You’ve probably come across Maca extracts at the health food store and are curious about all the benefits people claim it can provide. It’s surprisingly robust in benefits so let’s take a look at what maca is, what kind of benefits it can provide and if it’s right for you.
Lepidium meyenii, or the maca plant, mainly grows in the Andes mountains of central Peru. Sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng, the plant thrives in extremely high altitudes (over 13,000 feet) and harsh conditions. Maca is a cruciferous vegetable in the same family as cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and cabbage, with a long history of medicinal and culinary use in Peruvian cuisine.
The root is the most edible portion of the plant and grows underground in different colors ranging from black to white. Maca root is typically dried and ingested in powder form but can also be found as a liquid extract or in capsules.
Maca root powder tastes nutty and earthy and can be mixed into things such as oatmeal, smoothies, or desserts. Let’s take a look at Maca’s many health benefits.
Maca is commonly called “food of the brain” in Peru, where locals use the plant to improve mental clarity, focus, and memory. According to one study, Maca may assist with motor coordination, cognitive function, and endurance. The study also suggests Maca may slow down cognitive decline as we age. In addition, black Maca is reported to be the most effective for strengthening memory, alleviating brain fog, and fighting depression.
Locals recommend Maca as an aphrodisiac for increasing sexual function and drive. Clinical studies illustrate Maca’s aphrodisiac qualities, and additional research suggests consuming Maca regularly may assist with male sexual desire and libido. Furthermore, Maca may also improve sexual libido and function in women.
Incan warriors were rumored to take Maca before heading into battle to give them an edge against their opponents. After all, they were fighting at 4,000 meters above sea level with 40% less oxygen so any potential advantages made a difference. The Inca said Maca aided with stamina, muscle recovery, endurance, and cognitive function. In addition, recent clinical trials suggest Maca may boost athletic performance. Black Maca is traditionally used with Yellow Maca to aid in external endurance and strength, so put some Black Maca in your pre-workout smoothie for heightened endurance, stamina, and focus during training!
Peruvians swear by Maca as a tonic for resilience and strength against stress and illness, consuming different colors of Maca root (red, black, yellow, etc.) to address various symptoms for balancing their bodies.
Maca produces unique biochemicals known as Macamides, which may help balance our brains to respond to stressors via our endocannabinoid system (ECS). As a result, regular consumption of Maca may help alleviate stress and improve control over the nervous system to regulate hormones, aiding with mood swings, energy, cognition, and immunity. Maca also helps to balance human adrenal glands to keep energy levels more stable. Essentially Maca helps protect you from the effects of external stressors.
Maca root may also help regulate blood pressure. For example, the study cited above noted that women who took 3.3g of Maca every day for a minimum of 12 weeks reported decreased blood pressure. More studies are needed to determine whether this benefit is conclusive, but is one of many possible benefits that Maca can provide.
The sun produces ultraviolet or UV rays that can damage and burn exposed, unprotected skin, particularly during prolonged exposure. While a certain amount of UV radiation is necessary for the human body to form vitamin D, prolonged UV radiation “weathers” the skin, leading to wrinkles and an increased risk of skin cancer. Research suggests that applying Maca extract (a highly concentrated form of the Maca plant) to your skin may provide an additional layer of protection from UV radiation. Traditionally, Maca extract has been used by people living in the Andes Mountains as a form of sunscreen to protect against harsh UV rays at high altitudes.
One study reported that applying Maca extract to the skin of five rats over three weeks protected against skin damage from UV exposure. Maca’s protective effects against UV rays may be attributed to its abundance of glucosinolates and antioxidants. While Maca may offer an additional layer of protection for your skin, remember that Maca extract is not meant to replace conventional sunscreen, and only protects the skin when applied externally rather than being ingested.
Menopause refers to the period when a woman’s menstrual periods begin to permanently slow and stop. During this time, a natural decline in estrogen may result in a range of inconvenient and unpleasant symptoms as the body goes through significant changes. Common menopause symptoms include vaginal dryness, hot flashes, sleep problems, mood swings, and increased irritability.
According to one review of four studies in menopausal women, Maca may help alleviate menopausal symptoms such as interrupted sleep patterns and hot flashes. Moreover, Maca may assist with bone health and help women retain calcium post-menopause, as a decline of estrogen during menopause puts women at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
Maca is typically considered safe for regular consumption and has minimal adverse effects. Maca does contain goitrogens, which are substances that may impact the normal function of the thyroid gland, so if you have thyroid problems, you may want to consult with your doctor before beginning a regimen. Goitrogens are more likely to affect somebody whose thyroid function is already impaired. Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant should also consult with their doctors before adding Maca to their diet.
While the mechanisms by which Maca benefits our bodies are still being studied, it has a long history of providing health benefits to the people of Peru. If you feel like Maca could benefit you, talk to your physician and ensure that it won’t conflict with any health conditions you have or medications you’re taking. If you decide Maca is right for you, consider Best in Nature.