I’ve been a fan of maca and tulsi for their hormone balancing, immune boosting properties. But just because a herb or food item is a natural, generally helpful supplement doesn’t mean that everyone’s body will respond the same way to it.
I came the conclusion that I should only take maca or tulsi if I was working with a qualified herbalist as the way my body responded to both of them was different than many other people’s experiences. This isn’t to say that I think that maca and tulsi aren’t excellent supplements to take, as I think they can be. Rather, we should just always be aware that there isn’t a one-fit rule for all, and that getting professional advice on using certain herbs may be needed for some of us. Since I’ve been getting a lot of emails about maca lately in particular, I thought it could be helpful to share my experience.
I also started drinking yerba mate tea as an alternative to coffee and found that I enjoyed its flavor. But I found that mate didn’t work well for me either.
This does NOT mean that they are bad to take, as all have been shown to have significant health benefits and were all traditionally used in different cultures.
However, I share my little story to show that 1) Not everyone responds the same way to all foods and we should listen to our bodies, and 2) There can be an adjustment period to adaptogenic foods/herbs and 3) Some of us may need to work with a skilled herbalist/Naturopath when using these foods.
My results aren’t typical, but I share them in the hopes that they help other “non-typical” responders.
First, a quick overview of items:
Maca looks like a root, but is in the cruciferous family. It can grow in even the harshest conditions in Peru and has been used for thousands of years for energy, fertility, endurance, sexual drive, and nutrition. It has been the subject of numerous studies showing benefits for those dealing with low sex drives. It is considered an adaptogen herb, that is a herb that helps balance the body’s function (including hormonal balance).
Tulsi is a herb that is used as a kind of all-purpose traditional immune booster in India. It is also considered an adaptogen herb helping balance out the body.
Yerba mate is a type of tea drunk extensively in South America. It is made from the leaves of a plant in the Holly family, and is caffeine rich. Like tea from the tea plant, there is some evidence that it could be a health promoting drink.
My experience with maca was that eventually it led to me having heavy bleeding in the middle of my cycle (which meant, one week I’d have a period, then I’d have a week break, and then I’d have another “period” start again for another week). It also made me feel (all the time) bloated, retain a lot of water, and other symptoms that one would typically experience right before a period. Ironically, these “all the time” symptoms I was experiencing were actually worse than any pre-cycle symptoms I normally had.
Tulsi caused the same mid-monthly bleeding, but without all of the other symptoms.
This certainly proved to me that maca has the power to change things hormonally for me. When reading up on maca and tulsi, I did find that maca is generally considered pro-fertility, but that tulsi may have an anti-fertility effect. I also read that the types of changes I was experiencing could simply be an uncomfortable part of the hormonal balancing effects. Often advice is given to keep it up for three months before decided whether a supplement was helpful or not. Because my symptoms were so severe, that was not an option for me.
I think that my symptoms were fairly unusual, though apparently not unknown. I noticed a comment on this helpful article on maca, sharing even more severe reaction to maca (and another fertility boosting herb, vitex).
“I was diagnosed as being estrogen dominant in 2008 while ttc with the help of an RE (reproductive endocrinologist). This year (2014), I ttc on my own, and decided to give vitex a try to help with my somewhat irregular periods..as it took too long between periods (approx 2 – 3months). On the last day of my period, I began taking vitex; and 2 days later, i developed a nagging headache that grew worse day by day. I also started bleeding again. I had to stop after one week as the headaches became constant and was frequently leading to migraines. 2 weeks later after stopping the vitex, and the bleeding had slowed down to occasional spotting….I started taking maca….there were no headaches, but the bleeding came back subtly (without cramps) and gradually increased to a flood with huge, multiple clots. After one month on maca with alternating days of heavy bleeding and spotting; I decided to stop the maca. 2 weeks after quitting, I still kept on bleeding and spotting. I did not ovulate on either the vitex or maca. I had to go back to my doctor to get a prescription for provera, which brought my 10wks bleed to a stop. Right now, I am on provera day # 5 and I am looking forward to resetting my cycle, as vitex and maca had totally messed up my system…..I did quite a bit of research on the internet before starting either. I just thought to share my story because we do not all respond in the same way…If your cycles are regular. do not take.”
Some women experience the opposite, with delayed or skipped periods. In support of maca, I definitely found it an energy boost, as did my parents and husband who were also taking it for a time (they didn’t experience any negative side effects)
At a later date (and most recently) I switched to yerba mate from coffee when I read that the caffeine content wasn’t as likely to create ups and downs like coffee caffeine does. I was probably drinking one, sometimes two cups of it when I experienced the same thing again – a mid-monthly bleed.
When I had this happen with tulsi, I was drinking two cups of tulsi every day. Interestingly, I had a friend who had the exact same thing happen (bleeding mid-month) when drinking tulsi tea. With the yerba mate, I was drinking 1-2 cups a day.
When taking maca, I was taking one serving a day.
Does this mean I’d never take any of them ever again?
Not necessarily. For me, I simply felt that I would need a qualified doctor working with me to make sure I was taking proper doses, and that it was the right supplement for me. Because I have iron issues, dealing with extra bleeding is not a good thing for me, and thus I have to be extra careful. It’s a possibility that all three are simply not the best for me personally.
Because the naturopathic doctors I have worked with have not had experience working with maca (or tulsi), I have simply chosen not to use it.
Years ago, I wrote this post on flax, phytoestrogens, and possible links to premature labor and hormonal issues for those consuming it. This post still gets comments from women sharing that they felt that flax seeds contributed to extra heavy periods and other issues. This doesn’t mean that flax seeds are bad, but simply that we should be aware of the hormonal changes that certain foods can have.
I take the same stand on maca, tulsi, and yerba mate. I think they can be lovely healthy additions to a good diet, but we should be aware that there can be side effects and that it may be not equally good for everyone. For those trying to work with specific issues, working with a professional herbalist may be a good idea so that you can work out dosage for your personal situation and body.
All three of these items are traditionally used, and are generally considered very safe to use, and many of my friends have had great success using them. But for those of you who may react to them like me, I hope that sharing my experience was helpful.