“And there she was.” After two years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, being laughed out of fertility clinics due to her weight, and feeling hopeless and alone, in 2020 Camilla Do Rosario finally saw that double line appear on the pregnancy test. Nine months later beautiful, healthy Isabella was born.
“There’s no feeling like it,” Do Rosario, who has polycystic ovary syndrome, told Newsweek. “Seeing hundreds of negative tests over two years, then finally seeing a positive, then 20 more after that, I felt validated.”
Do Rosario claims this sudden change in fertility is all down to maca root, a herbal remedy with origins in ancient Peru. “It’s a miracle, it changed my life,” the 29-year-old said.
When Do Rosario and her husband, Timas, decided they wanted to try for a baby, she hadn’t had a period in over year and knew she wasn’t ovulating.
“My husband has a daughter from a previous relationship so I was pretty sure the issue wasn’t with him, so I went to the doctor’s to get help with my fertility issues so we could conceive,” she said, “Essentially, I was laughed out of the doctor’s office, multiple times.”
The doctor told Do Rosario, from Essex, England, that she was far too heavy to conceive. She would need to lose 140 pounds to be eligible for fertility treatment, she was told, and there were no other options available to her.
“I felt really ashamed for wanting a baby,” she said. “When I posted my story online at the time, people made me feel like I was a really horrible person for trying to get pregnant while overweight. I was getting comments like ‘you’re going to have a deformed baby.’ I was made to feel as though I was taking hard drugs or an alcoholic trying to get pregnant.”
Weight and Fertility
In the United States, among married women aged 15 to 49 with no prior births, about one in five find themselves unable to get pregnant after one year of trying, which is defined as infertility, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When talking about the stigma surrounding her weight, Do Rosario said: “Now I own my weight, but when I was a vulnerable 25-year-old struggling to conceive I simply felt judged and maligned.”
“Often times patients may be turned away from fertility treatment due to the bodyweight,” reproductive endocrinologist Dr Alex Robles told Newsweek. “While it may be emotionally devastating, it is important to note that excess fat can significantly render fertility medication less effective.”
He also cited risks with the egg retrieval process due to increased BMI, both to the woman when under anesthesia, and to the safety of the eggs during extraction. “In situations like this,” he said, “it is important for patients to make joint decisions with their provider and feel empowered to seek multiple opinions.”
Desperate, Do Rosario decided to take things into her own hands and attempted to illegally order Clomid online, a prescription-only drug in the U.K. and U.S. which can stimulate ovulation. However, the drug has potential side effects including ovarian cancer and reduced fertility if used over a prolonged period.
“It was so stupid and risky,” said Do Rosario, “but that’s how hopeless I was and no one was helping me. Luckily, I got scammed, and they took the £100, and obviously didn’t send anything because it’s a prescription drug and illegal.”
That’s when a quick Google search of alternatives to Clomid brought her to maca root. Do Rosario is now a huge advocate for the natural remedy, advising hundreds of women through her social media videos and her Facebook group. She also has a second daughter, born in 2022, also conceived after she started using maca root.
What Is Maca Root?
Maca root is a vegetable native to the Andes region of Peru that grows approximately 4,000 meters above sea level. It belongs to the Brassica family and its closest relatives are turnips and cabbage. It has been used in traditional medicine for over 1,500 years.
“Maca alkaloids have been studied as the main stimulators of ovarian follicle growth in female rats, and increased sperm production in male rats. But it’s success with humans is currently scientifically inconclusive,” reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist and founder of Pearl Mini-IVF, Dr Anne C. Davis told Newsweek.
Maca root has been known to increase certain hormone production. “In women, maca has been reported to raise blood levels of FSH—follicle stimulating hormone—the primary hormone responsible for egg growth,” said Dr Davis. “Maca may also increase estrogen, progesterone and adrenal hormones, which can be helpful for women with symptoms of menopause. Several studies have also indicated that maca can enhance ovulation by increasing luteinizing hormone or LH.”
Scientific studies showing maca root’s success in increasing fertility are limited. One study from 2019 was undertaken to discover whether a combination of natural remedies, including maca root, could help improve ovulation in infertile women.
Approximately 25 percent of infertile women have ovulatory dysfunction.
The study took 18 months between June 2016 and 2017 and involved 189 women with an average age of 31.18 years and specific fertility issues. Subjects were instructed to take a natural supplement including maca root once a day, and monitor their ovulation using kits provided. By the study’s conclusion, there was a successful pregnancy rate of 37 percent and the number of women ovulating increased from 10 percent to 42 percent. There were no side effects reported across the study.
While maca root was not the only supplement administered, the study suggested it can play a part in increasing ovulation and has no adverse side effects.
Are There Any Risks?
While there have been no reported adverse of toxic effects of maca root in both animal and human clinic trials, a lack of information on the substance means that medical experts are reluctant to say taking it is completely without risk.
“Because the supplement industry is so poorly regulated, I do not recommend patients take natural supplements that are not proven to be beneficial in an effort to boost fertility,” Dr Robles said. “It is not uncommon for the actual ingredients in a product to be different from what the label says, and as such, it is important to be vigilant of where you are getting your supplements from. So far, the scientific studies that we have on maca root are far from conclusive in showing a potential benefit in using this natural supplement.”
Some reports show that people may experience mild side effects such as gastrointestinal distress, headaches, and insomnia, however most reports seem to show that “there are no significant adverse side effects,” Dr Robles added.
Conversely, Dr Davis said she would “absolutely recommend natural supplements” to her patients, “but only if I have sound, scientific data to support the recommendation, and confidence in the brand/company preparing the specific supplement.”
Worth the Wait
Approximately a year after having Isabella, Do Rosario wasn’t ovulating again and ordered some more maca root in the hope of kickstarting the process again in order to have a second child. She fell pregnant with Rosie within a month. “It was actually quite scary,” said De Rosario. “We weren’t actually ready to have a second child so soon.”
As with all treatments, success is only possible in certain circumstances. “While maca may improve ovulation by stimulating luteinizing hormone, this is only going to help women who are not ovulating. For other women whose infertility is due to endometriosis or uterine fibroids, maca is not likely to be helpful,” explained Dr Davis.
Commenting on the potential for disputed remedies to cause false hope to vulnerable people, Do Rosario said: “I believe false hope is better than being hopeless, as it can lead you in different directions, and you may find something that works.
“There are so many things that can cause infertility and I whittled mine down to a lack of ovulation because I was overweight and potentially insulin resistant with polycystic ovaries. So if that sounds like you, this could work. If you have blocked fallopian tubes, or your partner has fertility issues then no, this probably won’t work.”
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