Maca, Andean maca or Peruvian maca is a herbaceous plant that is cultivated at altitudes of up to 4000 meters above the sea level, in the Andean area of Peru.
It is a particularly robust and resistant plant due to the weather conditions in which it is cultivated, with wide temperature and altitude variations.
Thanks to the high nutritious power of its roots, two specific methods of consumption have become popular: as powder (to be dissolved in liquids) or as capsules. This plant is very similar to a radish in appearance, although slightly bigger and with a thin root of approximately 5 cm long.
For two thousand years it has formed an essential part of the local cuisine of Peru and Bolivia. Maca is boiled and used for the preparation of various culinary dishes.
Practically all parts of the plant are used. The maca root is boiled, producing a sweet liquid or a fermented porridge, while its leaves are usually eaten raw.
The Andean maca is integrated by a main root and a tubercle. It is a rather inconspicuous plant, with an approximate length of 20 cm. The part protruding from the ground is usually consumed as a vegetable.
The Andean Maca roots contain an amazing amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates. This part is dried and preserved, and is available in the form of powder or tablets.
The young plant root has a lot of natural ingredients. Maca also contains essential fatty acids for the organism, such as linoleic and oleic acid.
What ingredients does maca contain?
Maca root contains a variety of vitamins and minerals: iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Essential amino acids: all of them except for tryptophan.
It contains substances such as phytosterols, alkaloids (macaenes 1, 2, 3 and 4), flavonoids, saponins, glucosinolates, macamides, alkamides among others.
Maca helps to restore physical balance and compensate any potential deficiencies in the organism.
Maca’s ingredients promote physical performance and mental resistance.
Maca is used to treat sexual dysfunctions, for which reason it is considered a natural Viagra.
Nutritional Profile of Maca
The root of this plant has a high nutritional profile, similar to that of cereal grains, such as corn, rice and wheat: 60% carbohydrates, 10% proteins, 8.5% fibre and 2.2% fats.
As for the lipid concentration of Andean maca it is of approximately 2.2%, including linolenic acid, palmitic acid and oleic acid. Maca powder has around 10% proteins containing seven of the eight essential amino acids. Although it is not a complete protein, it is an excellent source of amino acids, especially for vegan sportspeople.
Additionally, Maca contains multiple minerals in small quantities (calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, sodium, zinc, copper, selenium, iodine, bismuth, manganese, silicon and tin) which will help the production of antibodies. It is also a good source of sterols, an essential component for the stimulation of the immune system. It also possesses vitamins B, which are the energy vitamins, such as vitamins B1 and B2, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
Properties and Benefits of Maca
Maca is an extraordinarily valuable food and a complete dietary supplement, due to the variety of vitamins and minerals that together form an extensive list of properties. This compensates for the nutritional deficiencies experienced with age, such as the gradually diminishing of the body's ability to absorb nutrients.
It is part of the group of plants called adaptogens, which are those that can normalise or balance the body’s responses, helping to withstand stressful situations which under normal conditions would have a negative effect on its performance, thereby increasing the capacity of our bodies to adapt to environmental factors such as stress, toxins, etc.
In general terms the maca plant impacts very positively on the organism, while it is also considered to be one of the most aphrodisiac plants for both men and women, as well as helping to treat fertility problems. Here are some of its most remarkable benefits and properties:
Improves energy levels
Fortifies the immune system
Increases the brain capacity
Improves sexual performance
Stimulates and strengthens libido
Helps regulate hormone production
Produces an improvement in menopause symptoms
Regulates testosterone levels
Helps relieve menstrual cramps
Is nutritionally dense, providing a large number of nutrients
It has also been scientifically proven that maca consumption for several weeks has a number of beneficial effects such as: increasing sperm quality, number of spermatozoa and their speed.
Maca and its adaptogenic properties
Maca is considered to be an adaptogenic plant, ie its consumption increases the body’s resistance to diseases and stress situations. It intervenes by modulating the metabolism, so that it adapts to unusual situations, physiological changes or periods of higher energy requirements.
Maca, like other plants, such as Ginseng, Rhodiola or Ashwagandha fall into this category of adaptogenic plants.
