If you talk to a gynecologist about period pain, the usual response from the doctor is to recommend a) the pill, or b) stronger pain killers and a heat pack. There’s really no other solution, apparently. Except, there might be—and it doesn’t even require a prescription.
Chaste tree, also known as vitex, comes from a small Mediterranean shrub and its fruits have been used for hundreds of years as a natural way to address hormone and fertility issues. Studies show the magical herb helps your pituitary gland make progesterone and hormones linked with ovulation, which women’s health expert and Flo Living founder Alisa Vitti says is “necessary for your body to ovulate, for regular menstrual cycles, and for you to avoid symptoms of hormonal imbalance.” Symptoms like, say, PMS.
I first heard about the supplement not from my ob/gyn, but after visiting a medicinal herbalist, Daniela Turley, in New York several months ago. After listening to me bitch about debilitating PMS for a solid 15 minutes, she clued me in about vitex, which, in her opinion, is a hugely underrated, natural way to ease symptoms like mood swings and cramps. “It could even help with breakouts,” she told me, adding that it almost always works for her patients, but because I was an extreme case it may take longer to have an impact or possibly not work at all. Turley suggested 20 drops of the herb each morning in water to “boost progesterone and normalize pituitary function.”
I didn’t notice a difference for the first four months but kept hopefully adding those drops of Gaia’s $13 blend to my smoothie every morning. Eventually, my symptoms—while they certainly haven’t magically disappeared—started to ease up without taking a synthetic hormonal contraceptive or relying on pain-relieving meds that other experts had recommended for most of my adult life.
Vitti says it’s normal for the herb to take many months before impacting your symptoms: “Vitex is a relatively slow-acting herb,” she explained, adding that women should “take it for up to six months to see any change in your cycles or improvement of symptoms.” During this time it works to address the root cause (rather than just covering symptoms up with an Advil!) in women who are progesterone deficient and therefore estrogen dominant and have a “luteal phase defect,” which refers to the time of your cycle straight after ovulation and before your period.
She recommends vitex in conjunction with dietary changes (more on that here), particularly when you first come off the birth control pill, are trying to get pregnant, you want to breastfeed, or are suffering from symptoms of mild endometriosis. But, of course, it’s always a good idea to speak with your own doctor before taking any medicine—even if it is natural.