Nutrition

Maca Root – A Comprehensive Guide

Maca has long been recognized by the Peruvian people as a herbal cure for many forms of ailments due to hormone imbalance. In spite of its huge reputation as a medicinal plant in the Andes highlands for thousands of years, it is only lately that maca root stepped into the limelight of the natural wellness community. Its recently acquired status as a superfood is well-earned, however. Clinical tests and research continue to find more health gains derived from this amazing root crop.

What is Maca?

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a native root crop in the Andes regions of Peru and belongs to the cruciferous plant species. Being of the same family, its appearance is similar to turnips and radishes, with root colors that range from yellow and red to black.

The root has an agreeably refreshing taste. After being harvested and processed, maca root is available at online retailers, drugstores and specialty health food stores in powder, capsule, extract or liquid form. It even comes in gelatinized form with less starch for easier digestion. Maca root is regarded as an adaptogen, a term given to herbs and substances found in nature that help the body adapt naturally to stress triggers like challenging jobs, work deadlines, and illnesses. Apart from that, the maca root is known to be a rich source of essential micronutrients and antioxidants. Research has shown that it can help the body achieve hormonal balance, enhance memory and mood, increase energy, and promote sexual health, among other things.

Health Benefits of Maca Root

Maca Root is Rich in Nutritional Content

Maca root is a very good source of protein, essential vitamins, and minerals which include iron and copper, plus a good amount of dietary fiber. It is packed with a rich supply of health-giving phytonutrients and more than 20 amino acids (with all eight essential amino acids included). Around 2 tablespoons or an ounce of maca root powder may contain about:

  • 4 grams of protein
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 1 gram fat
  • 20 grams of carbohydrates
  • 80 milligrams of vitamin C (133% Daily Value)
  • 0.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 (16% Daily Value)
  • 70 milligrams of calcium (7% Daily Value)
  • 560 milligrams of potassium (16% Daily Value)
  • 4.1 milligrams of iron (23% Daily Value)
  • 1.6 milligrams of niacin (8% Daily Value)
  • 0.1 milligrams of riboflavin (6% Daily Value)
  • 0.2 milligrams of manganese (11% Daily Value)
  • 1.7 milligrams of copper (84% Daily Value)
  • 91 calories

Maca root also contains plant compounds that include polyphenols and glucosinolates.

Maca Root is High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants help eliminate the damaging free radicals that can adversely affect the body’s wellness, prevent cell destruction, and provide resistance to chronic diseases. Maca root is a natural antioxidant booster that help raise the levels of superoxide dismutase, glutathione, and other antioxidants in the body. A 2014 study has shown that polysaccharides derived from maca demonstrated powerful antioxidant action that proved highly effective in preventing free radical damage. In a Czech Republic animal study, it was found that giving rats a concentrated dose of maca improved the antioxidant activity in their body and considerably lowered cholesterol and triglycerides levels in the liver. It also decreased blood sugar and hindered the development of chronic illness. A study of maca leaf extract showed that its antioxidant content could protect the body against neurological damage. Improving the body’s antioxidant status is important for preventing the onset of illnesses like diabetes, coronary disease, and cancer through oxidative stress and cell damage prevention. Despite these positive test results on lab animals, further studies are required to learn how the antioxidants in maca root can impact human beings.

Maca Root Can Improve Mood, Energy and Memory

Regular users have reported that maca root powder has made them more energetic, alert and motivated, usually right after they’ve added it to their diet. Taken in the prescribed amount, maca produces that alert feeling without the jittery side effect that comes with caffeine. Test results have demonstrated that maca root can affect energy and stamina in a beneficial way. Keeping energy levels up can positively affect mood. Earlier studies of maca have shown that it may diminish the signs of depression. It is not yet certain how maca raises energy levels. However, it is confirmed to aid in preventing the sudden rise and fall in blood sugar and keeping the normal functionality of the adrenal glands which control energy and mood. Maintaining positive energy levels may also help in keeping weight under control. Various studies have also shown results that memory and concentration gain a lot of benefits from the use of maca root. In 2011, two animal studies have shown that black maca has improved the memory in mice, most probably due to its enhanced antioxidant activity.

