safe for pregnancy. Vitex should also be avoided if you are using dopaminerigc or antidopaminergic meds, progesterone, oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy.
Should You Use Vitex?
Obviously, as I don’t know you personally, I can’t really answer that question. But here’s a few factors that might help you decide whether this herb is right for you.
If you have PCOS, vitex might work or it might not. The reason is that it helps to reduce prolactin, so that LH can rise. In women with PCOS, LH is often already too high, and this in itself could delay ovulation and therefore, your period. However, used after ovulation, vitex might be helpful in keeping progesterone levels high enough to have a good luteal phase.
Depression and Anxiety
If you are already prone to depression (and to a lesser extent anxiety), vitex use might not be the best idea. Why? Well, because of dopamine. Dopamine is a love chemical your body makes that plays a role in prolactin production. If you dopamine is low, your prolactin might be high, leading to low LH levels and a lower chance of ovulation. Vitex will raise levels of progesterone (your calming hormone), which can be too much for some women with depression, as it can make them even more depressed.
As I’ve already mentioned, vitex should not be used if you’re on any kind of hormonal birth control, as it can interfere with effectiveness. However, it can be really helpful when you stop taking the pill to help your body and hormones balance out a bit quicker, making the transition process a little easier on you.
One day I was talking with a private coaching client about willpower. She was trying to balance her insulin and blood sugar in order to release some weight and balance many of her PCOS symptoms. Together we had decided on a diet plan and lifestyle changes about a month before this call. When we chatted on this particular date, she was complaining to me that she just couldn’t stay away from something sweet after her meals, and just didn’t feel at all like exercising.
She said she wished she had more willpower, and that if she did, her results would be better.
The truth of the matter is willpower doesn’t work.
What is willpower?
It’s that inner reserve of motivation that we believe will get us where we want to go. For instance maybe we want to clear up acne, improve our health to improve our relationships, or reduce the pain of endometriosis so work isn’t a dreaded activity. So in our minds it seems easy to ‘just say no’ to the extra helping of dinner or to sitting on the couch day in and day out.
I bet you’ve been there too- wanting to make some kind (any kind!) of change and hoping to rely entirely on willpower.
My client was there, and I’ve been there too.
The fact is that when you balance your body properly (more on this in a minute), willpower doesn’t need to be your Ruler in this context. That’s right- no willpower necessary. No biting your fingernails because the anxiety of an upcoming work function (complete with unhealthy finger foods and desserts) is happening tonight. No more staying up at night thinking about all the good stuff you “can’t” eat, how you “don’t have time” to do all this “health stuff”.
How do we cope and make change without willpower?
Balance your insulin.
I am always rambling on about balancing insulin and blood sugar because it’s so damn important for your health and creating happy hormones.
Insulin as your blood sugar regulating hormone is responsible in part for getting sugar (aka glucose) into your cells to make energy. Poor diet and life choices eventually make the body resistant to insulin’s signals, creating high insulin and high blood sugar. This turns insulin into a fat storage and sex hormone-disruptive shit disturber.
There are tons of symptoms (and diseases) associated with insulin problems, or insulin resistance as it’s sometimes known.
Why does balanced insulin negate the need for willpower?
Let me break it down for you with some truths about balanced insulin instead of willpower.
Truth #1: Balanced insulin reduces (maybe even eliminates) cravings
When your blood sugar is balanced, you feel full and satisfied. Your body is able to thrive on the whole, real foods you eat during meals. Sugar, dairy and salt cravings are often the first to go when insulin is balanced, as I’ve seen clinically and personally. Your body isn’t craving other foods for a quick boost because it doesn’t need those foods.
Truth #2: Balanced insulin means effortless weight release
Maybe you’re trying to get rid of a few pounds. Maybe it’s a lot of pounds. Either way, extremely restrictive diets like calorie counting and eating very low-fat may initially result in some pounds lost, but over time the weight comes back and then some, as these types of diets wreak havoc on insulin and blood sugar balance. When you balance insulin through a proper diet, self-care and movement, weight is released without extra effort. No counting, no “willpower” to put the fork down. It just isn’t needed.
