The 4 Unbelievable Benefits of Maca Root

The 4 Unbelievable Benefits of Maca Root

Doesn’t it seem like there is always a new superfood or “essential ingredient” we need to add to our smoothie?

I understand that if we all followed the hype we would have 50+ powders in all of our smoothies.

Maca root powder is different though.  I promise.

I know maca has been picking up some steam lately in terms of popularity but its for good reason.  Maca has been used for hundreds of years and actually has science to back the claims.  Recent research has validated much of the reasoning for using maca root with little to no negative side effects.

The benefits of maca root date back to Spanish settlers requiring the trade of maca root for payment due to the health benefits for both humans and their cattle. However, it was not until recently that scientists decided to really dig in and discover what native Peruvians have known for centuries. These very findings have created quite the commotion throughout the health world from the U.S. to China with a mad rush to increase production as popularity gores and studies continue to display the power of this golden powder. So what exactly are the benefits of maca root and how can it support your lifestyle?  Let’s dig in…

What is Maca Root?

Peruvian Maca root health benefits
Hailing from the harsh climate of the Andes Mountains in Peru, the maca plant is a true example of survival of the fittest!

Maca is a low lying plant looking similar to a radish.  Grown in the highlands of Peru at high elevation, most commonly around or above 13,000 feet or around ~400m to 4500m, maca is one of the few that can survive the harsh cold and wind at such high elevations.  It is believed that its evolution to be able to survive such harsh weather conditions may contribute to why it embodies so many amazing health benefits.

After harvesting, the root of the plant is ground and dried, making a golden powder that can easily be added to everything from smoothies, soup, bread, and so on.

It has been labeled as a superfood, due to being nutritionally dense and the fact that it contains unique properties that go above and beyond its mere nutritional content.

The demand for maca has exploded globally with sales of maca of around $1.5 billion in 2001 to over $6 billion in 2010 to over $56 million in 2017 [1,2]! This is due to the release of article after article boasting the multiple benefits of maca root along with strong research to fuel the hype.

Overall, maca is an excellent source of a variety of vitamins and minerals including a significant source of vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, and manganese.  In fact, maca is a better source of iron, calcium, and amino acids than a white potato [3]. The most impressive vitamins and minerals contained in just 100g (7 tablespoons) of maca include [4]:

  • 475% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C
  • 82% of iron; and
  • 300% of copper

Maca contains 11% protein and includes several amino acids such as arginine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, glycine, serine, tyrosine, threonine, serine, and valine.  Maca also has several essential fatty acids including linoleic, palmitic, and oleic acid as well as sterols that help in supporting a variety of biological processes throughout the body [3]. Many scientific studies are also showing promise for maca being an excellent adaptogen, which assists the body in its response to stress [5].

Adaptogens help by improving the function of your central nervous system, reducing fatigue and improving mental function as well as concentration. Remember, stress can simply be everyday mental stress that you encounter (such as from that annoying co-worker you have to see every day), or stress placed on the body through a cold, virus, or even as a result of a grueling workout. This is especially true if you’re a high-level athlete or bodybuilder regularly stressing your body to the max in order to maximize performance or muscle size.

So, through its magical array of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants, maca root has been helping the Peruvian people experience increased energy and endurance, improved hormonal balancing, libido, as well as reproductive health to highlight just a few of the many benefits appreciated since the 13th century [6].  Its time we look closer at how maca root may benefit our own health.

The 4 Unbelievable Benefits of Maca Root

Similar to a radish, maca is a small ground dwelling plant.

Maca Root Removes Toxins Reducing Disease Risk   

Overall, our modern day lifestyles have evolved into a state where we are continually bombarded with environmental toxins including such substances as synthetic additives in paints or plastic parts in our cars or offices and chemicals in the food we eat.  Pollutants are everywhere in the air we breathe, sometimes even our water and medications often have subtle side effects disturbing our body’s natural processes.

On a daily basis, most of us are unknowingly exposing ourselves to a host of chemicals and toxins.  While some individuals have strong reactions to such toxins and can clearly notice their effect, many of us tolerate them well without realizing their ability to lead to slow but steady harm.  Through substances like coffee or energy drinks, we often mask fatigue with stimulants or aches and pains with analgesics and then eventually just place the blame on aging.

The many environmental toxins we encounter (along with stress) can cause free-radical damage or oxidative stress within the body.  We are only just beginning to learn through modern science how all of this effects us. Oxidative stress has been shown to play a direct role in early aging, fatigue, and the development of disease including cancer [7].

Therefore, to protect yourself against cellular damage, the need for antioxidants within the diet has never been more important. What’s quite unique about maca, is that it has been proven to contain a high level of antioxidants, reducing damage caused to cells through free-radicals [8].

Even more important for athletes, maca has been shown to have a protective effect on the mitochondria (aka the engine of a cell) of spinal cells AND improve our muscle’s antioxidant activity by providing increased levels of muscle glycogen, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase, one of the most important antioxidants for humans [9].

Maca Root Exhibits Natural Anti-Depressant Properties

Worldwide, it is estimated that around 350 million people suffer from depression, with those numbers continuing to climb [10]. Great emphasis is beginning to be placed on alternative supplements. These supplements work to improve the overall state of mind and treat the root cause of the issue rather than slapping a bandaid on a gaping wound.  Furthermore, most anti-depressant medications are accompanied with unpleasant side-effects, thus making the appeal of natural remedies even greater.

According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, it is estimated that only 20 out of every 100 patients find that anti-depressants have worked effectively for them [13]. Ironically, pharmaceutical giants continue to cash in on multi-billion dollar profits through the distribution of their medication.

