Maca is a plant that grows in central Peru in the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains. It has been cultivated as a vegetable crop in this area for at least 3000 years. Maca is a relative of the radish and has an odor similar to butterscotch. Its root is used to make medicine.
What Is Maca Root?
Is an adaptogen and a member of the cruciferous family, like broccoli and cabbage, but due to it’s unique properties it considered one of the world’s natural “super foods.” Maca is grown high in the mountains of South America, mainly in high altitude regions of Peru.
Lepidium meyenii (maca) is an herbaceous biennial plant of the crucifer family native to the high Andes of Peru. It was found at the Meseta de Bombón close to Junin Lake in the Andes. It is grown for its fleshy hypocotyl (a fused hypocotyl and taproot), which is used as a root vegetable and a medicinal herb. Its Spanish and Quechua names include maca-maca, maino, ayak chichira, and ayak willku. In some western part of Nigeria its call “Isu Igbe” or “Isu Gbe-Gbe”
Health Benefits of Maca Root
The maca root benefits include a positive effect on hormone balance, energy levels, and a health booster.
And not only is it a natural source of healing nutrition, but it also has a long history of being a safe super food that has been consumed for its medicinal benefits for thousands of years in regions of the Andes Mountains.
Maca is mainly grown for the nutritional and health value of its root. The majority of harvested maca is dried. In this form, the hypocotyls can be stored for several years.
In Peru, maca is prepared and consumed in various ways, although traditionally it is always cooked. The freshly harvested hypocotyl may be roasted in a pit (called huatia), and is considered a delicacy. Fresh roots usually are available only in the vicinity of the growers.
The root can also be mashed and boiled to produce a sweet, thick liquid, then dried and mixed with milk to form a porridge, mazamorra. The cooked roots are also used with other vegetables in empanadas, jams, or soups. The root may be ground to produce a flour for bread, cakes, or pancakes.
Medical/Healing Benefits of Maca Root
- Sexual dysfunction caused by antidepressant drugs: Early research suggests that taking maca twice daily for 12 weeks slightly improves sexual dysfunction in women taking antidepressants.
- Male infertility: Early research shows that taking a specific maca product (Maca Gelatinizada La Molina, Laboratories Hersil, Lima, Peru) daily for 4 months increases semen and sperm count in healthy men. But it’s not clear if this results in improved fertility.
- Postmenopausal conditions: Research suggests that taking maca (Maca Powder Healthychoices, Murwillumbah, NSW, Australia) daily for 6 weeks slightly improves blood pressure and some aspects of mood, including depression and anxiety, in postmenopausal women. But benefits are very small.
- Sexual desire: Early research shows that taking a specific maca product (Maca Gelatinizada La Molina, Laboratories Hersil, Lima, Peru) daily for 12 weeks can increase sexual desire in healthy men.
- “Tired blood” (anemia).
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
- Improving energy and athletic performance.
- Improving memory.
- Female hormone imbalance.
- Menstrual problems.
- Symptoms of menopause.
- Stomach cancer.
- Boosting the immune system.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of maca for these uses.
Top 5 Maca Root Benefits
PMS, Menopause, and Women with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Maca Root is well known to help with hormone balance that often contributes to improving the symptoms of PMS and Menopause. In females with PCOS, maca is believed to help by controlling estrogen levels in the body.
Estrogen levels that are either too high or too low can make it difficult for a women to ovulate and become pregnant. Therefore balancing the amount of estrogen that a women produces, and in turn the amount of related progesterone produced, is very important for increasing reproductive health, fertility, and decreasing symptoms related to PCOS- like irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair growth, and more.
Women’s Hormones, Fertility, and Sexual Health
A 2008 study from the journal Menopause showed that maca benefits had positive results on boosting menopausal women’s moods and decreasing levels of anxiety and depression.
The same study also showed that the improvement in mood led to increased sexual libido. A separate study done in 2008 by CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics showed that maca had the ability to increase sexual libido in women, likely due to its positive effects on serotonin levels, the “feel good” hormone.
Maca is believed to restore women’s hormonal balance by supporting the endocrine system and aiding in the regulation of healthy adrenal and thyroid hormone production.
Male’s Testosterone Levels and Fertility
In clinical studies, serum levels of testosterone were not shown to be affected by maca. Black maca however, has been shown to have positive effects on sperm production, more than yellow maca and red maca.
Red maca has its own benefits for male hormonal health. It has been shown to reduce prostate size in studies done on male rats. This points to the conclusion that maca may possibly help improve human prostate health as well.
In other studies, maca has also been shown to improve sperm production, mobility, and volume, all important factors of increasing fertility.
Energy, Memory and Mood
Those who regularly use maca powder report that it makes them feel more awake, energized, and driven, often relatively quickly after beginning to use it. A positive attribute of using maca for increased energy compared to using caffeine is that maca does not give most people “jitters” or a sense of shakiness like high levels of caffeine can.
Clinical trials have shown that maca has positive effects on energy, stamina, and mood. Maintaining positive energy levels is related to having lower levels of anxiety and depression, both of which maca has been shown to positively help achieve.
Exactly how maca increases energy is still unknown, however it’s believed that it may be able to do so by helping to stabilize blood sugar levels (which decrease energy spikes and dips), and to maintain adrenal health, which regulates mood and energy throughout the day.
Maca benefits also include regulating the hypothamlus, helping the pituitary gland to properly function, which is another key element in balancing focus and energy. An increase in focus, energy and mood enables people to concentrate better and therefore to improve memory and ability to complete tasks.
Maca root acts as a natural antioxidant, and boosts levels of glutathione and SOD (superoxide dismutase). These are two major disease fighters in the body. Results from recent studies demonstrate that maca root has the ability to help prevent the development of chronic human diseases that are characterized by high levels of “bad” cholesterol, high antioxidative states, and impaired glucose tolerance.
And because maca root increases the glutathione levels in the body, it not only improves your immune system and disease resistance, but also it is helps balance proper levels of cholesterol in the body. Plus, it significantly improves glucose tolerance, by lowering levels of glucose in blood. This is especially important for those who need to worry about heart health and conditions like diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
While more research is still needed to reveal how exactly maca benefits the body’s hormonal and nervous systems, initial studies that have been completed have shown promising results for use of maca.