The root vegetable maca is part of the cruciferous vegetables or Brassica family. You may notice similarities in growth, size and proportion of maca compared to turnips and radishes. Maca is loaded with nutrients and contains a rich amount of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, potassium and copper. These minerals are critical for the health of our skin, joints, bones and eyes. Without these essential nutrients, our cells would lack the substrate they need to perform effective communication, regeneration and formation. (2)
Found on top of the Andes Mountains in Peru, maca is grown at altitudes exceeding 8,000 feet and upwards of 14,500 feet. This high altitude is characteristic of cold weather conditions, high amounts of sunshine, less than desirable agricultural areas and is bothered by strong winds. (1, 2)
Maca crops are always produced organically as these harsh conditions are not favorable conditions for pests. Peruvian farmers actually plant these crops amongst other root vegetables to repel pests and pathogenic nematodes.
Stress Adaptation Abilities:
For centuries maca has overcome numerous environmental challenges such as mineral deficient soil. Despite these obstacles, maca crops have thrived and successfully developed innate survivial characteristics. The survival abilities of this plant are an excellent example of the principle regarding survival of the fittest in ecological evolution.
These same beneficial properties which have allowed maca to survive can be passed on to you too. This root vegetable is known as an adaptogen which means that it has physiological abilities to manage stress and relieve detrimental effects stress has on the body. Adaptogenic substances like maca and many herbs like holy basil support the body’s effort in managing homeostasis under stressful circumstances (2, 14). Maca thus helps to regulate the nervous system, endocrine system and supports immune function.
Alkaloid and polysaccharide compounds in maca are benefiting components which support the health of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland by improving control and coordination. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are the body’s master response team for controlling stress response as well as our reproductive systems. The response of these systems are key to stabilizing adrenal hormones and managing the release of cortisol and other inflammatory hormones. (2, 14)
Due to its ability to influence the reproductive system, maca is able to balance hormones in both men and women. In women, maca has been shown to reduce painful menstrual cramps, limit hot flashes, increase libido and improve mood. Although not able to increase sex hormone production, this root vegetable does help to better manage hormonal pathways (14).
Women Hormonal Support:
A study released in 2008 found that postmenopausal women who consumed 3.5 grams of maca daily had reduced psychological symptoms of anxiety and depression (3). The women also reported less sexual dysfunction and researchers concluded these benefits were unrelated to estrogenic or androgenic effects.
In 2006 maca was proven effective at controlling hormones in surgery induced menopausal rats that were unable to produce sufficient levels of sex hormones. The study showed that it improved cognitive function and reduced depression (8).
Male Hormonal Support:
Red maca has been found in studies to limit prostatic hyperplasia in testosterone induced male rats (4, 5). This finding indicates that it has the ability to modulate glandular activity while balancing hormones. Red and black maca have the highest antioxidant concentration and thus provide the strongest effects on improving health.
Although much evidence involving maca being used to improve libido and fertility in male and female rats, there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence from individuals who sought maca to improve their hormonal balances. These individuals provide testimonies of this plant increasing sex drive and improving their fertility issues.
Maca is a superfood for supporting fertility. Although the mechanisms are unclear, it has been shown to help with erectile dysfunction, increase sperm count, and increase sex drive (1, 2, 10, 11). Fertility expert Marc Sklar confirms that it benefits men and women of all ages.
The reason for maca’s strong influence on improving fertility is because of the effect it has on the hormones and the pituitary gland. Furthermore, the stress relief properties of maca are sure to play a vital role in lowering anxiety and depression that can negatively affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant. (3, 13, 14)
In the Peruvian Andes, where maca is naturally cultivated, the native people and animals traditionally used this plant consumption to aid in improving fertility treatments. As mentioned, maca has been found to increase sperm count and may due to its ability to influence spermatogenesis or the developmental pathway to produce mature male sex cells.
Observations that sexual dysfunction was not a problem amongst the people who ate maca in Peru, but studies have shown that it does in fact enhance female fertility possibly by supporting uterine health. (10, 12, 15)
Lowers Risk of Degenerative Diseases
Maca provides incredible anti-inflammatory properties which are effective at strengthening our bodies at a cellular level. A 2007 study promoted that it is responsible at improving lipid profiles, glucose metabolism and cellular antioxidant concentrations (9). These benefits alone are capable of reducing risk for cardiovascular dysfunction, heart disease and diabetes.
Maca has been shown to prevent bone loss in an ovarectomized rat indicating maca’s abilities to improve bone density (7). Normally the loss of ovaries to secrete estrogen results in an increased catabolic state and therefore increased bone density loss.
Another study provides evidence that maca is able to enhance blood flow into cartilage cells. The extract of RNI-249 from this plant was found to assist in preserving cartilage cells through inhibiting catabolic pathways involved in breaking down substances and instead activating anabolic mechanisms. (6)
Clears Skin Blemishes
Healthy skin is not dependent on harsh chemicals and expensive spa treatments to remove your skin imperfections. Maca supplementation is a naturally remedy associated with improving skin health. Anecdotal accounts of individuals consuming maca powder or taking supplementation pills find incredible skin benefits including its properties to clear acne and even treat chronic eczema.
As you now know, the effects of maca help balance hormones. As with other tissues, the skin is a major organ greatly affected by glandular secretions. When we are affected by factors such as chronic stress, whether a real threat or simply perceived threat, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands control the effect on our adrenal, thyroid, pancreas, ovarian and testicular glands (14). Resulting hormonal imbalances can adversely affect skin health including its collagen production, hair growth, sensitivity to light, hydration, and even oiliness resulting in acne.
Changes in hormones is therefore reflected in skin health and is the reason why puberty results in challenges with skin blemishes in many aging teens. Hormones are also associated with skin health in women at all age of reproduction including menstruating and menopausal women and why they are susceptible to skin acne. Maca helps to stabilize these hormonal changes that impact the whole body.
Tips on Purchasing and Using Maca
Purchase high quality, raw maca powder online or in health food stores. My recommendation is to consume 1 tsp of maca powder daily for one week and then take a week off. I have noticed anxiety and tics from the powerful stimulating effects of maca powder. The powder is strong and can cause nervous system disturbances if you exceed recommended doses.
Putting it into smoothies is a great way to prevent against your body developing a habituation of the beneficial effects. This will also lower your risk of overstimulating your nervous system.
Furthermore, this is a root vegetable and rich in carbohydrates (1). Any anti-inflammatory nutrition plan should limit carbohydrates. A single tsp daily is the maximum amount of maca powder you should take to limit unnecessary carbs and prevent adverse health effects.
I only recommend using a high quality source of Maca that should be organic. I use Navita Naturals maca powder you can find here. Have you tried maca before? If so how do you prefer to use it?