Maca and menopause
Another use that is attributed to this root is its capacity to mitigate the effects of menopause. Several studies show that the Maca extract help to mitigate the endocrine function, helping to improve or avoid certain hormonal unbalances.
Unlike other plants that are known for their beneficial qualities in periods of menopause such as soy, red clover or hop, maca does not posses phytoestrogen elements.
However, the beneficial effects are thought to be due to the high content of fatty acids (important for hormone synthesis) and its adaptogenic effects. Women that consume Maca can help to improve certain symptoms such as the hot flushes, the improvement of mood and energy.
A study, published in the International Journal of Biomedical Science, establishes the properties of maca as an alternative, non-hormonal, therapy for women during menopause.
The results of the study showed that maca can be a great aid to balance the hormonal levels and mitigate vasomotor and psychological symptoms, such as nervousness, hot flushes, night sweats, depression and mood swings, or heart palpitations, that some women suffer during this period.
Maca and osteoporosis
Maca has the capacity to help women prevent osteoporosis, a degenerative diseases that effects the bone structure and that takes place in 1 of every 3 women over the age of 50.
Commonly, doctors prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which is composed of a series of medications that help to reduce or avoid osteoporosis.
However, very often, this therapy, although it is highly effective and decreases the possibilities of fractures, may affect other organs and even increase the risk of breast and cervical cancer.
Increasingly more women avoid hormone replacement therapies and seek ‘more natural’ alternatives such as including plants in their diet.
One of the first scientific approaches to Maca as an effective remedy against osteoporosis was carried out in the year 2006.
A Chinese origin researcher called Yong-zhong Zhang wanted to study the effects of Maca as a remedy for osteoporosis in rats (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, April, 2006). This subject inspired the UPCH team to research this matter in more detail: comparing the effects of red Maca with the most common treatment to avoid/delay osteoporosis, estradiol (synthetic estrogen).
Using an animal model, the scientists divided around 30 laboratory rats, that had previously been induced osteoporosis, into two groups: one group was provided red maca in high concentrations and the other only HRT. The rat group that had been supplied red maca obtained a spectacular capacity to regenerate bone structures, even more than the group that was administrated hormones.
The group that was supplied with estradiol showed a reduction in the size of the bone orifices and the osteoporosis was reverted. However, the group that took maca experienced the same effects but in a higher degree. Additionally, Maca has the advantage of not damaging other tissues, which is the case of HRT.
Maca and prostate health
Several studies prove that the consumption of maca can help to reduce the prostate enlargement, a very frequent problem in men, especially from the age of 50, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Maca extract can act on the androgen receptors of the prostate, avoiding hormones, that enhance this enlargement, from binding.
Maca and stress
Recent studies have established that the compounds found in Maca could help to reduce the levels of cortisol that are generated by the organism, as well as diminishing the sensation of stress, anxiety and depression.
Maca and resistance increase
Maca supplements are highly consumed by athletes and active people as they help to improve resistance and strength. According to studies carried out in recent years, consuming maca before sport training can help to increase resistance and energy levels.
Maca and sexual desire
Maca, in addition to be an excellent energy booster for body and mind, acts as a great aphrodisiac agent and helps to rise sexual desire.
Studies on the chemical composition of Maca root demonstrate that it includes a substance known as p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, that has the capacity to increase libido and avoid and treat impotence problems.
In order to verify this information, researchers carried out a series of controlled experiments with animals, publishing the results in April 2000, in the medical journal Urology.
During this study, rodents that fed on pure maca extract, reported, not only an increase in energy and vitality, but also an incredible increase in sexual activity in comparison to rodents that did not consume maca.
Other trials have shown that the consumption of maca regulate the reduction of hormonal secretions that take place naturally in the ageing process, reducing or even eliminating certain disorders such as impotence and infertility.
Maca root helps to balance the hormone secretions of organs such as the hypothalamus, activating the pituitary and suprarenal glands, pancreas, achieving an increase in testosterone levels and general levels of hormonal balance. (Dr. M.Ley Ph.D).
This way, maca has the capacity to prevent hormonal changes, increase of sexual potency, libido and resistance and energy levels.
How to take maca?
Maca root can be consumed as a food or as a food supplement. Normally the dry root is consumed as a powder because in this form it is easier to add to soups, purees, stews and porridge, sweet or savoury, or it can even be taken in a glass of water.
