Maca (Lepidium meyenii walp.), a biennial herbaceous plant of the family Brassicae, which is cultivated mainly in the central Andes of Peru, has been used as both a food and a traditional medicine in the region for over 2000 years. The subterranean parts of the plant have long been used as a staple foodstuff by indigenous peoples in the Andean region, but the plant is also valued for its medicinal role.
Peruvian maca root comes in 3 colors ; yellow, black and red. Scientific research has shown that these colors have somewhat different properties.
Yellow maca is the most common and used for their enhanced sweetness and size. It is often referred to as a natural Viagra because of its instant effect on the body in creating a long lasting libido. It can be consumed in its vegetable form or the powder can be used as salad dressings, or consumed with fruit smoothie. Yellow maca has a tangy taste. Research has showed that yellow maca is very helpful in dealing with symptoms associated with menopause, hot flashes and balancing hormonal levels in the body.
Black maca is harvested from the root of dark colored maca and is considered the strongest in energy and stamina-promoting properties, being both sweet and slightly bitter in taste. The taste of black maca can be compared to the roasted soya beans. Black maca also offers great help in boosting fertility and enhancing sex drive. Black maca is also believed to possess the abilities to strengthen the immune system against common infections such as flu and cold, researches have also shown that black maca helps enhance sleep qualities and reduce aches and pains.
Red Maca is the rarest of all varieties of maca. Red maca is becoming very popular as it contains the highest amount of amino acids which are the building blocks of protein in the body. Red maca is recognized for its malty taste and it has been found to be very helpful in handling stress, and depression.
A nutritionally dense superfood
Maca is very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It is also a good source of vitamin B6, potassium and manganese, and a very good source of vitamin C, iron and copper. It also contains significant amounts of amino acids, carbohydrates, and minerals including calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, iron, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B12, C and E. There are over 20 beneficial fatty acids, both saturated and unsaturated, including omega 3 linolenic acid and omega 9 oleic acid. It is so nutritious because it absorbs almost all the nutrients contained by the soil in which it is grown.
Maca for Increased Energy
Maca is very different from other types of energizers on the market. It contains no caffeine, no processed sugar and no pharmaceutical energy enhancers. Maca boosts your energy in a balanced and sustained manner does not stress your adrenal glands like energy enhancers.
Maca for Libido & Fertility
Maca has been used for centuries in the Andes to enhance fertility in humans and animals. Although maca is a plant extract and not a drug, it is one of the most commonly cited “natural drugs” for the improvement of sexual desire. The hypothesis that maca may be effective in improving sexual function is supported by several lines of evidence. Animal experiments suggest that maca has spermatogenic and fertility-enhancing activities, which are likely due to the phytosterols or phytoestrogens present in the maca. Recent clinical trials have also suggested significant effects of maca for increasing sperm count and mobility and improving sexual function in humans. The potential bioactive ingredients in maca include macaridine, macamides, macaene, gluosinolates, maca alkaloid, and maca nutrients.
Maca for Postmenopausal Women
Recent research shows that Maca has actually stimulated estradiol levels, suppressed follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and increased HDL. In addition, Maca significantly reduced both the frequency and severity of hot flushes and night sweats. Furthermore, studies on Maca are now showing a significant reduction in psychological symptoms as well, including anxiety, depression, and sexual dysfunction. As such, Maca tends to treat menopausal symptoms as a whole; it doesn’t treat any one specific symptom of menopause (such as hot flashes) alone.
Maca for Balancing Hormones
Maca does not provide hormones to the body. Instead maca works as an adaptogen which responds to each persons body individually. If the body is producing too much of a particular hormone, maca will regulate the production downward. However, the body is producing too little, it will regulate the production upward. Hormones regulate many things including mood, growth, sexual development, and tissue function. It also play a role in many diseases, like cancer and depression. Maca has been shown to be beneficial for all sorts of hormonal problems including PMS, menopause, and hot flashes.
Maca for Learning & Memory
It was suggested that the effect of black maca on learning and memory may be due to the presence of polyphenolic compounds.
Natives in the central Peruvian Andes attribute the use of maca with improved school performance. Experimental studies have shown that black variety of maca has positive impact on learning and memory in animals. Black maca improved learning and memory in mice and in memory impaired in mice. Three varieties were studied (black, red, and yellow) and black maca was the only one showing significant biological effects. It was suggested that the effect of black maca on learning and memory may be due to the presence of polyphenolic compounds.
Maca as Food
All maca varieties are related in many ways but slightly different in taste.
Maca is sold as a vegetable in grocery stores worldwide as well as in its supplemental form. Maca is best used without cooking or baking. The easiest way is to add a teaspoon to a tablespoon to individual smoothies or protein shakes.
Start slow before working your way up to larger doses. Start with 1/4 tsp. in the morning. You can repeat the same at night, always taken with meals or just before eating. You should not exceed three teaspoons a day and do not take it all at once. The latest it should be taken is just before dinner, as it may affect sleep.
Maca is adaptogenic. Adaptogens are plants (e.g. ginseng) that raise the physical body’s state of resistance to diseases through physiological and emotional health improvements. Adaptogens have a normalizing effect, i.e. counteracting or preventing disturbances to homeostasis brought about by stressors. Moreover, they offer a broad range of therapeutic effects without causing any major side effects. It is not recommended to take two or more adaptogenic herbs together. Also avoid taking maca with dong quai, black cohosh, licorice root and fertility drugs.
Not enough is known about the use of maca during pregnancy. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you may want to avoid maca until further research is done. It is also shown to cause goiter in people with thyroid conditions, particularly when taken on a low-iodine diet. Consult your physician if you are taking any hormone related medication due to maca’s effect on hormones.
Raw vs Gelatinized Maca
Raw maca powder has the full spectrum of nutrients preserved in it, including all minerals, vitamins, enzymes and glucosinolates. The sugars and starch in raw maca are not destroyed during processing so it is the best choice for athletes and those who want to build their muscle mass. Raw maca powder is also better at increasing energy, reducing recovery time and fighting fatigue, all associated with the effects of enzymes.
Gelatinized maca may be more suited for those with weaker digestive systems.
Gelatinized maca is where raw maca is put under pressure and light heat. This type of processing removes all starch from the plant, making it easier to digest. Gelatinization removes some of the nutrients present in the raw powder, but it also makes the remaining nutrients more concentrated and bioavailable. It may be more suited for those with weaker digestive systems. Some people have reported stomach pain and gas after consuming raw maca powder. The gelatinization process takes care of these issues, as it separates the fibrous parts of the plant and makes it easier to digest.