Maca root (lepidium meyenii) is an adaptogen and a member of the cruciferous family, like broccoli and cabbage, but due to it’s unique properties it considered one of the world’s natural “super foods.” Maca is grown high in the mountains of South America, mainly in high altitude regions of Peru.
The pleasant tasting root is usually available in powder form after being harvested and grounded down. The maca root benefits include a positive effect on hormone balance, energy levels, and a health booster.
And not only is it a natural source of healing nutrition, but it also has a long history of being a safe superfood that has been consumed for its medicinal benefits for thousands of years in regions of the Andes Mountains.
Maca is a pleasant tasting root usually available in powder form. It is very rich in nutrients (has a higher calcium level than milk) and is very nutrient dense.
Maca Root benefits include increased fertility in both men and women, hormone balance, booster for the immune system, and increased energy, stamina, improved sexual function, memory, and focus. (1, 2)
Maca is considered an “adaptogen”, a name given to certain herbs, plants, and natural substances that help the body naturally adapt to stressors like a busy schedule, demanding job, or illness, for example. (3)
Another unique fact about maca root is that historically it has been considered a very potent aphrodisiac and a traditional fertility secret of populations living in the Andes.
Consuming maca often makes people feel more “alive”, energetic, and leaves them with a sense of well-being, all of which are thought to be due to its ability to restore proper hormone balance and elevate “feel good” endorphins. Another benefit of maca is its relatively high amount of absorbable plant-based nutrients, including protein, fiber, calcium and magnesium, among others.
Maca Nutrition Facts
Maca root powder is comprised of approximately 18% protein, 76.5% carbohydrates, 5% fat, and 8.5% fiber (indigestible carbohydrates). Maca provides a powerful source of nutrition, including:
- Over 20 amino acids, including 8 essential amino acids
- 20 free-form fatty acids (such as lauric, linolenic, palmitic acid, oleic , and steric acid)
- Vitamins B-1, B-2, C and E
Maca is also a rich source of phytonutrients.
There is no particular recommended serving size of maca according to experts, however most people feel best when starting with about 1 tablespoon daily (in powder form) and possibly working their way up to 2-3 tablespoons, spread throughout the day. Because maca can help increase energy and stamina, many people like to consume it before exercising.
In the Andes Mountain, locals may consume as much as a pound of dried or fresh maca root daily. Most people supplement with 1g to 20g daily in powder form.
Top 5 Maca Root Benefits
Although maca itself contains no actual hormones, most of maca root’s benefits are attributed to its ability to help restore sexual, endocrine (hormonal), and mental health. Here is how maca may be able to benefit both men and women:
1. PMS, Menopause, and Women with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Maca Root is well known to help with hormone balance that often contributes to improving the symptoms of PMS and Menopause. In females with PCOS, maca is believed to help by controlling estrogen levels in the body.
Estrogen levels that are either too high or too low can make it difficult for a women to ovulate and become pregnant. Therefore balancing the amount of estrogen that a women produces, and in turn the amount of related progesterone produced, is very important for increasing reproductive health, fertility, and decreasing symptoms related to PCOS- like irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair growth, and more. (4)
2. Women’s Hormones, Fertility, and Sexual Health
A 2008 study from the journal Menopause showed that maca benefits had positive results on boosting menopausal women’s moods and decreasing levels of anxiety and depression.
The same study also showed that the improvement in mood led to increased sexual libido. (5) A separate study done in 2008 by CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics showed that maca had the ability to increase sexual libido in women, likely due to its positive effects on serotonin levels, the “feel good” hormone. (2)
In one study done using animals and maca, it was found that in female animals taking maca, multiple egg follicles were able to successfully mature, which is important for ovulation and reproductive health. (4)
Maca is believed to restore women’s hormonal balance by supporting the endocrine system and aiding in the regulation of healthy adrenal and thyroid hormone production. (3)
The adrenal gland and thyroid gland play a major part in regulating many feelings – everything from stress levels to appetite. Restoring the health of these glands is paramount for someone wanting to feel their best.
3. Male’s Testosterone Levels and Fertility
In clinical studies, serum levels of testosterone were not shown to be affected by maca. Black maca however, has been shown to have positive effects on sperm production, more than yellow maca and red maca.
Red maca has its own benefits for male hormonal health. It has been shown to reduce prostate size in studies done on male rats. This points to the conclusion that maca may possibly help improve human prostate health as well.