Maca Root Can Enhance Athletic Performance

Bodybuilders and athletes have started taking maca root powder supplements to boost their energy and enhance their performance. There are numerous claims that the supplement helped athletes achieve better muscle growth, gain more strength, and improve overall performance. At present, there is a lack of scientific data to support the claims of increased strength or muscle growth. Some test animals fed with maca have shown better performance in endurance tests. A small study conducted on male cyclists showed that they were able to finish a 25-mile bike ride significantly faster after taking maca extract supplements for two weeks.

Maca Root Can Benefit Female Sexual Health

Various studies have demonstrated that maca root may improve female sexual dysfunction and increase their sex drive in a lot of ways. A study focused on how maca root affects post-menopausal women who suffer from sexual dysfunction due to the use of antidepressants. Maca root was able to improve sexual function considerably when tested against a placebo. A similar study found that maca root worked well to raise the sex drive and improve sexual function in women. Post-menopausal women who were studied in 2008 showed improvement in their sexual function and psychological symptoms after taking maca root. As a matter of fact, maca root brought down the women’s anxiety and menopause-related depression after undergoing treatment for six weeks. Destabilized hormone levels in women can lead to symptoms like weight gain, infertility, bloating and can negatively affect reproductive health in general. Maca root has been found to stabilize female sex hormones and provide relief to menopausal symptoms.

As a Topical Application, Maca May Act as a Skin Protectant

Exposed and unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Long and constant exposure to UV rays can lead to premature wrinkles and even increase the chances of skin cancer. Collected data have shown that a topical application made from a concentrated form of maca extract can help protect the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. A study revealed that concentrated maca extract applied to the skin of test rats for three weeks prevented skin damage from exposure to ultraviolet rays. The UV protection is credited to the presence of glucosinolates and polyphenol antioxidants in maca root. As an important reminder, maca topical application should not be used in place of the time-honored sunscreen. Additionally, it only works as a UV protectant when applied directly to the skin, not when taken orally as a supplement.

Maca Root Can Stabilize Estrogen Levels

A woman’s reproductive system is regulated mainly by the female hormone estrogen. If this important hormone gets out of balance, a lot of unpleasant symptoms could arise that can range from bloating and irregular menstruation to mood swings. Too high or too low estrogen levels can also make ovulation and pregnancy difficult. Maca root can help stabilize and maintain hormone levels and regulate the amount of estrogen in a woman’s system. The International Journal of Biomedical Science published a study involving post-menopausal women who were administered either a maca tablet or a placebo twice a day in a four-month period. Those who took maca tablets had their hormone levels balanced and bone density increased. Apart from those, hot flashes, night sweat, and other menopausal symptoms were also alleviated. Besides cutting down the symptoms of menopause, stabilizing estrogen levels can also aid in boosting women’s reproductive health and fertility. It can also reduce symptoms associated with disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) such as weight gain, acne outbreak, and excessive hair growth.

Maca Root May Reduce Prostate Size

The prostate gland can only be found in men. It can become enlarged in a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) which usually occurs in older men. An enlarged prostate gland can cause urination issues, among other problems. It surrounds the urethra and its enlargement can constrict the urethral tube where urine passes, making urination quite difficult. Several studies involving rodents indicated that red maca can reduce prostate size. The red maca’s reducing effect on the prostate is attributed to its high glucosinolate content. The glucosinolate components in maca has been linked with the lowered risk of prostate cancer.

Maca Root Can Boost Male Fertility

Can maca root work for men as well? Previous studies have shown that maca root powder can boost male fertility and also improve sexual health. A study in Peru have demonstrated that using maca for two months heightened the sexual desire in male test subjects. A similar study held in 2001 showed that maca root can aid in enhancing sperm quality and motility (movement) which are essential factors for determining male fertility. Maca root can also be beneficial for sexual dysfunction. Four clinical research studied how maca affects male libido. Two of the studies reported an improvement in sexual dysfunction and increased libido in male and female subjects. The two other studies did not show positive results and required more time for research.

