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Natural Fertility Boosters

By Amalah

Photo by macfanmd

Dear Amy,

So I have a question about this herb called Vitex.

Just a little background first; I’ve had irregular cycles since I started getting my period way back in 8th grade, and I thought it was so awesome then (period only once every 3ish months? score! Let’s go swimming!) but now I’m engaged and we talk babies and all that, and no periods often equal no ovulation which means no baby. We try to be natural (and I have tons of allergies and reactions to what seems the whole world, and would like to avoid having to go the route of having to take hormones or anything because I can’t imagine it’d go real well for me) and all so I thought I’d see what was out there that can help regulate cycles and Vitex seems to be mentioned a fair as being great for women who are irregular and what not. But there’s nothing I can find from real people about it working, aside from a couple reviews on Amazon. So my question is basically, have you heard of it or of it working? Do you know anyone who has maybe tried it, really just any information at all. Or have you heard of anything else to get cycles more regular? I know you had issues with your cycles, what finally helped for you? I’m tired of having a period and then maybe one 30 days later, and then not having another for 70+ days. Help please!

Thanks,
E

Yep, yep. That second-to-last sentence? Periods every 30 days and then uterine radio silence for 75 days, over and over. With the exception of 2001, when I had one period in the ENTIRE WHOLE DANG YEAR. I hear you. It’s maddening.

As for Vitex, though, I’m sorry to report that I never tried it, nor do I know of anyone who tried it, successfully or otherwise. As I’m sure you’ve read, but for the benefit of other people who might have no idea what we’re talking about, Vitex is also known as chaste berry, and is an herb that has been “used for centuries” to “correct hormonal imbalances in women.” I use that last set of quotes because the original “imbalance” that the herb was commonly used for was to suppress that pesky and sinful problem of the female libido. As the “chaste berry” name suggests, it was recommended to promote chastity, particularly among nuns and anyone else who hated the idea of a female sex drive.

There’s little about this use today, from what I’ve read, and whether it DOES, in fact, have a negative affect on libido. Now it’s recommended for women with menstrual disorders and problems, like us. While the herb itself is not a hormone, it does appear to cause a slight rise in progesterone levels. Low progesterone is usually the root of luteal phase defects, which delay ovulation and create overly long cycles where you stand little chance of conceiving.

While a couple fertility sites (of dubious medical caliber, I must add, although high on the pink sparklies and babydust) promote Vitex as an almost sure-fire solution, it’s an herb. Which means no FDA oversight or the need for any clinical research to back up the claims or catalog the side effects. Personally, it seems like something worth trying — side effects indicate nothing particularly risky-sounding, although that whole “female libido” history gives me pause. As anyone who has encountered even the slightest difficulty conceiving can tell you, the process already puts a huge strain on your love life. (Timed sex is the WORST SEX. Ever!)

Then again, I successfully achieved pregnancy twice without the aid of hormonal fertility treatments. I did NOT, however, self-diagnose myself as annovulatory before hitting the health food co-op. If you haven’t talked to your gynecologist about your cycle concerns, please do so. It’s one thing to have wonky cycles for unknown reasons, it’s another thing to have wonky cycles from something like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or thyroid problems.

Noah was conceived a few months after Clomid cycles, and while I didn’t conceive while actually taking the Clomid, I have to give at least partial credit to the drug (and the accompanying progesterone supplements I took to trigger periods) with regulating things out a little better in the following months. I had no such jumpstart with Ezra, but instead tried a few other natural remedies: namely, natural progesterone creams, Red Raspberry Leaf tea, reducing stress, and The Fertility Diet. Acupuncture was next on my list, but ta-da! I got pregnant before making an appointment.

I saw no cycle change with the topical progesterone, but admit I probably didn’t use it as often as I was supposed to because the whole concept kind of weirded me out. I bought it on the recommendation of a friend but…I dunno. PTSD from my post-Clomid mental breakdown made me uncomfortable using it. This is my tic, and my tic alone, though.

The red raspberry leaf tea, on the other hand, very likely helped. Shorter, more regular cycles, and I was downing a ton of it every day in the months right around getting pregnant. That’s the drawback, though, you need to drink multiple cups a DAY. For MONTHS. Like the Vitex, it’s not an instant solution and requires regular intake for a couple of cycles. It’s not terrible tasting, though not particularly delicious or memorable, but MAN, did I get sick of that stuff. But still, I’d give it a thumbs up for at least being a likely cause of success.

In the same column as the tea: diet and stress levels. I know, I KNOW, the next person who tells you to “just relax” gets a fork in the eardrum, and rightfully so, because that’s a gross oversimplification of a very complicated process and system of your body. But expanding my focus beyond whether or not I had a period that month helped me get much healthier, physically and mentally.

