A couple of days ago I started the topic of Superfoods. We discussed whether there is any truth to the claims and reviewed benefits of certain foods, claimed as superfoods. Today I would like to give special attention to Maca Root Powder and its benefis, since it is one of the foods I use nearly on a daily basis.
I came to finding maca root while I was researching ways to reverse hypothyroidism. When I read about maca’s ability to help balance hormones without negatively affecting them I had to try it. I knew there would be no harm–it is a plant; so I had nothing to lose and much to gain. I ordered my first bag of maca through a local co-op [I have to tell you that I LOVE co-ops--the price of maca was about 50% less through the co-op than what I have to pay now]. I strongly believe that maca has been very helpful in my healing process and reversing hypothyroidism. I could not pin point to tell you if it gives me an energy boost or works in another specific way, since I have a very nutrient rich diet and believe that all of the foods I consume work together in helping me heal, but I have no doubt that raw maca powder does it’s job too.
I am going to recap some of the material we covered earlier about maca and then get a bit deeper into its history and benefits.
Maca Root Benefits
Maca is endocrine adaptogen. Maca does not contain hormones itself, instead it provides a unique set of nutrients that directly fuel the endocrine system and help the glands to produce vital hormones in precise dosages predetermined by one’s own body.
Adaptogen, by definition, is a substance which brings the body to a heightened state of resistance to disease through physiological health and brings balance .
- Increases energy and endurance
- Increases stamina
- Alleviates chronic exhaustion (fatigue) syndrome
- Improves sexual function in men and women
- Enhances fertility in people and animals
- Helps to regulate menstrual cycles
- Reduces hormonal dysfunction during menopause and andropause
- Can regulate hormonal imbalances
- Aids in alleviating depression- gives a sense of well being
- Reduces anxiety and stress
- Has a beneficial action on the circulatory system;
- Speeds wound healing and reduces anemia
- Enhances memory, learning, and mental ability
- Has a beneficial action on the circulatory system; gives skin a more youthful appearance
- Helps treat anemia, rickets, osteomalacia, and stomach cancer
- Good for healthy teeth and bones
- Acts as a fungistatic and bacteriostatic
- Acts as an anticarcinogen and antioxidant
- Is an alternative to anabolic steroids, helps to build muscle
- Libido enhancer
As an adaptogen, maca works broadly to contribute to overall well-being. It nourishes and calms the nerves with calcium, phosphorus, vitamins B1 and B12, and fatty acids, all of which work eneficially on the nervous system.
It stimulates the appetite and aids in digestion with calcium, vitamins B1 and B2, B12, and fatty acids. Its phosphorus is a primary building block in the cell fuels Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and glucose-6-phosphate (G6P).
At the same time it supports the adrenal glands so they don’t have to rely on damaging cortisol to fuel the body. Its sterols, calcium, and vitamin C help build muscle mass and its starches aid in physical endurance. Its alkaloids help the body assimilate all these nutrients just where they are required.
In addition, recent studies of maca also show:
- Its fiber as well as glucosinolate content show promise in helping combat some cancers.
- Bio-available calcium, in conjunction with its alkaloids, make it an effective bond builder, thus reducing osteomalacia and rickets.
- Some of its fatty acids function as fungicides and local antiseptics, which may aid in overall immunity enhancement.
- Tannins bind and precipitate proteins, which improves the nutritional value of maca.
- Saponins and terpenoids may aid as a sedative, expectorant, pain reliever, anti-tumoral, and analgesic.
- Effects general and not localized to a specific organ.
- Normalizing action irrespective of the pathological state.
Background and History
Cultivated for thousands of years at elevations over 13,500-14,000 feet, maca had been an important food and medicinal supplement for villagers who inhabited the Peruvian highlands. It has even been used as currency, and even in our modern times still is in some regions.
The Incas found maca so potent that the root was prescribed to warriors in preparation for battles to increase their strength and endurance. It has been told that outside of war-time, however, warriors were banned from consuming maca due to its ability to increase the libido–a fact confirmed by modern science. During peaceful times the consumption of maca was restricted to be used only in the royal court.
When Spaniards conquered Incas, they became aware of maca’s value and collected tribute from the Incas in maca roots for export to Spain. The Spanish royalty learned of maca’s benefits and used it as energy enhancer and for nutrition. As the time went on, however, the knowledge of maca’s properties had been lost. It was not until mid- 20th century that this potent plant was rediscovered and regained its place on the list of power plants.
Today maca root is consumed by people from all around the world, including professional athletes, those looking to increase their energy and libido, and by many who suffer from health ailements, one of which is hormone imbalance.
The nutritional value of Maca is high. According to Dini et al (1994) y Li et al (2001), the chemical constitution of Maca is the following:
- Maca is rich in quality carbs, which, combined with its alkaloids and other nutrients make it a great choice for sustained energy
- Maca is loaded with bio-available plant protein that is easy for the body to assimilate
- Maca contains relatively high levels of cellulose and lignan, both of which stimulate intestinal function. Fiber is a key component to a healthy digestive and elimination system.
59% carbohydrates, 10.2% protein, 8.5% fiber, 2.2% lipids.
Essential Amino Acids:
Nearly all including Aspartic Acid, Glutamic acid, Serine, Histidine, Glycine, Threonine, Alanine, Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, Valine, Methionine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, HO- Proline, Proline, Sarcosine. These drive many cellular functions in the body including sexual and fertility functions.
Free Fatty Acids:
20 have been found of which the most abundant are linolenic acid, palmitic acid, oleic acid. They work to support cellular function. The most abundant fatty acids adding to Maca’s nutritional value are linolenic acid, palmitic acid, oleic acid and steric acid.
