We are now almost at the end of our second trial week for the maca project (read about it here, and the first part of the maca diaries, here), and it is going very well. I think it’s time for me to give you a little more information about this amazing root.
What is it?
First of all, maca is a cruciferous root found growing in the high regions of Peru and has been cultivated for about two thousand years. It has been traditionally and is currently used as a food. The Peruvians believe it gives strength and endurance, enhances ones fertility, and supports pregnancies.
As maca has been put more in the spotlight in recent years, many studies have been done on it, everything from feeding farmed trout, to treating sexual problems (how’s that for a wide variety of uses!). As I have read about it, I realized that there are many, many different applications that maca could be used for. However, even though there are a lot of studies about maca, most of them center around certain topics, so there are still huge gaps of scientific information. This is frustrating because how I got interested in maca was it’s traditional use to support a pregnancy, and it’s claimed ability to balance hormones, and these two uses of maca have not been addressed at all, or at least, as thoroughly as some of the other uses.
So, for some of the uses, people are still relying on tradition and clinical results. Keep that in mind as you research maca yourself. But let me share what I have found out about maca.
Note Different Varieties of Maca
Before I started researching, I figured that maca was all one variety, but that is not true. In fact, there are at least three common types (yellow, red and black), and these different varieties do have slightly different results. In fact some of the studies actually compared the effect of more than one type, to see which one would be effective for a certain application. Because of that, when a study I site used a particular variety of maca, I will make sure to list it. If you are interested in maca for a certain use, make sure that you get the right type of maca.
Maca is a High Nutrient Root
First things first, maca is a high nutrient vegetable. It is full of calcium, magnesium, some b vitamins, vitamin c, as well as zinc and many other important minerals, protein and fiber. For a detailed list of what maca contains, I found that macamagic.com has thorough information.
You could consider maca a superfood from looking at how nutrient dense it is.
Maca could help prevent Osteoporosis caused by lack of estrogen
In fact, one study tested the ability of maca to reduce bone loss in estrogen deprived rats. The conclusion? It was ” indicated that higher dose of ethanol extract of Maca was effective in the prevention of estrogen deficient bone loss.”
Maca Supports Fertility
Unfortunately, infertility has become more and more of an issue for many of us. I think that overcoming infertility can and should be multifaceted. But as I have researched maca, I have wondered if maca could be helpful for many people dealing with infertility, especially if it was taken while making other healthy changes. Maca is unique in that is helps both men and women’s fertility.
Maca Increases Men’s Fertility
Maca was once thought to increase men’s sexual hormones which would account for it’s ability to increase one’s sex drive and increased fertility, but while recent studies confirm that maca has the powerful ability to increase male fertility, it doesn’t change men’s hormone levels. In one four month study using black maca, it was found to increase sperm count, motile sperm count and sperm motility and increase seminal volume, all without making any changes in the men’s hormones. I should mention that this was one study, among many, all showing similar results.
It was also shown that maca reversed infertility caused by lead poisoning in rats.
Maca Increases Women’s Fertility
In another study, they tested the traditional use of maca to increase women’s fertility, using mice. It seems mice also find maca helpful, as those receiving maca did indeed have increased fertility! This test used yellow maca.
I also found these threads on Mothering’s forum of a whole group of women using maca to try to achieve pregnancy. It was very interesting reading everyone’s results with it (and yes, there were a lot of pregnancies in the group!). Thread One, Thread Two Thread Three
Maca Could Help Depression and Black Maca could Increase Learning and Memory Abilities
In one study, they studied the effect of the three different types of maca in decreasing depression and increasing learning abilities in mice. They found that all three had anti-depressant effects, but only black maca had the ability to increase learning and memory abilities. In a follow up study on black maca, they found that it helped improve scopolamine-induced memory impairment in mice.
Maca Could Help Prevent UV Skin Damage
Maca was found to have UV protection abilities. I wondered if this is because of the antioxidants in contains. In a Food Chemistry 1 article, although maca was found to have lower levels than green tea, they did find it to have the capacity to scavenge free radicals and protect cells from oxidative stress. Antioxidants are supposed to keep prevent skin damage as well.
Maca Could Help Glucose Control
Maca could be very useful for those struggling with blood sugar issues. Researchers found that maca “significantly” increased glucose tolerance and decreased blood sugar. I have personally found that maca seems to be helping me keep my blood sugar much more stable. This could be significant to those with diabetes or hypoglycemia.
Maca Helps Menopausal Women
In a study designed to examine the effects of maca on hormones and the symptoms of postmenopausal women, it was found that that maca didn’t change their hormonal balance at all! But that it did help significantly aid in the symptoms of menopause, including depression, sexual dysfunction, and anxiety.
There is not a lot of scientific studies (at least, that I have found) specifically studying the effect maca has on the hormonal balance of women. Clinical and personal observations claim that maca has proven helpful in this area, but it is yet to be proven scientifically. This study seems to support the idea that it doesn’t touch actual hormones, but instead works independently of them to relieve certain female issues.
This is one of the uses of maca that I personally hope researchers will put more research into. In fact, there ends most of the most helpful research I found. There are still a lot of traditional uses of maca that many people have found true for themselves, but are not yet studied.
But I would remiss if I didn’t mention one other well documented use of maca.
Maca Can Help With Sexual Problems (for both men and women)
Maca is used to treat certain sexual problems in both men and women with very good results. Feel free to research this if you, or a loved one, deals with this very personal issue. It could be very useful for you.
Here is a list of other important uses for maca:
Maca could help those with Thyroid and Adrenal problems or Chronic Fatigue
While I have not been able to find any official studies on the effect maca has on thyroid health, it doesn’t take long to find testimonies of those helped by maca in this area. I have personally found that I do seem warmer while taking maca (temperature control is related to thyroid function) and I do have better energy (adrenal). For further reading, here are just a few links for you.
Dr. Muller answer Questions about Maca
A forum discussion about maca and thyroid function
While reading about about maca, since there are no hard facts about how it works, some doctors consider it an adrenal stimulate (and therefore not the best choice), and others don’t think that it’s the best for some thyroid conditions. Others think it’s the best choice available, so do your own homework before using. It seems to be working for me, but that’s just my personal experinece.
Maca Can Give Endurance and Energy
One of the traditional uses of maca is for energy and endurance, for that reason some athletes are now using maca with good results. But who needs to be an athlete to want more energy and endurance!
Maca can help with PMS and other hormonal issues
While the “why” of how maca works in this area has not been answered for me, many people find maca to be very helpful in these areas.
Like I mentioned before, Maca was traditionally used not only to help one get pregnant, but to stay pregnant as well. This has not been tested for safety or effectiveness, but is a traditional use of it.
While there are many other claimed uses for maca, I think that covers most of the main points. As I read more and hopefully find more information, I will do updates.
Who Shouldn’t Take it?
While maca is not considered to be toxic, because of the lack of information, different sites did caution against using maca if you have a high risk of breast or prostate cancer. This was probably because it is still widely thought of as increasing certain hormones (which could be bad for certain cancers), which recent research doesn’t seem to back. But do take note.
Those with a high risk of goiters should also be careful, though there have been no reported cases.
Those pregnant or nursing are not officially advised to take maca from any company because it is not tested yet.
Some advise those with a hyperthyroidism not to take it.
In one study, those taking a large amount of maca every day, did have slight elevations of blood pressure. Keep this in mind if you have blood pressure issues.
If you are interested in taking maca, I encourage you to do your own research and talk it over with a qualified health care provider (some love it, some aren’t so sure about it). Maca appears like it could indeed be helpful for many, and while it is, after all a FOOD in Peru, it doesn’t hurt to err in caution.
The Nourishing Gourmet’s articles are purely for educational purposes. Please use the information I share to spur you on to your own research, partnered with your health care providers advice. It should not be relied on to determine new dietary changes, medical diagnonsis or sources of treatment.
1-Food Chemistry; Nov2002, Vol. 79 Issue 2, p207, 7p