Maca for Your Mojo and More!
At extreme elevations in the Andes Mountains, the hardy inhabitants grow maca, probably the highest elevation food crop in the world. Temperatures in this region can drop to well below freezing and up to 60° F any time of the year. The wind blows incessantly and the sunlight is intense in this oxygen-poor environment. This inhospitable climate requires a robust people who thrive on a highly nutritious diet. And that’s where maca comes in.
For over 2,000 years, the people living in this region have cultivated maca as a staple in their diet and as a supplement for improved health. Maca looks similar to a radish or turnip. Maca is grown primarily for its bulbous root, but its leaves are also edible. Because the climate is so harsh, maca usually requires two years to mature even though it’s classified as an annual plant.
Maca a Superfood
Maca belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. The root bulb grows to a size of 1-to-3 inches in diameter. The Peruvians and Bolivians who grow maca eat it raw, boiled, roasted, or dried and powdered in an abundance of creative ways. Many describe maca’s flavor as “pungent and sweet” and “pleasant” with a similarity to butterscotch. There are three varieties of maca root: black, red and cream-colored.
As a food source, maca root is extremely rich in nutrients. It boasts a higher calcium level than milk and contains good levels of:
Maca root also provides over 20 amino acids, 8 of which are essential. Maca is rich in the B vitamins, C, and E, and is high in protein and fatty acids., ,  All these factors qualify maca as a “superfood.”
Maca is classified as an adaptogen like ginseng, licorice root, and Rhodiola. Many of maca’s health benefits point back to this quality. While dozens of studies have been conducted on maca root’s health benefits, most of these have been small. Some of these studies are on humans, while others are on animals.
As a result, some may wonder, “Why so few studies and with so few subjects?” But the majority of large clinical studies are funded and conducted by pharmaceutical companies who stand to gain financially from those studies. What that means is that those elaborate studies usually focus on a synthetic drug manufactured by a company for profit.
In the case of naturally occurring foods and supplements like maca, studies tend to be small because they are conducted by a college, university, or special interest group. A large pharmaceutical company has nothing to gain financially by demonstrating the health benefits of maca or other natural supplement.
There is a lot of anecdotal support for the claims around maca. But here again, people tend to dismiss purely anecdotal evidence in favor of hard, scientific proof. However, the fact that these cultures make certain health claims about maca after consuming it for 2,000 years must carry some weight!
We’ve already seen how nutritious maca is, so let’s look now at some of its other health benefits.
- Helps balance hormones. Maca’s many amino acids provide what our bodies need to regulate our hormones. This is good news for women dealing with symptoms of menopause and PMS. Clinical studies have demonstrated maca’s positive impact in relieving many of the symptoms of menopause. Maca root has also been effective in treating acne brought on by hormone imbalance. Psychiatrist and functional medicine physician, Hyla Cass, MD claims, “In my practice, I have seen maca restore hormonal imbalance and related sexual desire and fertility in both men and women.”
- Reduces anxiety and stress and elevates mood. These are characteristics common to adaptogens in general and supported by clinical trials as well. A 2008 study in Australia that followed two groups of women for 12 weeks reported significant improvement in anxiety and depression for those who took maca root over against a placebo. This is great news for those who suffer from anxiety and depression as the prescription drugs for these maladies are highly addictive with nasty side effects. Dr. Joseph Mercola writes, “Studies show that maca is just as effective as pharmaceutical treatments for depression, but without the negative side effects associated with them.”
- Improves fertility. In particular, black maca root has been shown to increase sperm count in men. While red maca improves ovulation and overall reproductive health. The studies that back these claims have been small but promising. In one study, nine healthy men were followed. They consumed maca for four months, after which they experienced an increase in the volume and quality of their sperm.
- Heightens sexual libido. Maca has long been used in the Peruvian culture as a means to enhance sexual desire. Since this is a general characteristic of all adaptogens, this should not surprise us. Again, studies have demonstrated this phenomenon in both men and women. Two such studies occurred in 2008. Both studies were reported in scientific journals and found that taking maca root as a supplement increased sexual libido in women. Another study demonstrated that maca root assisted men in overcoming erectile dysfunction. Maca is often referred to as “Peruvian ginseng,” because ginseng is another adaptogen credited with improving sexual function.
- Increases energy. As with other adaptogens, maca root can help increase energy and stamina to improve both athletic performance and aid with a busy lifestyle. In a study involving eight male cyclists, subjects completed a 25-mile, timed ride without the benefit of maca. Then they supplemented with maca for 14 days and completed the same ride again. After taking maca, they improved their riding time.
- Improves mental clarity and memory. Animal studies have demonstrated that maca root improves learning and memory. A study published with the National Institutes of Health in 2016 confirmed that maca can help arrest age-related cognitive decline and therefore improve memory and mental clarity. The Peruvians give their children maca to aid their cognitive skills in school.
- Promotes healthy teeth and bones. Maca root contains high levels of bio available calcium (higher than milk). Calcium is needed for healthy teeth and strong bones. In one animal study, half of the subjects received maca and the other half a placebo during a 28-week period. The maca subjects showed increased bone size and calcium content over against those who took the placebo.
Numerous sources indicate that the color of the maca root is important depending on your intended purpose. Apparently, the mineral content accounts for the color. The three main colors of maca are black, red and cream. So if you choose to introduce maca into your life as a supplement, you’ll want to find out from the supplier what color maca they would recommend for your particular needs.
As a food, the recommended dosage is one tablespoon per day. There are no known side effects or dangers associated with maca root. However, some people report upset stomach from eating maca root, so you may want to start out with ½ teaspoon per day. The dosage for maca root capsules is typically 500mg, twice daily. Not enough is known about any impact on women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, so it’s advised for them to avoid maca root.
Here in the U.S., maca root is primarily available in powdered form either bulk or in capsules. You can add powdered maca to drinks, smoothies, meal entrees and dessert recipes, or simply take it as a supplement. You’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to thinking up ways to integrate maca into your diet!
Maca powder is reasonably priced and with the tremendous variety of its applications you should have no trouble working it into your eating plan.
Which of the 7 health benefits of maca root has caught your attention? Why not order some and try it for a couple of months? See how you like it and what improvements you experience and let us know what you think.