Maca Root - Peruvian Treasure
Maca root (Lepidium Meyenii) grows high in the Andes of Peru, as high as 11,000 feet above sea level. It is one of the oldest and most resilient plants on the planet. It grows in places where no other plants survive, because of extreme climatic conditions in high altitudes. This member of the brassica family has long leaves around 15cm tall, the root itself looks very much like beetroot, and is usually 2-8 cm. There are a few botanical varieties of maca that differ in color of the root, from white, to pale pink, grey, purple, yellow, or even black. Some look more like potatoes, some are more similar to beets or radishes. The name Maca comes from the native word Ma-ca, meaning food from the highlands that gives strength. Maca has been used by native Peruvians for thousands of years - it can be documented back to around 3800 B.C. and it was cultivated for both its nutritional and medicinal value. Much later, in 1549 A.D., the Spanish explorer Captain de Soto received Maca as a gift from the Peruvians and brought it to Europe.
Maca root is no beauty, but it makes up for its appearance with amazing nutritional value. It contains significant amounts of amino acids, carbohydrates and minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, and E, fatty acids (linoleic, palmitic, oleic, lauric, stearic), sterols (campesterol, stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol), tannins, saponins, bioactive aromatic isothiocyanates, and of course some protein and fiber. One ounce of Maca powder contains 133% of the daily recommended dose of vitamin C, 83% of daily value of copper, and 23% of daily iron requirements, with just 90 calories per ounce. Polyphenols present in Maca have a beneficial effect on our health. Maca can be dried and stored for years without losing any of its nutritional benefits. This is also why NASA added maca powder to a supplement stash for astronauts because it can positively affect overall physical health and helps to keep the mind and reflexes sharp during physically and mentally demanding missions.
MACA FOR FERTILITY AND SEXUAL HEALTH
For centuries, Maca was a regular part of the Peruvian diet, believed to bring strength, resilience, stamina, and immunity. According to an ancient legend, Maca was a gift from a god named Viracocha to the people living in the extreme conditions of The Andes. It was supposed to become a source of energy and longevity, but Viracocha added a gift of vitality to the plant, making it basically a natural aphrodisiac to support fertility and the preservation of humankind. Maca is often called Peruvian Ginseng or Natural Viagra, because of its libido increasing properties. Researchers have also tested Maca as a treatment for infertility, because not only does it stimulate sexual activity, it also regulates hormones, and increases production and quality of sperm, which is vital for fertility. Men with erectile dysfunctions, and also menopausal women can benefit from adding Maca to their diet. There is a study showing that Maca helps to reduce blood pressure and depression in postmenopausal women. Red Maca specifically even shows some benefits for prostate health.
MACA FOR HORMONAL BALANCE
As an endocrine adaptogen, Maca is often used to balance hormones. It doesn’t contain any hormones, but it does include important nutrients necessary for our endocrine health and normal hormone production. The modern world is filled with environmental endocrine disruptors, so hormonal imbalances are not an unusual condition, though often unaddressed. Maca has the ability to stimulate healthy hormonal production by nourishing our master glands: the thyroid, pituitary, and hypothalamus. These glands further co-operate with other glands like the pancreas, adrenals, ovaries, and testes. Imbalanced sex hormones or adrenal fatigue are both reasons to consider trying a bit of Maca!
Some people might be concerned about combining thyroid issues with Maca consumption because glucosinolates in brassica plants can impair thyroid function and cause goiters, but as Dr. Loren Cordain mentions: “Only when thyroid is impaired by pre-existing low plasma iodine levels does consumption of brassica exacerbate the problem. A study in rats demonstrated no change in thyroid function via measurement of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) following both short and long term consumption of Lepidium species. Hence, unless a person has a pre-existing thyroid problem or low blood concentrations of iodine, consumption of maca root powder generally appears to be safe.” Please discuss it with your local care team if you are being treated for a thyroid condition.
MACA AS AN ADAPTOGEN
Stress is really everywhere these days, and it affects us in many ways. Stress-related diseases, fatigue, burnout, sleeping problems, memory issues, brain fog… this can all be related to chronic exposure to various levels of stress. Maca has adaptogenic properties that can help us cope with these stressors. Adaptogens support our natural stress regulation by naturally bringing our nervous system back from fight-or-flight to rest-repair-and-digest mode, which is a state where we can heal our wounds, repair cells and damaged tissues, digest and absorb nutrients, and give our body and mind a well deserved rest. Mark Sisson writes: “The adaptogen is simply helping you do it [switch from fight or flight to rest mode]. If a heightened stress response is required for health, an adaptogen will theoretically enable that. If a lowered stress response would help more, it’ll enable that too. So maca isn’t working like Viagra. It’s not forcing the issue. It’s helping you deal with the stressors that may be inhibiting you without actually affecting your hormones.”
MACA FOR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL PERFORMANCE
Maca is very popular among athletes for its ability to increase energy and physical performance. These claims are mostly anecdotal, but there have been a few human studies as well. This research shows positive results comparing two groups of healthy men, one of which received Maca while the other received a placebo. This small study compared two groups of cyclists in a similar fashion. In this paper, endurance in animals was studied with promising results. Thanks to Maca’s adaptogenic properties, our ability to handle stress is much better, and because of that, we can feel more energetic, both mentally and physically. Sterols present in Maca help with the proper development of muscle fibers without using any artificial anabolic supplements. It strengthens the immune system and speeds up the regeneration of muscles and bones, in both adult athletes and young children. Native Peruvians give Maca powder to young schoolchildren and believe it boosts their academic performance, memory, and learning skills. Researchers have discovered that black maca has the most benefits when it comes to learning skills and memory, as well as having some neuroprotective abilities.
MACA FOR HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
This study shows that Maca can reduce blood pressure after just 12 weeks of regular consumption. Another in-depth Spanish study compared regular Maca consumers with a control group and found that Maca fans have lower systolic blood pressure (English readers can learn more here). As an adaptogen, Maca helps us to handle stress, which can help to avoid hypertension. Also, potassium is very important when dealing with hypertension, and Maca is rich in this important mineral.
SIDE EFFECTS OF MACA
Maca is generally considered safe for daily consumption for healthy people. If you are dealing with thyroid issues or take any hormone-altering medication, it is better to proceed with caution and discuss it with your doctor or care team. There is not enough data to confirm whether Maca is safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women yet, so for these groups, it is better to play it safe and avoid it. Always remember that Maca has libido and fertility boosting properties, for example, if you are not planning to have a family any time soon, this might actually be a negative side effect for you. Maca doesn’t really taste amazing on its own, so it is always better to use it as an ingredient and not eat it by itself. Raw Maca can be difficult for some people to digest, so get a gelatinized (cooked) version if the raw version upsets your stomach, this is how it is traditionally consumed anyway. On the other hand, raw Maca has never been heated, so it contains all the enzymes and nutrients, some of which are lost in cooking. So if it doesn’t bother your digestion, get raw maca instead.
HOW TO USE MACA
Maca is sold either in the form of a powder (raw or gelatinized), capsules, or as a liquid extract. Capsules are easiest to use, just pop one and drink some water with it - you will not be affected by its taste at all. Adding Maca powder to foods is very easy as well; you can add a teaspoon to your smoothie, sprinkle it over salad, in soups and stews, or just eat it straight from the container with a spoon, if you enjoy the slightly nutty, sweet taste. In terms of dosage, 1-2 tablespoons per day are a good estimate for most adults. Here are 14 awesome recipes that include Maca, so you can get inspired! How do you use Maca? What effects have you noticed?