Men's Health, Women's Health, Immune, Menopause | January 20, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
Hailed as a newfound superfood, researchers are continually finding new health benefits associated with this root vegetable. Often referred to as Peruvian ginseng, maca has been cultivated and traditionally used for thousands of years to enhance fertility, increase energy, relieve menopause and regulate menstrual cycles.
There are many different variations of maca, ranging in colour from white, orange, yellow, purple, red and black—each with their own unique biological properties. However, the yellow ecotype is the most common cultivar.
Maca’s botanical name is Lepidium meyenii or Lepidium peruvianum and is part of the same plant family as cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts. Maca has a similar appearance to radishes with a green top and roots that range in colour from white to purple. The root is often harvested, dried and powdered. Maca is a pleasant tasting supplement with a creamy, butterscotch, nutty flavour.
Antioxidant modulation is a major benefit of taking maca powder. It has the capacity to scavenge free radicals and protect cells against damage. The MCTA, polysaccharides and polyphenols in maca are thought to be responsible for this significant antioxidant activity, which is considered more potent than vitamin E.
Maca root powder is an excellent source of carbohydrates, fibre, amino acids (including all 8 essential ones) and fatty acids. It is rich in the minerals iron, calcium, manganese, sodium, potassium, copper and zinc as well as niacin, riboflavin and vitamin C. There is also a range of phytonutrients which contribute to its wide-range of pharmacological activities.
Maca is an adaptogen which means that it can reduce the effects of stress, including preventing increases in cortisol, adrenal size and feelings of fatigue. Clinical trails have found that maca can have a positive impact on mood, energy and stamina—without the getting the jitters associated with a caffeine hit.
Several studies have found that maca root benefits memory and focus.
There is a long history of use of maca as a sexual stimulant and aphrodisiac. A 12-week trial involving 57 healthy males aged 21-56 years supplementing with either 1.5 or 3g of maca powder per day had a significant increase in sexual desire (by up to 42.5%). In 50 males with erectile dysfunction, maca was associated with an increase in general and sexual wellbeing. In 45 postmenopausal women experiencing SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction supplementing with maca found that within 8 weeks they had significant improvements in sexual function, particularly with an increase in libido and orgasm.
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Various clinically trials have found maca to alleviate a variety of menopausal symptoms including night sweats, hot flushes, nervousness, fatigue, and headaches. After 6 weeks maca powder significantly reduced psychological symptoms, including anxiety, irritability and depression. It also improved measures of sexual dysfunction when compared to placebo.
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Different variants of maca appear to boost reproductive function—particularly black maca. In males, treatment with maca powder over 4 months resulted in an increase in sperm production, motile sperm count, increased seminal volume and sperm motility.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any human studies in females for fertility, but there are numerous animal studies to support its effectiveness.
In animals, maca extract exhibits oestrogenic activity and increases levels of luteinising hormone which is essential for ovulation. Interestingly, maca is traditionally used for enhancing fertility of livestock living at high altitudes.
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Administering a concentrated dose of maca to rats not only improved their antioxidant status, but also significantly decreased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the liver and reduced blood sugar—helping to prevent the development of chronic disease. In postmenopausal women there was a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure—high blood pressure is considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
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By this point, you’re probably thinking: “Where can I buy maca?”
Thanks to its growing popularity, maca is widely available at health food stores, pharmacies and even online. It is typically found in capsule, liquid or powder form. Ideally buy a product which is raw, organic and 100% pure.
Maca powder can be added to foods such as smoothies, cereals, yoghurt or porridge. To preserve the quality of maca powder it’s best not to microwave or cook at high temperatures.
For enhancing general wellbeing start out at 1 tbsp daily, but it is safe to take up to 20 grams a day. Most people prefer to take in the morning or afternoon, especially before exercise for an extra burst of energy.
Maca has been used for centuries in the diet at high doses with no safety issues. As such it is generally considered a safe supplement with minimal risk of side effects.
Braun L, Cohen M. Herbs and natural supplements: An evidence based guide vol. 2. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Christina M. Dording, et al. A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 949036
H. O. Meissner, et al. Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (III) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006 Dec; 2(4): 375–394