Maca (Lepidium peruvianum or Lepidium meyenii) is a root that is consumed as a food and for medicinal purposes. Classified botanically in the Brassicaceae family, Maca is related to cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli, and a distant cousin to the radish. The fertility-enhancing effects of Maca are attributed to greater amounts of glucosinolates in the vegetable compared to other Brassicaceae plants. Despite the fact that it is not a member of the ginseng family, Maca is also known as "Peruvian ginseng".
Long before studies were ever documented on Maca, Incan warriors ate this root before going into battle and its legacy of improving endurance, stamina and energy continues. Ancient Andean mountain dwellers also knew about the ability of Maca to rebuild systems in the body, keeping it balanced and helping them thrive at high altitudes.
In the 1930s, Russian scientists studying plant medicine coined the term adaptogen to refer to a plant that promotes non-specific benefits to an organism while inducing zero negative side effects. Adaptogens support the body in enhancing its power of resistance and its ability to adapt to external conditions. They work with the body's own natural rhythms and help rebuild weak immune systems, re-mineralize, and increase energy and endurance in the body. Working in harmony with the body, organically grown Maca root is considered by researchers to be a true adaptogen.
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How to Determine the Quality of Maca
The best Maca is from Peru and is grown at high altitude, where there is no pollution and it is processed without the use of chemicals. Usually the highest quality Maca is certified organic.
You can tell the quality of Maca when you taste it and smell it. The color of Maca powder should not be too bright. It is usually light to dark brown. The smell is nice and sweet, and the taste is a strong, rich, nutty flavor.
Not all Maca is produced and processed naturally. Some online sellers mix the root powder with other ingredients, so it’s important to know the source of the Maca that you are buying.
Why is Maca so Popular?
One of the main features of Maca is the shocking amount of nutrition it provides. Chemical analysis reveals that Maca contains dozens of naturally occurring beneficial phytochemicals, and an astonishing profile of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, sterols, and glucosinates.
Maca is a nutritional powerhouse. This root contains substances which nourish and calm the nerves, aid in digestion and support glandular health including:
- Calcium, in higher concentrations than in milk; vital for the nerves and circulatory system and the formation of healthy bones, teeth, and heart functions.
- Vitamins B1, B2 and C, which help convert carbohydrates into energy and is involved in many of the body’s reactions.
- Alkaloids which are responsible for regulating the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.
- Macronutrients, particularly proteins with an average of 11% per gram in the dry root, high quality carbohydrates used for sustainable energy, and over 20 fatty acids.
- Micronutrients, especially minerals which help with many of the body’s functions.
- Fiber, including cellulose and lignin which stimulate intestinal health by helping to eliminate waste and toxins produced within the body.
- Sodium, which, along with potassium, was discovered to help reduce arterial pressure and
- Potassium, which supports the regulation of osmotic pressure.
Maca contains other important minerals such as Copper, Zinc, Phosphorus, Iron, Manganese, Silicon, and Magnesium, plus Carotene and Niacin.
With its many health enhancing properties finally becoming widely known, Maca root is a whole food product that can make people feel, look, and perform better. It is even said to give a feeling of euphoria.
What are the Benefits of Taking Maca?
There are many known benefits of taking Maca. Doctors and scientists are now finding that Maca is one of the best natural ways to regulate and support endocrine health. Maca does not contain any hormones itself. Rather, it provides a unique set of nutrients that directly fuel the endocrine system and help the glands to produce vital hormones in precise dosages determined by one's own body.
One of the primary reasons it is popular with women is its ability to regulate hormones and its positive effects on the endocrine system. Maca has been shown to regulate the menstrual cycle and to relieve unpleasant effects of both menopause and andropause. It is also known to increase libido, energy, stamina and athletic performance, enhance brain function including learning, memory, and cognitive skills, reduce anxiety, support sexual health, increase fertility, and speed wound healing and recovery. Maca helps build muscle.
Most people feel their mood and energy level lift when using Maca. This happens because the naturally occurring hormonal precursors and sterols in Maca have been proven over time to assist in in these ways. With so many people today suffering from stress related issues, depression, chronic fatigue and lack of mental clarity, the possibilities of Maca being an excellent, safe and non-addictive alternative to support health are tremendous.
Types of Maca
While this fresh vegetable is readily available in Peru, it is most commonly taken in North America as a supplement in the convenient form of a liquid or dried powder extract, whole root herb, or as gelatinized root.
There are different types and colors of Maca, including yellow, black, and red Maca. Black Maca seems to have the greatest effect on sperm count and erectile dysfunction, followed by Yellow Maca. Each variety is slightly different but with many of the same qualities. Red Maca more rare and is the variety most associated with reducing prostate size.
How to Use Maca
Powdered Maca root can be added to smoothies, juices, and other recipes. While raw powdered Maca root is available for people on a raw food diet, Maca can also be used in cooked or baked recipes such as bread, cake, soups, etc.
According to Drugs.com, Maca provides benefits without the side effects associated with many medications and even with other herbal remedies. Individuals with thyroid conditions should not take this supplement because of the glucosinolate content, which inhibits thyroid activity. "The Physicians' Desktop Reference" notes that Maca might cause an allergic reaction in some people.
If you are suffering from breast or prostate cancer, or hypertension, you should avoid using Maca. Since Maca root provides energy, it can be too much if taken late in the day, possibly interfering with sleep. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid Maca as there is no research on effects in the fetus or infant. As always, consult your doctor if there are any important issues or specific questionable drug interactions.