Amazing Maca

In a busy society where stress predominates much of our lives, it is adaptogens like Maca that show great promise. As to the question of “why should I take it”, Maca has a unique chemistry that seems to address many aspects of health, not the least of which is sexual health and desire in men and women. Libido has been shown to decrease as stress levels increase. A healthy sex life has been touted as a key to overall health as has been shown to improve many things including mood, blood pressure, sleep quality and immune system function via positive hormonal and biochemical reactions.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a plant native to the South American country of Peru. It has been used among Peruvians for over two millennia in the Central Andes at elevations of over 13,000 feet. Maca grows there in a climate of extremes, intense cold, extreme sunlight and ferocious winds. Peru has almost quadrupled its export of Maca to North America over the last decade. Maca has been the study of much research into its health benefits; experimental evidence and cultural use has shown Maca to have promise in many different areas. From energy and stress management, to fertility and sexual enhancement, to memory and learning, Maca is a plant with many chemical constituents which exert several different effects.

Maca is a member of the Brassica family of plants (cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, watercress) and consists of an above ground leafy component and a below ground root component. It is the root component that is primarily used and studied. The roots vary in size but are approximately 4″ long by 1″ wide. After harvest they are traditionally dried, giving it the ability to be stored for long periods of time and then boiled in water to become soft for consumption in a liquid or juice-like form.

Maca Chemistry

Maca has many different chemical components including the following:

  • 13-16% protein and rich in essential amino acids like arginine, leucine, phenylalanine, lysine, glycine and glutamic acid. Other amino acids are also present including tyrosine, threonine, methionine and proline.
  • Approximately 60% carbohydrate, 9% fibre and 2% lipids. Of the free fatty acids present, most abundant are the linoleic, palmitic and oleic acid forms.1
  • Contains minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, copper and potassium.
  • Contains macridine, macaene, macamides and the maca alkyloids. Macaenes are unsaturated fatty acids. There has also been shown to be concentrations of sterols including beta sitosterol, campesterol and stigmasterol as well as the compound benzyl glucosinolate.2
The Health Components of Maca Maca root contains greater amounts of glucosinolates than the other members of the Brassica family. Glucosinolates contain enzymes and antioxidants and glucosinolates that work with folate, flavonoids, and vitamin C to cleanse the body of free radicals and other toxins. Experts suggest eating up to five servings per week in addition to other fruits and vegetables. Other glucosinolate-rich vegetables include leafy greens, such as kale, cabbage, and collard and mustard greens, as well as arugula, bok choy, and turnips. Fertility enhancing properties are thought to be due to the action of the aromatic isothiocynates within the glucosinolate compounds. Aphrodisiac properties are attributed to the prostaglandins, sterols and amides contained within the polyunsaturated fatty acids.8 How Can Maca Help you Feel Better? There has been much research done on Maca in the last decade looking at its various biological actions, both in animals and humans. Some of the health benefits of maca that have been investigated nutritional status, health, sexual desire, fertility and endurance/sports well as its anti-stress properties, neuroprotective effects, protection from UV radiation and ability to increase levels of antioxidants in the body. With respect to human research, much of the study has been in the area of sexual dysfunction. With our high stress lifestyles, issues of sexual dysfunction have been increasing. Current estimates are that they affect approximately 30 % of the male population and up to 45% of the female population.3 Most of the issues concerning women surround sexual desire (interest in sex) while in men it is related to concerns with erectile dysfunction (ED).
Maca Boosts Sexual Function Recently, a systematic review of maca’s effects on sexual function in humans was performed.4 According to the review, two trials suggested a significant positive effect of maca on sexual dysfunction and sexual desire in healthy menopausal women5 or healthy adult men.6 Some other trials failed to show effect yet did show maca’s effect on self rated sexual desires compared to baseline and placebo.7 With respect to erectile dysfunction (ED), a further randomized control trial using an index scoring system showed a significant effect on the subject’s perception of general and sexual well-being.9 Additionally, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in healthy men aged 21-56 found that supplementation with Maca for eight-12 weeks improved sexual desire. Doses of around 3 g of Maca have also been found to reduce sexual dysfunction scores and increase libido. One study in post-menopausal women found that 3.5 g of Maca over six weeks reduced sexual dysfunction, anxiety and depression, all without actually changing hormone levels, suggesting that Maca also works in ways not related to hormone levels.21 Maca to Improve Mood and Energy Levels Maca has been shown to reduce levels of anxiety and depression on inventory scoring tests.10,11 It was also shown to act as an energizer via a self-perception survey compared against placebo in healthy men.12 Maca Lowers Blood Pressure In populations traditionally consuming maca, systolic blood pressure was lower than those not consuming maca.13 Perhaps this is due to the high levels of potassium contained in maca, as potassium is seen as a key nutrient to help reduce risk of hypertension.13,14 Maca Benefits Memory & Learning Three varieties of maca (yellow, red, black) have been studied on this subject, with black being the only variety to show any significant biological effect.15 Studies have been performed with both alcohol and aqueous extracts and both were found to have similar effect in improving learning and memory.15-17 This research was done in rodent models and not human trials, however. Maca for Overall health A recent study investigated the health status of a Peruvian Andes population that traditionally consumed maca compared to a population from the same area which did not consume it. The study included a survey based on numerous health factors of men and women aged 35-70 years old. As noted in Figure 1, Maca consumption is associated with higher scores in health status, including lower rates of fracture, lower body mass index, lower systolic blood pressure and decreased signs of mountain sickness.18

Safety of Maca

Maca has been used for centuries, traditionally in the Peruvian Andes with consumption after boiling.19 In addition, both in vivo and in vitro studies demonstrate safe use with no noted hepatotoxicity.20 The fact that this plant is technically considered food and has been used in traditional Peruvian cultures for centuries lends to its safety as well as intrigue. Look for Maca to continue to be a topic of research and discussion in the years to come as it is a unique plant with much still to be discovered.

What You Need to Know

The root of the maca plant has long been used by ancient cultures throughout history. It is safe and effective for helping to restore balance and harmony within the body. It is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and important chemical components such as glucosinolates and fatty acids. Some of maca’s most well recognized health benefits include: its ability to enhance sexual desire and function, lower blood pressure and to support memory, learning, adrenal function, energy levels, and overall health and wellness.

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