Maca is an ancient food and remedy that has recently grown in popularity and become a global supplement. It has a rich history of use in its native country of Peru, and the many health benefits of maca have caused interest in it to surge around the world.
For health purposes, maca can be considered both a vegetable and an adaptogenic herb. It has an ability to help your body function better overall. Specifically, maca can help with energy, libido, mood, and healthy hormone levels.
Here's more about the top health benefits of maca root, how to incorporate it into your diet, and precautions to be aware of.
What Is Maca?
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a root vegetable native to the Andes region of Peru. It grows at altitudes of 11,000 feet or above and thrives in harsh conditions like freezing temperatures, rocky soil, and harsh winds. The plants do produce leaves, but it's the roots that are used as food and medicine.
Freshly harvested maca roots resemble turnips, although they are about the size of radishes. They can be black, yellow, or red. Yellow is the most common color, but all three have similar properties.
If you buy maca as a supplement, it will most often be in powdered form. The roots are dried and ground into a very nutritious powder that can be used as both a food source and a health supplement.
Historically, maca has been much used by indigenous people in the Andes mountain range as a food and medicine. It's believed to have once been used as a form of currency for trading purposes. Ancient Incans also highly valued maca root. They treated it as an important remedy and ate it before going into battle.
Health Benefits of Maca
Rich in Nutrients
Maca root is a very nutrient-rich herb. It draws minerals out of the soil as it grows and provides a good source of certain vitamins. In fact, one ounce of maca powder provides about 133% of your recommended daily value of vitamin C. (1)
It's also a good source of copper, iron, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese.
Besides vitamins and minerals, maca contains plant compounds known as polysaccharides. These specific polysaccharides have demonstrated strong antioxidant activity and may help protect your body from chronic diseases. (2)
Boosts Energy and Stamina
Maca is considered an adaptogenic herb, which means that it naturally helps your body deal with physical and emotional stress. Adaptogens also work over a period of time to restore energy and increase stamina.
Lab studies show that maca can positively affect endurance. (3) The best part is that taking maca won't give you any kind of energy crash in the way that caffeine and energy drinks do. It supports your adrenal glands rather than stressing or depleting them like coffee can.
You can get the health benefits of maca for energy by taking the powder daily or trying a supplement like these Adrenal Assist capsules.
Enhances Male and Female Libido
One of the most traditional uses for maca is to boost libido. This historical use has been confirmed by research studies and likely happens because maca supports your endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating things like sexual function. (4)
Studies have shown that taking maca consistently for a period of about 6 weeks can boost libido in both men and women. It's even been shown to help with sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women that is caused by antidepressants. (5)(6)
Supports Healthy Hormones
Many of the health benefits of maca for hormones come from the amino acids found in it. (7) Amino acids are the building blocks for many different hormones. Maca also supports your endocrine system, which is where hormones are produced.
Maca root has traditionally been used as a tonic for the female reproductive system. It doesn't necessarily improve fertility directly but will support your body if you're trying to get pregnant.
May Relieve Menopausal Symptoms
Because of its positive effects on hormone levels, maca root has shown a lot of potential for relieving menopausal symptoms. Studies so far have shown that it can balance hormone levels, relieve physical symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, and relieve mental symptoms like depression. (8)(9)
It's important to note that results were achieved in these studies after 6 weeks of supplementation with maca. Like other adaptogens, you need to take it consistently over a long period of time so that it can do its work in your body.
Boosts Male Fertility
Maca root has been the subject of several studies testing whether it could improve male fertility. So far, the results have been positive, supporting yet another traditional use for maca.
Small studies have shown that long-term maca supplementation can increase sperm count, quality, and motility. These are all factors that can play a role in male infertility. Other studies have had similar results, although the trials so far have been small. (10)(11)
Improves Mood and Memory
Along with energy and stamina, maca root can also improve your mood and brain function. Its hormone-balancing properties have a positive effect on symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially in menopausal or postmenopausal women. (12)
Black maca has also shown a positive effect on cognitive function, especially memory, in animal studies. (13)(14) This is true of many adaptogenic herbs because they help with mental stressors that may be negatively impacting your thinking.
Taking Maca for Health Benefits
To get the health benefits of maca, most people take it as a powder. The powder has a nutty flavor that is usually easy to disguise. You can add it to oatmeal, smoothies, shakes, applesauce, and many recipes.
If you really have a problem with the taste of maca root, you can get it in capsule form.
A small percentage of people have trouble digesting raw maca powder due to its starch content. If this is the case for you, try using gelatinized maca instead of the raw version. Gelatinized maca has been pre-cooked to remove the starch. It loses some nutrients during this process but becomes more concentrated and easier to digest than raw maca.
Keep in mind that most of the benefits of maca will come by consistently taking it for a period of time. Take it for 4-6 weeks before evaluating whether you notice a difference or not.
Maca is a food substance and can be consumed in large amounts without any side effects for most people. Occasionally, it will cause digestive upset, especially as a raw powder.
If you have thyroid problems, check with your healthcare provider before using maca. It contains substances called goitrogens that may interact with your thyroid gland.
The Ancient Health Benefits of Maca Root
There's a reason why this ancient root has become a modern superfood. Not only is maca nutritious, it functions as an adaptogen to help your body deal with stress and improves your energy, mood, and memory. Men and women can both benefit from maca for enhanced libido and healthy sexual function.
If you haven't tried maca yet, it's incredibly easy to add this powder to your food on a daily basis. Your body and mind will appreciate the results!