Health Benefits of Maca Root for Both Men and Women

Maca root has been raised as a root crop by the Andean people for many centuries. It has been the staple food of men and women, young and old, healthy and sick, out of necessity. It is because maca and potatoes are the only crops that can grow in the harsh, high altitude environment of the Andes. While it has been around as food for quite a long time, it was only lately that the West has learned of the beneficial effects that men and women can gain from maca root. Enhanced energy, improved bone health, and better chances of fertility are only some of the benefits that both male and female users can derive from it.

Various Health Benefits of Maca for Women

Making maca root a part of their diet can give women a lot of health benefits that can significantly improve their quality of life. Although the information on maca root’s effect on health is insufficient, the following health benefits have been backed up by professional research.

Maca root can reduce stress and depression

Researchers have discovered that the nutritional content in maca are responsible for alleviating specific symptoms associated with stress, anxiety, and depression. Due to its energizing properties, maca is also able to help improve the mood to reduce depression in women.

Maca root can enhance the female form

Maca promotes hormonal balance. It stabilizes the level of estrogen, the hormone that can enhance the shape and size of the female breasts. Maca’s muscle-building abilities can help improve the shape of the buttocks, the largest group of muscles in the body.

Maca root can boost female fertility

Boost in female fertility is due to regular ovulation as a result of maca’s ability to promote hormonal balance.

Maca root can enhance the female sex drive

Women who used maca root supplementation have reported the noticeable boost in their sex drive within a few weeks.

Maca root can stimulate hair growth

Due of its rich vitamin and mineral content as well as its hormone-balancing properties, maca is able to stimulate hair growth in women who are suffering from hair loss.

Maca root can promote healthier fetal development

Because of its high nutritional content, maca is believed to support the healthy development of the child in the mother’s womb.

Maca root can improve skin tone

Because of its ability to keep hormones in balance, maca can promote better skin tone and elasticity by decreasing the chances of hormone-triggered acne.

Maca root can promote bone health

Studies involving mice have shown that maca root is the effective in the development and strengthening of bone structure. Similar studies have shown bone density and firmness improved after maca supplementation.

Maca root can reduce the discomfort of menopause

By keeping hormones in balance, maca root can reduce the symptoms and discomforts of menopause which include hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia.

Maca root can promote a healthy thyroid

Because of its hormones-stabilizing ability, maca has a favorable impact on the thyroid’s condition. What’s more, maca contains iodine which is needed for thyroid health.

Maca root can improve mental capabilities

The essential fatty acids in maca root could be responsible for logical thinking, cognitive enhancement, balanced analytical skills, and improved overall brain health.

Maca root acts as a natural energy enhancer

Maca provides the body with vitamins, protein, fatty acids, and other vital nutrients required to improve energy levels for a more active life. Also, read about the Health Benefits of Maca for Women.

Various Health Benefits of Maca for Men

Because it possesses many of ginseng’s healing potentials, maca root came to be known in some circles as the Peruvian Ginseng. It has been found to provide more stamina and reduce stress. It is used to arouse sexual desire and boost fertility in men. Using maca root as a supplement or treatment can help men gain the following potential health benefits:

Maca root can improve memory, cognitive ability, and concentration

Test animals have shown indications of increased memory, concentration, and learning rate after being fed with maca for a certain period. Studies have shown that maca affects the hypothalamus right above the pituitary gland which has a significant influence on concentration and energy balance.

Maca root can increase male libido and fertility

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) have showed that maca is able to raise libido levels in men, as well as increase production of healthy sperm. Male subjects who took maca have indicated increased semen volume, higher sperm count, and improved sperm motility

Maca root can reduce the risk of prostate problems

Benign prostatic hyperplasia, the enlargement of the prostate gland, has been one of the most common male disorders. Studies have shown that maca can help reduce the risk of prostatic hyperplasia by acting on the prostate’s androgen receptors.

Maca root can cure mild cases of erectile dysfunction

Maca can increase blood circulation. When this works in conjunction with heightened libido levels, maca has been observed to help treat mild erectile dysfunction.

Maca root can increase energy levels

Maca’s capability to balance blood sugar has a direct effect on energy levels. Its maintenance of healthy adrenal glands promotes a more positive mood and increased energy.

Maca root can lift up the mood to fight depression

The minerals and vitamins found in maca root have an energizing effect which works to raise up a person’s mood. As a result, emotional health improvement has been observed in subjects who used maca.

Maca root can promote muscle growth

Maca is 18% protein. Maca root proponents have claimed that it possesses natural muscle-building properties due to its rich content of bioactive proteins.

Maca root can help balance and regulate hormones

8 amino acids found in maca root play an essential role in regulating male hormones. Due to this, researchers speculate that maca has an effect on free testosterone levels instead of serum levels.

Maca root can help strengthen bones

Maca root can promote healthier bones and decrease the chances of osteoporosis and other bone-related disorders due to its rich calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, and silica content.

Maca root can cure constipation

Due to its high fiber content, maca helps maintain regularity and, thus, can prevent constipation. As in any natural and organic supplementation or treatment, you should talk with your doctor before using maca root. Also, see Is Maca Good For Men?

How to Use Maca Root

In the Andes regions where it is grown, natives are known to consume up to a pound of fresh or dried maca root per day. Most users take its powdered form from one gram to about 20 grams daily. While there is no specifically prescribed maca powder dosage, it’s recommended to start out with about one tablespoon of powdered maca per day and gradually increase it to two to three tablespoons laid out throughout the day. Many people particularly athletes take maca before exercising to gain that extra energy and stamina burst. Most maca root users recommend not to microwave, heat, or subject maca to high temperatures as it could destroy some of its nutritional content.

Potential Side Effects of Maca Root

Although there are no conclusive findings of marked side effects of maca supplementation, most first-time and even regular users have reported about their experiences while using maca root.

Thyroid issues

Due to its high iodine content, maca is not for individuals with goiters and other thyroid disorders. It is also not advised for individuals who currently use any hormone production inhibitors like Tamoxifen.

Nervous and highly-strung feeling

There were reports of users feeling like they have had too much caffeine after consuming maca. Some have described feelings of being highly-strung, agitated and jittery. This could be caused by taking too much maca too soon. Take only the recommended maca dosage.

Iodine sensitivity

Some users have complained of iodine allergy after taking maca. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking the supplement.

Excessive iron

Consuming over 500 mg of maca can create some reactions in certain users, particularly those who are sensitive to iron. Persons who want to increase their energy or sex drive but are maca-sensitive must first consult their doctor before starting supplementation.

Increased secretion of estrogen

Excessive estrogen secretion in the body could result in irregular menstrual cycles or even certain forms of cancer. Follow the product manufacturer’s dosage recommendation.

Insomnia

Some users complained of insomnia after consuming maca for the first time. For prevention, consuming maca should only be after 2 p.m. Reducing maca dosage should also help.

Over increase in sex drive

Too much maca consumption can increase testosterone production and result in an overly stimulated libido and adversely affected sexual performance. To help solve the issue, maca should be taken only in prescribed dosages and not on a daily basis.

Fatigue

Over-consumption of maca can cause dehydration that can bring the onset of fatigue. The best thing to do to prevent this side effect is to drink a lot of water with maca. It is also urged to consume raw maca and its by-products in prescribed dosages and not on a daily basis.

Increased acne outbreaks

Increased acne flareups is a short-term symptom. The outbreaks will decrease and possibly vanish as the body’s system attains hormonal balance.

Digestive issues

Some maca users have reported gas, bloating, minor spasm, and upset stomach. This could be due to the starch content in raw maca. For users with sensitive stomachs, try gelatinized maca instead. It has its starch content taken out for easier digestion.

Heartburn

This is a very rare side effect but can be troublesome. Ensure that you are using certified fresh and high quality maca. For more on the side effects, be sure to read The Possible Side Effects of Maca Root.

Final Thoughts

If you plan to use maca root, make sure that it is certified fresh, organic and have not undergone the use of pesticides or chemicals. Inferior maca quality could possibly lead to the above mentioned side effects. According to researchers, there are no harmful side effects in using maca root as long as it is certified as organic and taken according to the product manufacturer’s recommended dosage. Before including maca root in your diet, or if you are presently taking any form of treatment or medication, be sure to first consult a medical professional.

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