Truth #3: Balanced insulin increases energy
Remember how I said that insulin helps sugar get into cells to make energy? Yeah, this is where that comes in. Many women, like the client I mentioned previously, have very little energy and feel low and unmotivated to prepare their own nourishing meals, or to move their bodies in a productive way. When your insulin sensitivity is right on (instead of being resistant) the cells actually get their food (the glucose) and can make energy with it. Movement, meal prep and self-care aren’t chores you think you “should” be doing (but still don’t do) when your insulin is balanced. Rather they are fun activities you enjoy that increase feelings of well-being and reduce symptoms.
Truth #4: Balanced insulin could regulate mood-disrupting hormones
Estrogen dominance, low progesterone and high testosterone and other sex hormone imbalances can funk up your mood. Like, getting weepy at TV commercials or flipping out on your spouse for something really insignificant (because come on– unwashed dishes are insignificant in the grand scheme of things). The truth is that your sex hormone-producing ovaries and insulin have a very important and fragile relationship. Even a little mishap in insulin regulation can prevent ovulation, increase high testosterone symptoms like acne and hair loss, plus contribute to extra PMS-y issues like mood swings, irritability, anger, anxiety and depression.
Truth #5: Balanced insulin improves memory and cognitive function
According to two ongoing studies, insulin resistance reduces the ability of insulin to get into the brain, leaving the brain without enough insulin for normal functioning. The researcher Dr. Craft has hypothesized from her study results that insulin resistance (with high levels of insulin in the body) paradoxically leads to lower-than-normal levels of insulin in the brain, which results in memory problems. Poor memory and cognitive function isn’t helping anyone’s willpower!
Remember that client I talked about at the beginning? When she was educated on these truths and worked slowly at developing a sustainable healthy insulin and happy hormones diet for her own unique lifestyle, she never mentioned willpower again!
As you may already know, I’m a lover of herbal medicine. I make custom formulas for my private clients, I create herbal teas and I use herbs in my daily life for health support. One of my favourite ways to use herbs is to help with mood.
I know you’ve been there- one of those shitty days where you seem to wake up on the wrong side of the bed from the second your feet hit the floor. Maybe your period is coming or you’re stressed about work or had a fight with your man the night before.
Or you might even be like me- someone prone to mood swings, depression, anxiety and everything in between on more of a constant basis. I can’t say enough about figuring out your hormonal imbalances to see whether they are negatively effecting your mood. In my case, it was my PCOS that exacerbated the issues.
Using medicinal herbs to boost your mood is a great way to help yourself feel happy- nay- JOYFUL even, on a regular basis.
When considering which herb to choose, there are two main categories to consider.
Adaptogens are a promising set of herbs that could help boost your mood. Adaptogens are herbs that help the body to adapt to stress- physical, mental or emotional- by helping to normalize certain processes in the body. For example, an adaptogen to help normalize your immune system is astragalus. A popular adaptogen for stress and stamina is ginseng. There are several adaptogenic herbs that assist your body in maintaining or creating a very light-hearted mood state, rather than the “world can fuck off” kind of mood states.
If you notice your moods are very dependent on the perceived or actual stresses in your life, or your hormones are somehow involved in your moods, adaptogens could be very helpful.
Central Nervous System Herbs
The other class of herbs that is most promising for boosting your mood is those that target the central nervous system aka your brain! Neurotransmitters and other compounds are what regulate and create our mood states from day to day. If you have feelings of depression, despair, anxiety or other mood dips that seem to constantly stick around or come and go as they please, the herbs in this category may be helpful.
All of the herbs I’ll be listing below are able to be taken as tea, tincture and capsules. I find that teas and tinctures are the most effective. A lot of herb capsules use poor quality herbs. If you choose to use capsules, find organic and/or wild-crafted herbal capsules whenever possible. Mountain Rose Herbs, Gaia Herbs and Restorative Formulations are three of my favourite herbal companies that sell to individuals.
Mood Boosting Adaptogens
Holy Basil aka Tulsi
A personal favourite of mine, this herb like ashwagandha below is very popular in Ayurveda. My favourite way to consume it is tea before bed. Personally I find it brings clarity to my mind and a peaceful joy comes from my heart. It’s really interesting to describe it that way, but the results for myself are so subtle yet dramatic I think that’s the best way to put it.
