What is Maca?
Maca is my new best friend. I will name my first born after maca. Maca is a root native to Peru that has been used as a tonic for thousands of years. It is considered an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adapt to stress. It supports hormones naturally, yet it is not a hormone. It is actually a member of the cruciferous family (think broccoli and cauliflower). The root is the most common part used and comes in many different varieties, such as yellow maca and red maca (1).
Maca and matcha get confused all the time. Let’s set the record straight: maca is a root and matcha is a powdered form of green tea. Both are powders and make great beverages but have different effects on the body. Maca can also be taken in tincture or capsule form.
Maca has been around for a long time, yet people are still unaware of the health benefits it can offer.
Surprise, surprise! I’m talking about hormones! It is believed that maca supports hormones by nourishing the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is located in the brain and is part of the endocrine system, which is a system comprised of glands all over the body that secrete hormones. And we all know that hormones do a lot for our health, such as regulate metabolism, manage our blood sugar balance, initiate sleep, react to stress, and so much more. The pituitary gland is known as the “master gland” because it produces many hormones and directs other glands to produce hormones (2, 3).
Maca also provides lots of different nutrients, antioxidants, and fatty acids, which help support hormonal balance – our endocrine glands need nutrients to function optimally.
Maca is believed to help women with fertility (although it is recommended to discontinue use once pregnant) as well as menopause. One study found that maca helped postmenopausal women with psychological symptoms of depression and anxiety when supplementing with maca (4).
Maca is also said to help balance out estrogen levels. Many women tend to have high estrogen which can cause a lot of uncomfortable symptoms such as irregular menstruation and PMS. Maca has been shown to be beneficial for women with PCOS, infertility, night sweats, and hot flashes by helping to keep estrogen balanced. For women with PCOS, maca’s estrogen-regulating abilities may help with symptoms such as acne and excessive hair growth. Numerous studies show that maca boosts female libido as well.
Maca is a member of the cruciferous family, which is known for containing a compound called diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM balances hormones, especially estrogen. We have “good estrogen” and “bad estrogen.” When estrogen is a naive young child, it can take one of two pathways. DIM is the parent that helps guide estrogen down the right pathway. And when one hormone is balanced, it often cascades to other hormones. Supporting healthy estrogen metabolism also supports healthy testosterone, which impacts our mood and libido (5, 6).
Maca benefits the dudes too – improving their fertility and sexual health. In rat studies, maca increased sperm count and motility and some studies suggest it supports healthy prostate function (7).
Improving Energy Levels
There’s no caffeine in maca, yet it can help to enhance energy levels and support endurance in exercise. How is maca giving you an energy boost? While I was not able to find a lot of literature on this, I can surmise that balancing hormones and regulating the stress response might have something to do with it. When the body is in homeostasis, it doesn’t have to spend as much energy trying to recover from imbalances. Beyond that, maca is also rich in nutrients like calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin C, amino acids and phytonutrients.
Getting the Right Stuff
You may have noticed that some maca supplements are very spendy yet you can get it for pretty cheap too. So what’s the deal? In most cases, you want the spendy stuff, but only if the maca is grown in Peru. I’ve heard from a reputable source that some companies buy maca seeds from Peru and grow it in other parts of world and can then sell it cheaper. However, maca grown in Peru has the benefit of being grown in its indigenous soil and environment. Lots of supplement companies can also cut corners (like putting fillers into their supplements) to offer a less expensive product. I’ve tried both cheap and spendy maca and the results are drastically different. Be sure to know where you product comes from and buy from a reputable source.
Because maca is part of the cruciferous family, it contains goitrogens, which can be harmful to the thyroid when eaten raw and in large amounts. If you have thyroid issues, consult with a physician before consuming maca.
Maca is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Always start small when adding in a new supplement. Although maca is generally safe, there is always a potential for interactions with other medications or reactions. Start with a small dose and gradually work your way up to the recommended amount.
How to Enjoy Maca
Maca in powder form is very versatile. It has an earthy, nutty flavor that pairs well with sweet foods. You can add maca powder to your smoothies, coffee, lattes, or make maca bliss balls. I like making maca lattes like this one:
- 1 cup coconut, almond or cashew milk (try this homemade recipe!)
- 3 Tbsp cacao powder (optional)
- 1 ½ tsp maca powder
- 1 Tbsp raw honey or coconut sugar
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
Blend ingredients together in a blender and then warm up on the stove. Enjoy!
Have you experienced the benefits of maca? Do you have any maca recipes to share? Comment below!