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The Health Benefits of Maca Root

April 14, 2017 by Ginger Hultin MS RDN

Maca: a hormone balancing root used in South America that you’ll likely see popping up in your local natural food or supplement store sometime in the very near future if you haven’t already noticed it. Never heard of maca? It’s still somewhat of a new trend but it’s showing up on menus around the globe for good reason..there are some really interesting information about the health benefits of maca root. 

Maca grows wild at high elevations in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina and now continues gaining popularity in U.S. cuisine. A relative of the radish, maca often appears a brilliant yellow color with an odor similar to butterscotch. Traditionally, maca root was roasted on a pit with other vegetables or dried and ground into a powder. Maca is considered valuable because of its health benefits, and dried maca root was historically used in trade. Now you can find maca featured in recipes for main dishes, desserts, and drinks. Maca can be added to meals, as the powder or cooked root, or taken as a supplement in capsule form.  

A member of the Brassica family, maca contains similar health benefits to other cruciferous veggies (think cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts) but is also known for its potential for boosting libido and aiding in fertility. I’m here to explore the benefits of Maca Root with you today!

The Health Benefits of Maca Root

Aside from showing up on menus around the world as a nutritious ingredient, maca is used for many health conditions from anemia to chronic fatigue syndrome and enhancing energy, athletic performance, and even memory. It is best known for aiding in female hormone imbalance, enhancing fertility in men and women, for sexual dysfunction associated with antidepressant use, menopausal symptoms, and to boost libido. For these therapeutic effects, you’ll find maca in supplement form – in powders and pills. Keep in mind that most research on maca needs further investigation and some is of questionable clinical significance. 

Here’s a breakdown of some of the studies and considerations you should know about before you try maca root yourself. 

Hormones

Maca is best known for aiding in female hormone imbalance, enhancing fertility in men and women, and boosting libido. Ancient cultures have used it for these health reasons for hundreds of years and it’s still catching attention around the world because these issues affect a lot of people. 

It may also help the body adapt to stress by reducing stress hormones like cortisol. When cortisol is high, the body feels like it’s in permanent fight or flight mode and it can cause side effects like weight gain and hormonal imbalance because, after all, cortisol is a hormone. 

Mood

Some studies in humans found a perceived increase in mood and a decrease in depression and anxiety when people took maca for 12 weeks. Maca’s impact on mood is likely due to the same mechanism that supports hormonal balance. Hormones have a lot to do with the way we feel so any hormonal imbalances can cause us to feel depressed, anxious, or just off. Maca is considered an adaptogen because of its ability to help the body adapt to stress, and this can result in a better sense of wellbeing and overall elevated mood. 

Menopause

Maca may help balance estrogen and progesterone in menopause. Maca is not a hormone, but it can have a direct influence on hormones to promote this balance. Women taking maca reported fewer hot flashes and increased energy. More human studies are needed to know if this is the case. Even so, the mood and libido boosting properties of maca could be helpful during menopause for some people. 

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a condition that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, and a high waist circumference. It can put those affected at greater risk for heart disease and type two diabetes. Some small studies in humans showed decreased symptoms of metabolic syndrome including decreased blood pressure and better glucose control. However, much of the research on maca has been in animal studies and more extensive investigation is yet to be done.

Safety Considerations of Maca

For safety, keep in mind that because maca extracts may have estrogenic effects, women with hormone sensitive conditions like breast, uterine or ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids should avoid excessive intake in food as well as taking supplement form. Definitely discuss with your doctor or dietitian if you have any questions about taking a supplement such as maca. I’m always here to chat about whether or not it’s right for you. The food source can likely be incorporated safely for most people but again – make sure to use it appropriately. 

Maca as Food

Maca eaten as a food source appears safe with no reported adverse side effects. It is a root that, like other roots, contains mostly carbohydrates with a small amount of protein and very little fat. You can find it baked or roasted, in soup, and sometimes in a fermented drink called maca chicha. It is a nutrient-rich food that contains minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, potassium and copper as well as B vitamins, and vitamins C and E. 

Maca does need to be cooked, boiled or dried before consumption and is not generally eaten raw. The indigenous people had wisdom on this and it was always traditionally heated before consumption. Because maca is grown in humid conditions, raw maca can attract a mold that produces toxins that are carcinogenic and can affect the gut microbiome. Heat destroys this mold and the compounds it produces so cooked maca is safe to eat. Cooking maca does not reduce its impact on health. The beneficial compounds in maca not only tolerate heat but may even be more active after being heated. 

 

Have you explored Maca Root yet?

Let me know about your experience in the comments!

4 Comments

  1. Amy Gorin on April 14, 2017 at 10:56 am

    I love exploring new food trends! Great post.

  2. Katie on December 10, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    I’ve been curious about maca for a while so I enjoyed reading this and learning more about it.

    • Ginger Hultin on December 11, 2020 at 10:06 am

      Oh wonderful! I’m so glad it was helpful 🙂

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Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO

An award-winning, nationally recognized nutrition expert and media spokesperson.

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