Maca root has grown in popularity in the recent years. It is considered to be an adaptogen, which is a plant, herb or natural substance that assists the body in adapting to stressors. This root is also considered a superfood because of all the health benefits that it offers.
What exactly is Maca?
The scientific name of maca is Lepidium meyenii. This root is native to the Andes region of Peru, particularly close to Lake Junin, growing in very high altitudes (over 13,000 feet). Indigenous people have cultivated this root for over 2,000 years. Maca can also be found in Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
Maca is part of the same family as broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower. This cruciferous vegetable looks similar to turnips or radishes with green tops. It comes in different colors including yellow, cream, purple, red, white and black. The edible root has both culinary and medicinal uses. Maca is usually grown organically since the plant is not attacked by disease or insects.
This plant is highly nutritious, since it is a good source of carbs, protein and fiber, yet low in fat. It is also a great source of vitamin C, B1, B2, B6, B12, cooper, iron, potassium, manganese and zinc. Maca root has plant has compounds such as glucosinolates and polyphenols and all eight essential amino acids.
How to Consume Maca Root?
This root is pleasant tasting, but may be hard to find in its original form (unless you live in Peru). Many call it the “Peruvian Ginseng” because of its healing powers.
This herb is usually dried and grounded to make a powder that tastes earthy and nutty. This powder can be added to desserts, soups, oatmeal or smoothies. It is also sold in capsules or liquid tinctures. Buy quality products that are 100% pure maca root powder, ideally raw and organic. Yellow maca is the most common type, but darker types (red or black) have different properties.
Recommended dosage used in studies ranges from 1.5-5 grams per day. There is no official correct dosage, however one tablespoon (in powder form) per day is a good start.
Medicinal Benefits of Maca Root
Increase in Libido
Maca root is an aphrodisiac herb which increases sexual function and drive in both men and women according to clinical studies. Women who take antidepressants may suffer from sexual dysfunction and could benefit from this root.
Men love using maca since it improves blood flow in general, but also specifically to the penis, which results in stronger erections. It can even be used to treat erectile dysfunction. Many male enhancement supplements contain it as one of their ingredients. The best part is that it has a lot less risk than pharmaceutical products.
Fertility (Men and Women)
Maca root (specially black maca) is believed to increase the formation, production and motility of sperm in men. A study done in 2002 showed that men reported an increase in virility after taking this root for two to three months. Women can benefit from maca’s ability to increase the serum luteinizing hormone in the pituitary gland which is responsible for fertility.
Maca Root is one of the best herbs for women as it balances and regulates hormones. Use can start in teenage years, when a girl gets her period, all the way to menopause. This herb alleviates PMS symptoms. Macerated extracts of red maca are used for acute hormonal fluctuations, while yellow and red maca can be used daily for long term balance.
This root is rich in amino acids which are the building components of hormones. It has 20 amino acids, 8 which are essential to produce regulatory hormones in men.
Women who are transitioning into menopause can use this herb as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy. During this period there is a natural decline in estrogen which results a range of unpleasant symptoms. Just like vitex, maca root does not stimulate hormone production it simply harmonizes how we produce hormones.
Consuming maca root helps reduce an enlarged prostate, a condition called hyperplasia. This is because it acts on the androgen receptors in the prostate, thus preventing the binding of hormones that leads to this condition. Prescription drugs have many side effects, so this may be a safer alternative to reducing prostate size and alleviating symptoms such as frequent urination.
Maca stabilizes blood sugar levels, which influence our energy levels. This root was supposedly given to Inca warriors before battles.
Maca root is an adaptogen which will help the body to respond to stress and fatigue. The unique biochemicals found in this root are called Macamides. They serve to balance how our brain responds to stressors and control our nervous system so we do not experience swings in mood, hormones, energy, immunity and cognition. Since maca helps to keep stress at bay, it also protects from illness by producing more natural antibodies, including T cells which destroy foreign invaders. It is also very good at maintaining adrenal health.
Maca root contains 18 percent protein, making it a popular supplement for athletes. These bioactive proteins promote natural muscle growth. It also boosts energy, endurance and performance.
Maca is rich in magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, silica and potassium which make your bones stronger. Consuming this root can help prevent osteoporosis by improving your bone mass and tissue.
Peruvians call maca “food of the brain”. Natives of Peru use this root to improve the cognitive ability of their children. Gingko Biloba is another adaptogen which improves memory. Antioxidants and essential fatty acids help protect brain cells and fight the deterioration caused by free radicals.
Studies done in animals show improved concentration and memory after consuming maca. This may be due to the fact that it regulates the hypothalamus, located above the pituitary gland, which provides focus and balances energy. Maca may slow cognitive decline caused by aging. Black maca is the most effective for fighting depression, improving memory and alleviating brain fog.
Reduce Sun Damage
Maca extract (high concentrations of the plant) applied on the skin may provide protection from UV radiation. People living in the Andes region have used it as a form of sunscreen to protect against the strong UV levels found in high altitudes. Glucosinolates and antioxidants found in the root may be responsible for its protective effects. Remember for this benefit you need to place it on your skin, not ingest it.
Precautions of Using Maca Root
This root is usually considered safe and has very little negative effects. Those with thyroid problems should consult a doctor before consuming it since it has goitrogens, which impacts the function of the thyroid gland if the person is impaired. Maca also has very high levels of iodine, which are not dangerous unless a person has a condition like goiter.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also consult their doctors. Maca root helps fertility, but can be dangerous once impregnated since it balances hormones.