Plant-based superfoods are the optimal source of nutrition and power. Packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, and healthy fats, these types of foods offer many important nutritional benefits. One such highly nutritious superfood and a great source of vitamins and minerals is maca root.
Grown at high elevations in Peru, maca is a root vegetable consumed for its restorative properties since ancient times. It may possess numerous health properties, such as helping memory and concentration, improving energy and stamina, and boosting muscle mass and strength. It’s also thought to alleviate hormone imbalances and increase libido.
How maca works is largely unknown, but anecdotal reports of maca’s benefits are widespread. This article investigates what maca is, how it could benefit you, its side effects, and more.
What Is Maca?
Maca is a Peruvian plant that grows in the high plateaus of the Andes mountains. It is known scientifically as Lepidium meyenii and is derived from the root of a cruciferous vegetable, which means it’s related to cabbage, broccoli, and kale. For millennia, people in the Andes have used the root as a food supplement and traditional medicine.
The root of the maca plant – the edible part – looks similar to a cross between a radish and parsnip. It comes in various colors, including yellow, black, or purple. It’s typically consumed as a ground powder but is also available as a liquid extract and capsule.
Maca has an earthy and nutty taste, which some people dislike. Therefore, many users add it to smoothies, shakes, and juice to disguise the flavor. Some people also enjoy using it as an ingredient in coffee, chocolate, or oils. In Peru, the whole maca root is sometimes added to oatmeal and soup, roasted and eaten as a vegetable, or made into an interesting fermented drink known as “maca chica.”
Maca Root Vitamins
What’s inside maca that makes it so beneficial? It is hailed as a superfood because it contains key nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, and fiber. From a nutritional perspective, it’s a good source of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Maca root could prove useful for people who exercise regularly due to its high amino acid content.
Maca contains more than 20 amino acids, which the body uses to help grow and repair muscle. As a result, maca root could prove useful for people who exercise regularly.
Here is a quick overview of what you can expect from an ounce of maca root powder:
- 133% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin C
- 15% of the RDI of Vitamin B6
- 23% of the RDI of Iron
- 85% of the RDI of Copper
- 10% of the RDI of Manganese
- 16% of the RDI of Potassium
- 1 gram of fat
- 2 grams of fiber
- 4 grams of protein
- 20 grams of carbohydrates
- 91 calories
The fact it contains so many vitamins and minerals while being low in fat and calories makes maca root a highly useful supplement.
Maca Root Benefits
The range of vitamins and minerals means maca could help increase immune health and general wellbeing. Below is a quick overview of just some potential maca benefits.
A 2002 study reported that men who used between 1500mg and 3000mg of maca daily experienced an increased sex drive compared to those given a placebo.
More recently, a 2010 review on the relationship between maca use and sexual activity also found evidence to suggest that maca could increase libido. However, the authors noted that more research was necessary. While maca is often associated with increased libido in men, it could have a similar effect on women.
Improved Male Fertility
Several studies have found that maca can help produce better sperm by supporting higher sperm counts and healthier sperm overall. One of the studies included nine healthy men. After using maca for four months, researchers noted an increase in the count, volume, and motility of sperm.
Therefore, incorporating maca into a daily routine may be helpful for couples trying to get pregnant.
Reducing Menopause Symptoms
It is widely believed that maca may help balance estrogen, the hormone responsible for regulating the female reproductive system. During menopause transition (the time leading up to menopause), estrogen levels are unstable and cause various symptoms.
One 2006 study found that postmenopausal women who consumed two maca tablets daily experienced reduced symptoms, such as night sweats, mood swings, and hot flushes.
A 2015 study published in Climacteric reported that maca might help improve depression in postmenopausal women. The women who participated in the study consumed either maca or a placebo for six weeks. The study concluded that the women who took maca experienced a significant decrease in depression and diastolic blood pressure compared to those administered a placebo.
The researchers found no differences in hormone levels (FSH, TSH, SHBG, and estradiol), lipids, glucose, and serum cytokines.
Maca root is an adaptogen – a class of herbs known to help the body adapt to stresses. Adaptogens support the body’s systems, particularly the endocrine, nervous, and immune systems, to help individuals manage stress. Therefore, as an adaptogen, maca may support the endocrine system, which is responsible for producing hormones that regulate metabolism, sleep, and mood.
A balanced endocrine system means minimal fluctuations in these hormones, so women who take maca may notice more stable moods and sleep patterns.
Maca Root for Muscle Growth & Sports Performance
Maca is linked with impressive muscle-building properties because it is rich in bioactive proteins that promote natural muscle growth. Maca roots are 18% protein, making them a popular supplement choice among athletes and bodybuilders.
Along with muscle strength, maca could boost energy and improve exercise performance. For example, one 2012 study on rats found that maca increased the animal’s swimming endurance capacity.
Additionally, one small study on eight male cyclists reported that after two weeks of maca usage, the cyclists completed a nearly 25-mile bike ride faster than before they began using the root.
However, there is currently no scientific evidence supporting claims that maca improves muscle mass or strength.