This herb is a root most commonly used in the Indian healing practice of Ayurveda. It is often prescribed for chronic stress and it’s associated symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, depression as well as to enhance endurance. Again and again animal studies showed that both anxiety and depression can be decreased with ashwagandha use. Note that some potential androgenic effects have been noted clinically with ashwagandha use. This means that if you have PCOS or another condition that causes excess androgens like testosterone and its effects of acne-prone skin, hair loss, and facial hair growth you should proceed with caution if you decide to take ashwagandha.
The most understood component of reishi mushroom or ganoderma lucidum is something called Triterpenes. These compounds have hormone-like qualities and can work on allergies, blood lipids (fats) as well as on the endocrine and nervous systems. In one study, consumption of reishi for 8 weeks showed less fatigue and increased sense of well-being. It even managed to lessen anxiety, depression and fatigue in breast cancer patients. Not to mention the fact that it might have anti-depressant-like potential.
Mood Boosting Central Nervous System Herbs
A very common and well-known herb, lavender is one of my favourites. I love the colour, the scent, the taste. I find it extremely soothing to the soul, as I do holy basil. Lavender is a fabulous herb to relieve tension, stress, headaches and insomnia. If stress and ruminating thoughts are keeping you up at night, then this herb is for you! While we may consider lavender to be very gentle and calming, it is actually a super powerful herb. I find it most powerful for depression and anxiety when used as a tincture. Very little is needed to make a BIG impact. Bring about the inner strength that’s been hidden in you for too long with lavender. Try a tea or even diffuse the essential oil in your bedroom for a good night’s sleep.
Another favourite of mine, I love chamomile so much that I put it in my Cramp Tea. A beautiful daisy-like flower when fresh, this herb is also calming and powerful. Chamomile has an affinity for both the nervous system and digestive system, making it a great addition if you have a nervous stomach, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The reason for this is that it has bitter properties, stimulating more digestive juices and liver detoxification. It is of course calming to the nervous system, and is a great ally if you have anxiety- especially if it comes premenstrually. This and it’s anti-inflammatory actions are why I chose it for Cramp Tea. Plus, it’s super delicious! Grow it in your garden and make tea from the fresh flowers for an exquisite and peaceful cup!
Although valerian doesn’t taste quite as nice as lavender and chamomile, it’s still can be very effective when used medicinally. It is not habit forming, so you can feel safe to use this remedy for the long term. Insomnia and restless sleep are two of the main uses for valerian. When it comes to balancing our moods as women, it helps to relax tense muscles from stress and even menstruation, bringing peace that comes from feeling relaxed in our bodies. If you are menopausal, this herb can be particularly helpful for calming the anxieties that often pop up during the transition time.
A member of the mint family, skullcap has a wide variety of uses, including headaches, nerve tremors, stress, menstrual tension, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. If you have ever felt so flat and exhausted but still have trouble sleeping at night, skullcap could be a nice remedy to try. Like valerian, skullcap can be used safely for long periods of time if necessary. If you want to take advantage of the menstrual-easing benefits of this herb, combine it with chamomile, raspberry leaf and/or nettle leaf.
This calming and relaxing herb has a long history in South America. It has been used for everything from epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia to panic attacks. Passionflower is often combined into a formula known as VSP- valerian, skullcap and passionflower. These three combined make a powerful tincture for the nervous system and for sleep issues. If your blood pressure becomes elevated due to constant stress in your life, passionflower could be useful. This beauty is also safe for your kids!
So there’s a lot of information here about herbs and your mood. But how do you use them?
5 of my favourite ways to use these herbs:
VSP Tincture: For insomnia and anxiety
Stress Tea: This delicate, soothing blend from my Tea Shop combines tulsi, chamomile, and a few other stress-busting herbs
Holy Basil Tea: Great for stress and the bad moods it causes. I also like the Holy Basil Force capsules by New Chapter as a stress-beating supplement.
Reishi: I prefer to purchase this herb as a powder and put into my smoothies at breakfast or snacks for a boost in energy and a clear, calm mood.
Ashwagandha: Great as a tincture, capsules or powder. Traditionally in Ayurveda the powder is mixed with milk and some spices as a sleep aid.