Maca has vitamins: B1 (helps the body convert carbohydrates into energy. Essential for good heart, muscle and nervous system function.) B2 (important for body grown and red blood cell production), C (supports anit-oxidant activity), B3 (Niacin–supports healthy circulation).
Maca has minerals:
- Calcium—maca contains higher levels of calcium than milk. Calcium is crucial in bone development as well as for nerve and circulatory system health.
- Phosphorus—important for the hemostasis of calcium as well as for transmitting electrical stimuli for brain and muscle action.
- Magnesium—essential for the synthesis of protein and for muscle and nerve activity. Crucial for heart health.
- Potassium—works within the cells to help maintain healthy osmosis.
- Sodium—along with potassium can support positive circulation
- Copper—supports enzyme health.
- Zinc—helps in clarity of thought and mental function
- Manganese—supports healthy growth
- Iron—vital component of hemoglobin. Supports health muscle growth.
- Selenium—protects cells against free radicals.
- Boron—supports proper metabolism.
Campesterol, stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol
Alkaloids, Aromatic glucosinolates including:
Benzyl glucosinolate, p-methoxybenzyl glucosinolate. These are responsible for activating hormone regulators located in the brain that in turn regulate the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.
benzyl isothiocyanate, p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate
Nutritional Profile of Dried Maca Root
(Average 10 gram serving)
|per 10 g||Amino Acids||per 10 g||Minerals||per 10 g|
|Protein||1–1.4 g||Alanine||63.1 mg||Calcium||25 mg|
|Carbohydrates||6–7.5 g||Arginine||99.4 mg||Copper||0.6 mg|
|Fats (lipids)||220 mg||Aspartic acid||91.7 mg||Iron||1.5 mg|
|Fiber||850 mg||Glutamic acid||156.5 mg||Iodine||52 mcg|
|Ash||490 mg||Glycine||68.3 mg||Manganese||80 mcg|
|Sterols||5–10 mg||Histidine||41.9 mg||Potassium||205 mg|
|Calories||32.5||HO-Proline||26.0 mg||Sodium||1.9 mg|
|Isoleucine||47.4 mg||Zinc||380 mcg|
|Vitamins||per 10 g||Lysine||54.5 mg||Fats/Lipids||per 10 g|
|B2||39 mcg||Methionine||28.0 mg||Linoleic||72 mcg|
|B6||114 mcg||Phenylalanine||55.3 mg||Palmitic||52 mcg|
|C||28.6 mg||Proline||0.5 mg||Oleic||24.5 mcg|
|Niacin||565 mcg||Sarcosine||0.7 mg|
There is more to maca! If you search the web, including my Maca Root Benefits article, you will learn that maca enhances fertility. It works as an adoptogen and is great for men and women alike. While it does not have any hormones of its own, it helps to balance hormones in each gender as the body needs it. I know it is a tall order and seems hard to believe, but I dug up a few studies to make sure of it for myself before I told you this. Here are just a few of them.
- Maca improved semen parameters in adult men–it improved sperm production and sperm motility (source) (No wonder Inca warriors were banned from consuming maca due to its ability to increase the libido! During peaceful times the consumption of maca was restricted to be used only in the royal court.)
- Maca uniquely enhances the LH serum levels of pituitary hormones in female rats. These findings support the traditional use of Maca to enhance fertility. (source)
- Randomized clinical trials have shown that maca has favorable effects on energy and mood, may decrease anxiety and improve sexual desire. (source)
Now, do not get me wrong, I am not saying that if you eat a horrible diet and take maca it will solve all of your fertility and energy problems. Not at all! Diet is always the first thing we should improve on before trying any other solutions! However, a good whole food based supplement or an herb, unlike useless (or even harmful) extracted vitamins, is always a welcome addition to a well-balanced, health promoting plant-based diet.
So, is Maca a superfood? As I have said it before, I do not believe that there is one food that we can survive on and live off of–our entire diet must work in harmony to improve our health. Not everyone will have access to maca, and, although, no one plant is alike, all having different nutrient profiles, the nutrients found in maca can also be found in other plants. Of course, they might not be all found in the same plant, but each plant has its own super powers. So, if you have access to maca, like I do, I highly recommend it, because maca roots benefits have been evident in my life and in the lives of many of the BODY BY PLANTS participants. If you do not, do your best to find a combination of different plants to get the same nutrients you can add to your diet.
The Maca I Use
As of January 2014 I began using maca powder produced by The Maca Team. Here is why.
This is a big deal breaker for some–maca can have a strong smell and taste. I used it all the way into my pregnancy and then developed an aversion to it. I tried encapsulating it, but even a whiff of it would send me packing. I thought I would have to say good-bye to maca forever. Even after pregnancy I had to work through taking it–I would make maca “shots,” and even then had unpleasant “after maca” burps and a funny feeling in my stomach on occasion.
In January 2014 I tried maca produced by The Maca Team:
- Raw Red Maca
- Gelatinized Red Maca
- Raw Black capsules
All vegan. All organic.
I committed to trying them all before passing a judgement, since I would never endorse a product I would not buy myself.
Right out of the package I noticed that this maca had a milder smell to it than what I was used to. The first couple of days I took maca capsules. No problems! No burps, no funny feeling in the stomach. I got more brave and tried the gelatinized maca powder for a couple of days. Still nothing! So, I worked up my way to the raw maca powder. I did not even make a “shot”–put it right into my smoothie, as I used to. The smell of maca was there, but it was mild. The taste of the smoothie was only slightly altered. Minutes and even hours later I still had no “after maca” effects. I was sold! I knew that I found a winner and found my new maca provider.
Ever Tried Maca?
If you have, let me know if you felt it make any difference in your health.
If not, share your thoughts and questions in the comment section below.