Maca Root Uses
The above is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the potential benefits and uses of maca extract. It is also linked with the following:
- Increased energy levels
- Protecting bone health (especially in women after menopause as they are at a higher risk of osteoporosis)
- Reducing the impact of the sun’s UV rays on the skin
- Improved learning and memory
- Reduced prostate size
- Lowering blood pressure
- Fighting free radicals
One of the best things about maca root extract is its easy incorporation into a diet. Here’s a quick example of a maca powder smoothie:
- 150ml of milk (dairy/almond or soy)
- A banana
- A scoop of protein powder
- A handful of strawberries
- Two teaspoons of cocoa powder
- Maca root powder
Incidentally, if you’re looking for other healthy ingredients to add to smoothies, consider other adaptogens. These include mesquite, crushed pearl powder, and reishi mushroom powder or capsules. The latter is arguably the best-known as it is widely available from brands such as VidaCap.
The amount of maca you should add depends on your needs. However, here’s a quick overview of the suggested consumption level.
What Is the Ideal Maca Dosage?
The appropriate maca root dosage depends on several factors, such as the user’s age, health, and several other aspects. Currently, there is not enough scientific evidence to determine the optimal dose for maca. However, the maca root powder dosage generally used in studies ranges between 1500mg and 5000mg per day.
That said, maca is considered safe as a food or supplement if you don’t consume more than 3000mg a day for up to four months. However, more tests are necessary to determine if it can cause harm to children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with kidney or liver disease, and at what dosage.
Also, please note that maca supplements can vary greatly in quality and their active ingredients. Therefore, with so many factors at play, there is no standard dosage.
What Are the Maca Supplement Options?
Traditionally, Peruvians dry maca naturally, boil it, and drink the juice. These days, however, there are maca pills as well as powder. Let’s look into both options and also investigate a big debate that’s brewing amongst maca sellers.
If you’re looking to save money, you might gravitate towards maca powder. It is cheaper on the whole and enables you to experiment with different recipes. If you can handle the taste, you’ll find it a useful supplement to add to food, shakes, or other cool recipes. We advise you to select products free of soy, wheat, egg, milk, shellfish, and other common allergens. Brands such as Bulk Supplements and Now Supplements tick this particular box.
There is a serious debate occurring in the maca world at present. Sellers of gelatinized maca powder claim the product should never be sold raw. After all, it is traditionally cooked before eating. The suggestion is that raw maca is made from complex starches that are hard for the human digestive system to break down.
Additionally, it contains a high concentration of enzymes that prevent the breakdown and assimilation of food. The result is interference with nutrient absorption from the food we consume.
Proponents of gelatinized maca powder say it has a sweeter and smoother taste and is less bitter than raw maca. ‘Gelatinized’ maca doesn’t contain gelatin. It is merely the name of the cooking process that heats and pressurizes the roots to break down their starch content before they are ground down. Finally, this form of maca contains more iron, zinc, and calcium than raw maca.
Essentially, the healthiest maca root is seemingly gelatinized AND sourced from Peru. Then again, raw maca sellers claim their product contains more nutrients!
Alternatively, for those not keen on the idea of tasting maca, there are maca root pills. You can consume these pills as you would any other daily health supplements and vitamins.
One of the main advantages of maca capsules is their ease of use. You don’t have to add them to food or drink. Instead, swallow the pills with water, and you’re good to go. Also, you know exactly how much maca is in each capsule. Solaray and Sunfood are among the best-known sellers of maca pills. You can also visit sites like allstarhealth.com to find more brands.
You may also notice the presence of maca in certain supplements, so keep your eyes peeled. For instance, Global Healing sells Androtrex, which contains maca, ginseng, and ashwagandha, among other ingredients. It is designed to support male hormone balance and promote a healthy sexual response.
Again, you have to decide if you want the maca powder inside the capsules to be gelatinized. Check the list of ingredients to ensure it contains no preservatives, additives, or fillers. It is also best to select maca from manufacturers who offer third-party lab testing. Finally, look for products that one of the following bodies have certified:
- The United States Pharmacopeial Convention
- NSF International
- Consumer Labs
Maca Root Side Effects
Currently, maca is not linked to any health risks in most people, and it is unlikely you will suffer side effects from maca root when you use it in moderate doses. A study published in Pharmaceuticals in 2016 found that black and red maca extracts were well-tolerated and safe.
However, due to its effects on hormones, people with thyroid problems should exercise caution with maca. Maca contains goitrogens – compounds that may interfere with the normal functioning of the thyroid gland.
Anybody with a hormone-sensitive condition shouldn’t consume maca without talking to a doctor first.
Additionally, the effects maca has on hormone levels are not properly understood. For instance, some studies have reported that maca does not affect sex hormones. However, some animal studies suggest elevated progesterone, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone levels.
Lastly, anybody with hormone-sensitive conditions, such as uterine fibroids, breast, uterine, ovarian cancer, or endometriosis, shouldn’t consume maca without talking to a doctor first.
Final Thoughts on Maca
Maca is an exciting product that is only becoming well-known now despite being used for thousands of years. It is available in raw and gelatinized form, and you can buy capsules and powder.
Maca could boost libido, improve mood, enhance endurance, and improve fertility. However, research on maca is still in its early stages, and there is limited data available to back up these claims.
Researchers must carry out more extensive and larger-scale human studies to determine the precise maca root benefits and how effective the results are. Although there are a few potential risks associated with taking maca, it seems most people can consume the supplement without any cause for concern.