Maca powder can be added to fruit shakes, home-produced drinks and vegetable milks. Additionally, it can be used as maca flour for cooking, adding it to bread or bakery recipes, among other things.
It is highly advisable to take maca in the morning, as it increases energy levels and has a great invigorating effect.
Maca supplements, whether in the form of capsules or tablets, are with no doubts the most practical and comfortable way of including this powerful nutrient to complete your daily diet.
The recommended dose of Maca
There is no set daily dosage for the consumption of Maca, however we recommend to take approximately between 1.5g and 3g a day of maca root powder.
If consumed as a supplement in the form of capsules or tablets, the dose that is advised is 450mg a day taken with food. Maca supplements work in small quantities that are highly concentrated.
If maca is consumed regularly, break periods of 30 days are advised, thus, for every 120 days taking Maca, 30 days break should be taken.
The Andean maca dosage will depend of the reason of the consumption, and can be increased in periods of more mental and physical stress, according to the specific intake recommendations.
Side effects and Contraindications of Maca
The studies carried out to the date in animal and in vitro prove that the maca root possess a very low toxicity, which means that it is a very safe plant.
Maca should always begin to be taken in very small amounts and increase the quantity progressively, in case there is an intolerance to the plant and an allergy is suffered. The symptoms of experiencing an allergic reaction are very varied, but generally came across as an urticaria or rash, and reddened skin.
Some people have reported a mild stomach discomfort, wind or even diarrhoea following the consumption of maca, for this reason we should always start by taking small doses.
In case of suffering from hypothyroidism and being under treatment for this disorder, this plant may interact, therefore it should be avoided or consulted about with a doctor.
As a result of maca consumption, there may be an increase of hormonal activity, which could cause acne outbreaks. Some people who are regular consumers of Maca inform that it may produce stomach acidity and heartburn.
It should also not be taken during pregnancy and lactation.
Maca is recommended for the following cases:
In cases of vitamin deficiency.
In cases of mineral deficiency.
When experiencing a lack of physical performance.
When experiencing a lack of intellectual performance.
For treating infertility and reproductive dysfunctions.
What deficiencies are fought with the active ingredients in Maca?
Shortage of trace elements.
Loss of energy.
Lack or shortage of sexual desire.
For who is it particularly important to take Maca?
People with vitamin deficiencies and who wish to increase their vitality.
Those who have a shortage of minerals.
Anyone subjected to psychological stress.
Sportspeople or people who need to carry out any special physical activity that entails physical or mental stress.
People with a weak immune system.
Those who suffer from mood disorders and chronic fatigue, that are frequently feeling down or weak.
Mean and women with a low libido.
Men with sexual dysfunction.
Men with slow spermatozoa.
Men with a shortage of spermatozoa.
Maca, according to experts:
Maca root, whether it is taken in the form of food or dietary supplement, is valued for all the aforementioned properties it possesses that contribute essential vitamins and minerals in our daily diet, as is scientifically proven by various studies and research.
Various clinical studies have also shown that consuming maca for several weeks improves the quality of sperm, as well as their speed and number, with a consequent improvement in fertility.
This implies, at least among men aged 20 to 40 years of age, that taking maca for several weeks has considerable benefits, such as a significant increase in sexual activity and fertility, due to a stimulation of the formation of more male hormones.
Some Maca Recipes
Maca shake with cranberries and strawberry
200g of cranberries
200g of strawberries
1 teaspoon of maca
4 spoonfuls of honey
1 litre of water
Blend all of the ingredients and drink immediately.
1 litre of water
1 spoonful of grated ginger root
5 cardamom seeds
2 sticks of cinnamon
1 spoonful of honey
1 spoonful of maca
2 cups of red tea
1 chopped orange skin
In a small pan, boil water and add the ginger along with the cardamom seeds. Add the cinnamon and boil for 5 more minutes. Sieve. Add the maca, honey and serve.
Maca blend with cranberries and banana
1 and ½ cups of cranberries
1 diced banana
1 teaspoon of maca
2 spoonfuls of organic cane sugar
3 cups of soy or almond milk
Place in the blender glass the cranberries, chopped banana, maca, sugar and milk. Blend for 10 seconds and drink straight away.