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Maca: Everything You Need To Know

Contents:

  1. What is Maca: Lepidium Meyenii
  2. History of Maca
  3. Effects of Maca
  4. Dosage and preparation
  5. Nutrients and Chemistry
  6. Natural Viagra?

What is Maca: Lepidium Meyenii

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii), also known as pepperweed and Peruvian Ginseng, is a native plant of the Andes Mountains, where it has held a place of cultural significance for thousands of years. It is a herbaceous biennial plant of the crucifer family. This family of plants contains over 3700 species that can be found the world over.

Maca can be found growing 3,800 - 4,800m above sea level, within a narrow, high altitude zone of the Andes Mountains. It is its extreme frost tolerance that allows it to thrive in such a harsh environment.

The growth habits, size and proportions of maca have been described as akin to that of a turnip. The main growth of the plant happens underground, where its prized roots develop. Above ground, maca develops a plethora of thin, shoot like leaves that crawl along the ground. These leaves can grow up to about 20cm long, developing in a rosette, with the outside leaves being replaced as they die by new leaves from the center.

Due to the harsh location of its native growth, maca often relies on self pollination to reproduce. Its central raceme produces a few off white flowers which eventually turn into fruit, containing 2 seeds each. Due to the short photoperiod it is exposed to in the Andes, the entire life cycle of maca can take a longer time to complete. However, under optimal conditions maca can complete its life cycle within a year, leading some to consider or believe it should be classed as an annual plant.

It is the root that is harvested for its active properties. This root tends to be triangular in shape, but can vary largely plant to plant. It can also come in a variety of colours, including gold, cream, green, black, red or purple. These colours are due to varying phenotypes and are a good indication of the effects in can have on the human body. For example, cream maca roots, which are very popular in Peru, are though to be much sweeter and grow larger; whereas darker, black maca roots are thought to be best for increasing stamina and energy, but taste quite bitter. Red maca is beginning to increase in popularity as it has been clinically shown to reduce the size of the prostate in rats1.

The benefits of maca can be gained from eating both fresh and dried root, but dried is more common as it allows for easy storage and distribution to the wider world market.

History of Maca

Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) has been used by the indigenous people of the Andes Mountains for thousands of years. Archeological digs have found evidence of primitive maca cultivation dating back to 1600 B.C. Other archeological and cultural evidence suggests that it was properly embraced and domesticated by the Inca Empire around 2000 years ago.

Even back then Maca was seen as a super food, remaining an exclusive privilege of the higher rungs of society, and a reward for warriors who had distinguished themselves - to act as a further battle aid. Maca is said to be the source of the Inca warrior's legendary strength and stamina that they displayed in battle, as well as the reason that the women of the conquered had to be protected from the warriors – in order to avoid the extreme virility and sexual drive that maca empowered them with.

Today, maca is seen as a valuable commodity by the indigenous Peruvians who reside in the mountains. Not only is it a staple of their daily diet, (as not much else grows up there), but it is also used to sell and trade with the lower lands in order to obtain other crops, such as rice and corn. Maca can now be found widely throughout Peru, where it is used to make soda drinks, jams and other various food stuffs. In Peruvian herbal medicine, maca is thought to help with anaemia, TB, menstrual disorders as well as sterility.

The western world first recognized maca in 1843 when it was described by Gerhard Walpers, but it has not been until recently, that it has sharply gained popularity. To give you an idea of the size of today's market consider this. In 1994, less than 50 hectares were dedicated to the growth of maca, by 1999 this had leapt to 1200 hectares – and it has only been growing since.

Why has it suddenly become so popular in the Western diet? Well, we can contribute it to the current cultural emphasis on a healthy lifestyle, and the mounting evidence in the role super foods can play in that. The chemical and nutritional composition of maca make it an ideal super food, and is also known to have the added benefit of being an aphrodisiac.

The current demand for maca is at an all time high and it is only growing in popularity as it gains mainstream recognition.

Maca

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Effects of Maca

Maca is regarded as a super food for a reason. With prolonged use, it has a lot of health benefits that can drastically improve your quality of life – and one teaspoon is only 10 calories to boot!

The following are some of the health benefits that are said to come from consuming maca:

Sex drive and fertility

This is what maca is most known for in the western world. It has been shown that maca can help boost fertility2 in both men and women, help with impotence and increase male sex drive3.

Energy

This is another main use for maca. Most people can feel the boost to energy almost instantly. It can be a great replacement for coffee, as it has none of the addictive qualities of caffeine.

Stamina

Maca is reported to increase endurance4 with long term use in addition to giving the user energy.

Memory

Maca improves both our learning ability and our memory5, it also makes us much more aware and alert.

Migraines

Most migraines are related to hormonal imbalances6. Maca works with the body to help level these out by helping the body produce hormones a lot more consistently and effectively.

Immune system boost

The healthy fatty acids within maca make it a great natural antiseptic and fungicide. When combined with the large amounts of vitamins and nutrients packed into maca, it can act as a great immune system boost.