In other studies, maca has also been shown to improve sperm production, mobility, and volume, all important factors of increasing fertility. (1)
In another 2010 report summarizing the results of 4 clinical trials carried out by BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, maca was able to show benefits related to improving sexual dysfunction and sexual libido in adult men and women. However the other two trials did not show the same positive results, so more formal research is still needed to determine the exact power of maca on fertility. (2)
Even though the studies haven’t yet show maca to naturally boost testosterone, there are other great natural alternatives that may help that you can find in this article on how to naturally increase testosterone.
4. Energy, Memory and Mood
Those who regularly use maca powder report that it makes them feel more awake, energized, and driven, often relatively quickly after beginning to use it. A positive attribute of using maca for increased energy compared to using caffeine is that maca does not give most people “jitters” or a sense of shakiness like high levels of caffeine can.
Clinical trials have shown that maca has positive effects on energy, stamina, and mood. Maintaining positive energy levels is related to having lower levels of anxiety and depression, both of which maca has been shown to positively help achieve.
Exactly how maca increases energy is still unknown, however it’s believed that it may be able to do so by helping to stabilize blood sugar levels (which decrease energy spikes and dips), and to maintain adrenal health, which regulates mood and energy throughout the day. (3)
Maca benefits also include regulating the hypothamlus, helping the pituitary gland to properly function, which is another key element in balancing focus and energy. (4) An increase in focus, energy and mood enables people to concentrate better and therefore to improve memory and ability to complete tasks.
5. Antioxidant Booster
Maca root acts as a natural antioxidant, and boosts levels of glutathione and SOD (superoxide dismutase). These are two major disease fighters in the body. Results from recent studies demonstrate that maca root has the ability to help prevent the development of chronic human diseases that are characterized by high levels of “bad” cholesterol, high antioxidative states, and impaired glucose tolerance. (6)
And because maca root increases the glutathione levels in the body, it not only improves your immune system and disease resistance, but also it is helps balance proper levels of cholesterol in the body. Plus, it significantly improves glucose tolerance, by lowering levels of glucose in blood. (6) This is especially important for those who need to worry about heart health and conditions like diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
While more research is still needed to reveal how exactly maca benefits the body’s hormonal and nervous systems, initial studies that have been completed have shown promising results for use of maca.
Maca Side Effects
Although maca does not generally produce harmful side effects in those that use it, and it has been safely consumed for thousands of years, there is still more to learn about the exact safety and side effects of using maca for medicinal benefits. (2)
Because of maca’s effects on hormone levels, physicians believe that maca should not be consumed by people who rely on hormone-altering medications for treatment of illnesses like breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example, or for other serious conditions. People who have high blood pressure are also advised to not consume maca.
More research is still needed on whether or not maca is safe for use in pregnant or nursing women. So, until it is confirmed to be safe, it is best for these women to avoid maca. (2)
Where to Buy Maca
Maca can be found in most health food stores in powder form. You may also find it available in capsule, liquid, or extract form. All forms are thought to be equally beneficial, however its best to buy maca from a quality harvester that ensures its 100% pure maca root powder and ideally look for a variety that is raw and organic.
Maca comes in a variety of colors, most commonly yellow, black, and red. All colors of maca have similar benefits, although specific maca types/colors are thought to be more beneficial for certain medical conditions. If you are not able to find maca in a store, it is widely available online, often at lower prices.
How to Use Maca
There are many great ways to incorporate maca root benefits into your diet!
If you are new to using maca powder and want to experience its benefits yourself, look for maca in its most readily available powder form. Then begin conveniently adding it to meals that you would otherwise be making anyway; like breakfast, for example.
Most people prefer to not microwave or heat their maca powder at high temperatures, for example when baking, because it’s possible that some of the nutrients are diminished through the heating process.
Many people also use maca by adding it in powdered form to different recipes that adjust well to the slight sweetness of maca. While not overly sweet tasting, maca has a natural nutty, slightly sweet quality to it, similar to cinnamon or nutmeg. The taste of maca root blends well when added to a fruit smoothie, oatmeal, or cereal.
My favorite way is in a smoothie, like my Chocolate Banana Nut Smoothie Recipe. Try it out and see if you soon experience the same positive results that thousands of other maca users already have!
Also, check out these articles on other adaptogenic herbs like Maca: