Maca is a great root to support hormone balance: Why you should try it or if it’s not for you....
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Never heard of Maca? It’s a root that the Incas have been using for thousands of years to balance hormones and boost stamina.
The maca plant belongs to the brassica family and like broccoli and cauliflower, is a cruciferous vegetable. The taste is very different though! Maca is a root vegetable, which means that it stores its rich nutrients under the ground in a bulb shaped like a radish or turnip. It’s grown in the mountains of the Andes.
Maca has a great nutrient profile:
It is rich in vitamins C and A as well as B2, B6 and Niacin, but also high in minerals like iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, copper, magnesium and potassium. Maca is also rich in plant sterols that are biochemically related to hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
If you’ve tried or seen Maca, you’ve probably seen it in form of yellow powder. However, Peruvian Maca actually has 13 different colors (or phenotypes), ranging from black, red, purple, yellow to white.
It was found that red and purple Maca showed higher concentratins of Glucosinolates’ when cultivated at higher altitude. The altitude did not have an effect on the Glucosinolates’ concentrations for the other phenotypes. (Source)
For the last 10 years, research has shown that different phenotypes of maca contain different active ingredients, which trigger specific health benefits.
Research into maca’s color benefits has often been done in rats and more study needs to be conducted in people. It has mostly been done on these three shades of maca:
Yellow maca is especially rich in “macamides”. Macamides work in the brain to preserve and increase levels of natural endocannabinoids. Yellow maca is thought to be the best type of maca for daily consumption.
Other benefits include:
Increases mental focus
Red and black maca are more rare and are traditionally reserved for medicinal use:
Red maca is traditionally associated with female energy.
It seems to have an enhanced effect on hormonal issues and can be especially effective for menopausal and post-menopausal women.
According to this study it was found that Maca significantly reduced psychological symptoms associated with the menopause, including anxiety, depression and it was also found to lower sexual dysfunction.
Maca in perimenopausal and menopausal women has been linked to an increase in hormones, including progesterone and luteinizing hormone (which stimulates ovary function). Maca also stimulated estradiol and suppressed the production of chemicals like the stress hormone, cortisol.
Though it’s not well understood how maca works, one of the main theories is that the plant sterols in maca stimulate changes in the action of the HPA axis and also, the adrenal, ovarian, pineal and thyroid glands.
One 2010 study found that red and black maca provided protection against loss of bone density, with red maca being the most effective.
Red maca is also said to have a positive effect on prostate health. In animal models it does have a significant effect on BPH (Benign Prostate Hyperplasia), however more research is needed.
Black maca is traditionally associated with masculine energy and male sexual health and is used as a male aphrodisiac.
Reduces oxidative stress
Increases sperm motility, count and quality
Lowers blood sugar levels
A 2011 study found that it reduced oxidative stress and improved memory impairment due to its antioxidant qualities and ability to inhibit the neurotransmitter ACE - you may remember that one from C*** as it’s an inflammatory pathway that also plays a role in virus replication in your body.
So you see this plant has plenty of benefits!
Let’s resume the benefits of Maca root:
Increased focus and memory
Promotes fertility in men AND women
Balance hormones, especially in women
Improve hormone related mood disorders and reduce anxiety and depression
Reduce hot flashes and night sweats
Protect the skin against UV
Reduce blood sugar levels
Protect against loss of bone density
What to look out for when buying Maca?
When you start looking for Maca, you’ll notice that there’s raw and gelatinized versions available:
Raw means the Maca is unprocessed and has not been heated. For example, the glucosinolates mentioned earlier are an important component of maca that help support breast health and the detoxification of estrogen. Glucosinolates are easily damaged by heat. So, depending on what constituents of maca you are looking to maximize, you might find that a raw version is a better fit.
Gelatinized is more digestible: the gelatinization process removes the fiber and starches that make it hard to digest for some.
Who should NOT use Maca:
Unlike some herbs and phytoestrogens such as soy, maca does not mimic estrogen in your body. It can however, increase the body’s production of estrogen if your levels are too low.
This means it should be used with caution or not at all by women with estrogen-sensitive conditions such as estrogen receptor positive breast, ovarian or uterine cancers, endometriosis or uterine fibroids.
Also, if you have an overactive thyroid, you may find it causes side effects. This may be due to the glucosinolates.
Some people have reported unpleasant side effects when using maca like bloating, cramps, nausea (or a gurgling tummy) and also heart palpitations or the jitters.
If you are having side effects when using Maca, these are some things that you can check:
some companies are mixing Maca with other starches or incipients that can cause digestive issues for some people.
Maca can also be contaminated with mold, so pay attention to purity and lab reports
Maca should come from Peru, but as you can imagine you can already find Chinese Maca that may be impure due to exposure to pesticides, chemical contaminants (including heavy metals), and solvents used during the manufacturing process.
It’s always best to start with a low dose and increase slowly
Everyone reacts differently to nutritional supplements. If you experience side effects from maca that don’t settle, then your body may be too sensitive to tolerate maca and you should avoid taking it.
Maca can be added to many things like smoothies & green juices, muffins, protein balls & bars, homemade cacao chocolate, morning porridge or quinoa, pancakes, hot cocoa, or coconut milk, and more.
Try for instance my Hormone-Balancing Chia Pudding