Thyroid gland

This gland is responsible for the rate at which body turns nutrients into energy. The alkaloids within maca help boost the rate at which the Thyroid controls the metabolism of both calcium and prosperous in the blood.

Stress

The regular use of maca can help reduce the impact of adrenal stress7, both physically and mentally – handy if you are in a high pressure job. Maca will also reduce blood pressure8, helping you stay in control.

Pancreas

Maca can help boost your pancreas, allowing it to maintain blood sugar level much more efficiently.

Healing

Maca boost the rate at which blood clots in wounds, as well as boosting the blood circulatory system as a whole.

Menstrual and menopausal problems

Maca is reported to help relieve some of the symptoms of menopause9, such as hot flushes. It is also thought to help women maintain a more regular cycle.

As you can see, there are a lot of potential benefits to the prolonged use of maca. It is been considered a super food for thousands of years and will likely to continue to be viewed as such for many more to come. A word of caution though, do not take too much too soon – it can be a shock to the system. Make sure to stay within the recommended dosage.

We aim to provide the best possible information on herbs and plants. But this information should not replace professional advice by a qualified medical practitioner.

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Dosage and preparation

Maca root can be eaten both fresh and in a dried form – it is said that the Peruvian people eat up to a pound of fresh maca a day! You will find that dried root is most common as it can be preserved for up to 7 years and is much easier to transport.

Whilst it is the root of maca that is of interest to people, it is fairly rare to find it in this raw form. More commonly you will find maca sold in a powder form. This should be taken in 450mg portions, 3 times a day with food or drink. It is also possible to buy maca in capsule form, with this measurement already weighed out and packaged for you in easy to take pills; but this makes it much harder to be creative with the maca, which can be incorporated into many recipes. The powder has a mild nutty taste that can really enhance a meal.

A good example would be to add the maca powder to a chocolate smoothy, or desert. The subtle nutty flavour will really compliment and bring out the best of the dish.

It is not advised to take it neat as it can be quite overpowering by itself as a powder. You can mix with hot or cold water, or sprinkle it on food for an easy to prepare dose – this will make it much easier to consume. It is also not advised to take it in between meals, as your body will not absorb it as efficiently.

Nutrients and Chemistry

Maca is extremely rich in nutrients. It is made up of roughly 60-75% carbohydrates, 8.5% fibre, 10-14% protein and 2.2% lipids. The majority of the protein contained within maca come in to form of polypeptides and extremely beneficial amino acids. In addition to this, 100g of dried root also contains around 250 mg of calcium, 2g of potassium and 15mg of iron, as well as an abundance of healthy fatty acids (such as linolenic, palmitic and oleic acids).

Maca also contains a high dosage of vitamins, such as C, B2 and B2, as well as a number of alkaloids and minerals.

Chemical analysis of maca has shown that it contains p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, which has been associated with causing aphrodisiac effects. Four different alkaloids have also been identified as being present, although exactly what these are yet is not completely known. Whilst these are not known, alkaloids in plants of the same family have been documented as being cancer preventative, so it is likely that maca may also have some of these qualities as well.

Natural Viagra?

Maca is famed to be both an aphrodisiac and fertility treatment.

It was first noticed that maca had an effect on the sexual health of living creatures by shepherds in the Andes Mountains. They noticed that their flocks seems to be a lot more virile and fertile after feeding them maca. This has been confirmed recently by a study10 that has shown that maca increases the sperm count of livestock.

There have also been a lot of recent studies into the claims that maca increases sex drive and helps with impotence.

Italian researchers gave 50 men suffering from erectile dysfunction11 either a placebo or a daily dose of maca for 12 weeks. They found that whilst both groups reported improvement, the maca group reported a much greater improvement than the placebo group.

Other research12 conducted by British scientists set out to monitor the energy and sexual drive of cyclists. They timed how long it took the group to cycle 40km, and then asked them to fill in a sexual desire survey. After this initial base reading, they gave half the group a daily dose of maca and the other half a placebo. After 2 weeks the cyclists were asked to cycle 40km again followed by another survey. They found that the group given maca completed the 40km faster than their original time, and reported an improved sexual drive – suggesting that maca does act as an aphrodisiac.

Lastly, the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston conducted their own research13. They split a group of 20 patients suffering from a lack of sexual drive due to SSRI medication into three groups. They gave one group a placebo, the other a small dose of maca and the third a large dose of maca. They found that compared to the placebo group, both maca groups reported an increased sex drive, whilst the high dosage group also reported an improvement to sexual function.

The research into the aphrodisiac qualities of maca are still something that are being investigated - as the notion is relatively new to the western world. However, current findings definitely suggest that maca does, in some way, improve the sexual desire and functions of those who use it for a prolonged period of time.

External Resources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC548136/
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/Maca/Fertility
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2928177/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19781622
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691507001433
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23675006
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025608/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24931003
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614576/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20452008
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19260845
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19781622
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18801111
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Maca

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