Being overweight has a big impact on ovulation, and I believe diet does too, even for those of us who don’t struggle with much beyond a few extra pounds. Crap food is crap food. The Fertility Diet boils down to a few essential changes: NO trans fats (and this includes anything that says “0 GRAMS trans fats” on the package but still contains partially hydrogenated oils), more plant-based proteins like beans and nuts, whole grains, and at least one serving of whole-fat dairy each day. Eliminating crap like sodas and artificial sweeteners and at least reducing refined sugar helps too. It’s not rocket science, at all, and is basically the same food message you’ve been hearing as the key to everything, from cancer to colds, though the full-fat dairy thing is a bit unique. Ditch the processed, overly refined foods and get to know the farmers’ markets and your dusty old cookbook collection. I cut back on meats and sodas, ate beans and nuts every day and drank a glass of Noah’s whole milk or full-fat yogurt. (The occasional bowl of ice cream was TOTALLY FOR FUTURE BABY too.)

The problem with all of this stuff is that it’s hard to commit to long-term. My diet is still chock-full of good stuff, but I drink too much caffeine and my ass cannot afford that full-fat dairy on a regular basis. Since having my second son, Ezra, I’m weirdly more carnivorous than ever. Still can’t kick that Coca-Cola habit either, especially when I don’t have a hypothetical Future Baby as motivation. I don’t remember to drink the tea often enough and thus my cycles are more or less back to 30 days, 30 days, 75 days, 30 days, 75+ days.

Readers? Anyone have experience with Vitex or other natural remedies for correcting wonky cycles? Anyone hit upon something even better and easier than a daily bowl of ice cream?

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Mel
Guest

THIS! I was this! 1st – get yourself to a doctor (or a Reproductive Endocrinologist) if they won’t take you seriously. My doctors never seemed to care that my cycles were crazy, I had to go to an RE. You don’t need to take any drugs if you’re against it, but they can tell you what’s going on. Within 30 minutes of being at the RE I had found out I had polycystic ovaries and a HUGE cyst on one of them that needed to be surgically removed. Huge cysts=no ovulation. Regardless of what’s going on with you, you should… Read more »

Ms. K
Guest
Ms. K

You may want to try sleeping in complete darkness. Put black-out curtains over your windows, block any light coming in under your bedroom door, no nightlight, etc. Basically, the idea is that people used to sleep in almost complete darkness except during the full moon. The theory goes: Light affects your hormone levels (this is scientific fact) women who are exposed to too much light at night get wonky ovulatory cycles (semi-scientific extrapolation, untested in the US as far as I know.) At the very least, it’s cheap and easy to try. Search for “lunaception” or related terms on the… Read more »

Katie
Guest
Katie

Well… given that I am incubating a 20-week-old fetus who was totally unplanned and I believe almost entirely due to the improvements I made in my diet and nutrition, I would totally back up Amy’s nutritional guidance. I had a REALLY hard time conceiving my first child, and now this little chick somehow managed to make its way through multiple layers of protection. Turns out that the eating plan my trainer/nutrition coach (www.garagestrength.com) put me on is now being shown in studies to improve fertility. It’s similar to the Fertility Diet in that it’s based on more primitive eating… although… Read more »

obabe
Guest

i didnt have fertility issues, per se, but when trying for our third it took longer than my other two (other two: one month after going off BCP i was pregnant).
i was charting thsi go around, and noticed i had a really short luteal phase. taking a b6 supplement corrected that and two months later i got pregnant. (total of four months of trying..) not sure if it was the b6, but it did make the luteal phase longer, which helped. you can google for amounts. but id also talk to your gyno, pronto. good luck.

Sherry K
Guest
Sherry K

We were diagnosed with unexplained infertility back in 2007, although my cycles have been somewhat wonky ever since puberty (somehwat like you descirbed above) I tried a variety of things in our efforts to get pregnant and acupuncture was one of them- It consisted of not only once a week needle treatments but diet changes (no sugar, caffiene, alcohol or wheat) and daily herbs as well tried it for for 8 or 9 months, and while I’ll say it definitley helped get my cycles more regular and it really helped with the side effects of clomid (I tried that for… Read more »

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

I fall into the “wonky cycles” category, too. I didn’t try any herbs, supplements or drugs. But what did work for me was getting to know what was happening during my cycles. I started taking my basal body temperature and noting other “fertility signs” and learned that while my luteal phase was all over the place, my follicular phase was 15 days no matter what. It still took just over a year to conceive each of my children (probably about 6 or so cycles each time) but I knew when I ovulated and when to expect a period (instead of… Read more »

Nissa Gadbois
Guest
Nissa Gadbois

I’ve never tried Vitex. I did a 12 week cleanse, fast, and diet change regimen (which I’m now tweeting as #Fitin40). I eliminated my meds for auto-immune arthritis and regained my fertility. I have achieved 3 healthy pregnancies afterward as a result. I’m now a student of holistic nutrition, and the mother of 7 beautiful children!

WonderSpot
Guest

I had a “whoopsie!” pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage, and then over a year of wonky cycles (shorter, not longer) and no pregnancy with lots of temps and timed sex and God, that sucked. I did acupuncture after first learning that there was nothing wrong with my system, or my husband’s, and that worked for me after about 3 months, or so. My acupuncturist also had some herbs I took (though not as often as she prescribed them), and some diet recommendations. I’m not sure if that’s the ONLY reason I got pregnant, but I definitely give it a… Read more »

Linden
Guest
Linden

I used Vitex for about 6 months before conceiving my son, born ~16 months ago. I was also doing a lot of other things, so I don’t know for sure if the Vitex helped. I was taking Evening Primrose Oil during the 2-6 weeks before ovulation to improve cervical fluid, charting my cycle as suggested in the Taking Charge of Your Fertility Book, and pretty much on the Fertility Diet. Eventually I went in to see my OB and she diagnosed me with mild PCOS, put me on Metformin, and I got pregnant the next cycle. She said that the… Read more »

Chloe
Guest
Chloe

I took vitex for many years to help with my oh-so-fun PMS, but I don’t think it did anything while I was trying to get pregnant for more than a year. I normally have super-regular cycles though – but my progesterone was about half of what it should be.
Definitely talking with your doctor is a good move – I did and I now have an almost-four week old currently sleeping in my hubby’s arms.

Emily
Guest
Emily

I did go to the doctor a couple years ago (wow time goes fast) about it, they did blood test to check my thyroid etc. and a ultrasound to check for ovarian cysts and they found nothing for both. The doc asked if I was trying to get pregnant then and I said “no” and he was kind of like then what is my issue. So unless things have changed it’s not PCOS or my thyroid. Ms. K- I have read about lunaception a bit and I do sleep in complete dark (we live in a town of 150 people… Read more »

Estrella
Guest
Estrella

I have been using Vitex for about four months now and it has indeed brought back AF. You can find it at whole foods, or even at GNC. I’ve been told (from online ttc sites) you need to be weary of how much your taking but i think with time it helps. I’m also taking b6 on top of the prenatal vitamins as well so some time it feels like i may be taking to much but i have had no side effects and my midwife has given me the go ahead to try these things.
GOOD luck!

Jamie
Guest
Jamie

You can have a low level thyroid issue that could be messing with your fertility that is not showing up on your bloodwork. I was working with a naturopath when I got pregnant with my first. She had me on supplements for thyroid and we didn’t even have to try.
I am just newly preggers with our second and the only changes I have made is to lose 15+ pounds and have my IUD removed. No thyroid supplements this time.
Also, I have heard that flax seeds have a hormone regulating effect.
Good Luck.

sarah jo (@pedalprincess)
Guest

i agree with Mel’s 3rd point. Knowing your cycles via charting basal body temp (BBT) and cervical fluid is a big thing. My cycles are all over the board and even when I don’t have a period, sometimes I still ovulate. I took Vitex and got pregnant with my first in 4 months BUT I had never had a period in those 4 months (i knew I was ovulating because I was charting). I started taking Vitex when we wanted a second child and got preggers in about 1.5 months. Sadly, I miscarried after 2 months. But I’m back on… Read more »

Mary
Guest

I can’t recommend enough Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Before I had kids, I could go a year without a period. When we decided to start trying, I just started paying attention to cervical mucus. Even though it took awhile, because I wasn’t ovulating that often, we got pregnant the first cycle with numbers one and two, and the second cycle with number three. Just because your periods are irregular doesn’t mean there’s much problem there. Definitely get checked, but learn how to watch for the mucus too. Good luck!

Jayme
Guest
Jayme

I was diagnosed with PCOS about 10 years ago… after trying desperately to conceive our first child for more than 4 years. I had no luck whatsoever with hormonal treatments or fertility drugs. I finally ditched my RE and went to see a good old regular endocrinologist. He immediately put me on a super strict diet and within 3 weeks, I’d lost 20 pounds and found myself pregnant. The diet was very simple. No white food (except for milk) whatsoever. No sugar, no rice, no processed anything, no potatoes, no simple starch. It sounds similar to The Fertility Diet, with… Read more »

Tiffany
Guest
Tiffany

Ahh! Your doctor said then what’s the big deal?! I’d say a lot! It’s your body, that’s the big deal! I had a doctor who told me that once when I wasn’t married and trying to have kids. I thought, eh, he’s right I guess… I had the u/s to check for cysts and at that time I didn’t have any. BUT. I had other symptoms, and I just knew I had PCOS. Four years later, I got engaged, and I found a new doc. He did the u/s and there were a ton of cysts, he did bloodwork to… Read more »

Della
Guest

No fertility issues here -this comment is solely about the Red Raspberry tea. I have never had *arms up in the air waving frantically* MAJOR PERIOD ISSUES */arms* officially, although I had painful cramping for ten years (from when i started my periods until I went on birth control to fix it). No endometriosis, no reason, just lie-in-bed-and-writhe cramps for the first day of my period, and what I would call “regular” cramps the rest of the week. My cycles have also been about 35 days long (5 weeks instead of the normal 4) and irregular (not like you and… Read more »

Monica
Guest

I am, maddeningly to some, crazy fertile . . . getting pregnant is VERY easy for me, so I have to be vigillent about my birth control, BUT I didn’t marry until I was 26 and didn’t try for a baby until shortly after that. I always had long, painful, cycles (birth control cleared that up) and the women in my family usually need a hysterectomy by 35, so I was worried about fertility. I even bought a bottle, but was pregnant two weeks after stopping the Pill, so I never took them. A good friend of mine took Vitex… Read more »

Jen Ambrose
Guest
Jen Ambrose

I have had this problem myself on and off. Going to the doctor did nothing for me as they just wanted to put me on BC when not trying to conceive and Clomid when.
Doing some research online, I found that same link that a previous commenter did about blood sugar/insulin levels and your hormones. I changed my diet and eliminated all processed sugars/starches.
Totally regulated me and everytime I get out of whack, I change my diet again and boom — back in business.

lindswing
Guest

After going off of the pill because I hated the side effects, I had two normal periods (35 day cycle, as was my old norm), then NOTHING for almost a year. After a dose of progesterone from my gyn, my cycle resumed an every-other month thing, which I figured indicated a bum ovary. I wasn’t trying to get pregnant, so I didn’t worry too much about it, but they gyn told me I’d probably need Clomid when the time came. I switched to the Rainbow Light Women’s Nutritional System vitamin, which contains herbs (including vitex) promising “hormone-balancing action.” I just… Read more »

Pam
Guest
Pam

Emily – Go see another doctor right now. “Nothing is wrong” is not a good answer to missing periods. There is no amenorrhea without a cause. If it isn’t Thyroid or PCOS, it must be some other reason (Fibroids, whatever). Whatever it is, you’re going to want to know – taking Vitex or other herbs could actually make it worse if you are treating the wrong thing. Personally I would mistrust a doctor who only diagnosis PCOS by the presence of cysts. Thats not considered the sole indicator that it once was. Standard practice nowadays includes a hormone workup. Soulcysters… Read more »

Betsy
Guest

I too have had irregular cycles since I started menstruating, but mine were more like “no period for months” and then “have a month-long period”. Ugh. When we decided to get pregnant, I went off the pill (after 16 YEARS), and after charting my temps learned I wasn’t ovulating, and was finally diagnosed with PCOS (non-IR). I was reluctant to start with Clomid right away, so I took Vitex. Did. Not. Work. For. Me. I was also exercising a lot, and had lost a lot of weight, but nothing helped. No eggy, no baby. Metformin also did not work for… Read more »

Karolyn
Guest
Karolyn

I tried the Vitex shortly before getting pregnant with my first child. I had been on the patch birth control for 3 years or so and my blood pressure shot up, causing the docs to discontinue the birth control. Afterward, I didn’t get a period for 3 or 4 months and called the doc. They did bloodwork and referred me to a specialist who said my ‘levels’ were low and I’d ‘probably need help getting pregnant someday.’ I assume that meant fertility meds. Being young and stupid, I decided I couldn’t get pregnant and went without precaution… BUT at the… Read more »

Nathalie
Guest
Nathalie

hello, ive had irregular cycles almost all my life. At 16, i went on the BC patch, ortho evra. After about 4 years of taking it I stopped because i was getting yeast infections every other month(TMI, i know). Once I stopped, i didnt get a period for 7 months! but i wasnt trying to conceive then so it didnt really bother me. That as 3 years ago. I would then get a period about every 3-5 months from then on. In May I graduated nursing school nd started getting a period every 30 days on the dot(24-25th) of each… Read more »

Jess
Guest
Jess

I was on vitex-agnus castus and it regulated my period- I took it according to my Naturopath’s directions, and I swear by it for regulating your period. I was on it a few years apart at two different times in my life, and it worked both times. I don’t know how it affects your libido because I was not ‘trying’ at the time- just wanted to get regular. 🙂 Good luck.:) 

Jess
Guest
Jess

* I don’t know how it affects your *fertility* because I was not ‘trying’ at the time-  I didn’t notice a change in libido.