In one 12-week study, fourteen postmenopausal women supplemented with 3.5 grams per day of maca and reported that they felt reductions in both anxiety and depression scores [11]. Further, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study of postmenopausal women receiving 3.3 grams of maca daily for 6 weeks experienced significant decreases in diastolic blood pressure and depression [12].

Maca has also been shown to improve mental clarity.  In rat studies, Maca reduced the stress hormone cortisol, which affects many systems within your body [13]. By limiting your levels of cortisol, you’re not only lowering stress levels but also improving your body weight and composition, immunity, and energy levels, as these aspects are all affected by the release of cortisol.

There are many more studies showing support for the use of maca for depression, stress, and various postmenopausal symptoms.  While more high powered, large-scale studies are needed, much of the research thus far has been extremely supportive of its purported health claims.

If you do find that you suffer from depression, we encourage you to seek professional help or speak with your healthcare provider before considering adding maca to your health plan.

Naturally Balances Hormones

Hormones act as chemical messengers throughout the body for a variety of processes. You might know of hormones as being highly influential on mood. However, they also play a big role in regulating metabolism, immunity, sleep and even body temperature.

The prevalence of hormonal issues is increasing at an alarming rate. And, I would bet my bottom dollar that you know at least one person suffering from thyroid or fertility issues. While it is possible to receive hormone replacement therapy and medications for hormonal imbalances, attention is turning to natural hormone therapy, such as the use of maca.

While it’s not fully understood how this magic powder works, maca has been shown to improve the function of the endocrine glands, which are the glands that secrete hormones throughout your blood [15].

Maca has also been shown to significantly reduce the uncomfortable symptoms that are often associated with menopause including hot flushes, mood swings, fatigue and decreased libido [16]. For these reasons, it is becoming a wildly popular remedy for women throughout pre and postmenopausal stages, given its ability to stimulate the overall production of hormones. Bonus: It has even been described as an aphrodisiac by many.  Researchers continue to investigate this claim but thus far have discovered that the aphrodisiac properties may be due to the sterols and prostaglandins present in the roots [3]!

The benefits of maca root for hormone balancing can also be experienced by men, with multiple studies showing that maca can improve semen quality.  In one pilot study of healthy men, it was shown that maca increased sperm concentration by 35%, total sperm count by 84%, and mobility and movement of sperm by a huge 109% [17].  These findings really come as no surprise as early Spanish settlers found increased fertility in maca fed livestock.

Maca Root Increases Overall Energy 

While there are multiple other reported benefits of Maca root, its essential to highlight the claim of increased overall energy.  Who doesn’t want more energy?

Maca first appealed to me a couple of years ago when I heard of its ability to increase energy despite being caffeine free.  Unfortunately, my body does not metabolize caffeine well to the point that I feel best completely avoiding it (thank you genetics).

There are multiple studies supporting the claim of the ability of maca to improve energy from helping endurance to fighting fatigue.

A 2017 study found maca to be beneficial in improving swim duration and average acceleration when given to mice.  Even more interesting is that blood sample testing found that compared to controls, mice who ingested maca had enhanced glutathione peroxidase and creatine kinase as well as decreased lactate dehydrogenase [19].

A similar study completed in 2015 which provided various dosage amounts to mice versus a control group found maca led to reduced exercise-induced fatigue as well as improving energy metabolism and antioxidant status [20].

OK, we may not be mice, but the evidence is promising (and mice are kind of cute) so let’s roll with it.  The research has to start somewhere.  Also, from a personal standpoint, my running times do improve when I stay consistent with adding maca to my protein shakes.

So, give it a try for yourself.

No caffeine or sugar highs and lows, likely increased endurance, improved muscle recovery, and reduced fatigue.  Count me in as a continued maca user.

Health Benefits of Maca Root Infograph

Best Maca Brands and Usage

If you’ve been interested in exploring natural health remedies for a while now, maca is a great place to start in your journey to alternative therapies. It has no known side effects and is safe for short-term and extended use as a dietary supplement [15].

My favorite brand of maca is Feel Good Organics Raw Maca Powder because it is raw, straight from the Andes Mountains in Peru, and reasonably priced.  The greatest concern right now is that due to the sudden increase in demand for maca, a variety of other countries including China have both legally and illegally obtained maca root for growing.  They obviously aren’t growing the plants in their native soil or environment (it is rumored that most of the maca grown outside of the Peru/Andes Mountains is thought to be grown indoors in artificial light with poor soil), so the quality of nutrients is debatable.  Regardless of what you buy, I encourage you to stick with an organic brand that guarantees the maca is 100% from Peru.

Whether you’re looking to simply improve overall health, mood, and wellbeing or increase your energy levels, most everyone can experience the benefits of maca root. However, if you do have a particular condition that has already shown up in scientific studies as being effectively enhanced by maca, you can explore options of supplementing with this powerful superfood.

In general, you might consider the use of maca for the following:

  • Times of high stress or if you consider yourself to lead a fast-paced lifestyle
  • Engage in high-level exercise or are an athlete training at high intensity each day
  • Are in the pre or postmenopausal stages of life
  • When you feel consistently sluggish or have trouble concentrating
  • Have issues with fertility (both men and women)
  • Suffer from feelings of depression or anxiety
  • Consume a diet high in refined or processed foods
  • Work in a job where you are exposed to environmental toxins or chemicals

By consulting with a naturopath or doctor who practice alternative or functional medicine, you can receive individualized guidance on maca use. Your practitioner will review the proper dosage of maca given your unique situation or condition as well as the duration of use needed to improve your symptoms.

If you’re already taking medication for a particular condition, then it is highly recommended that you seek professional guidance before adding or modifying a supplement as well as reducing or eliminating a medication.

How to take it

Maca has a naturally nutty taste to it, this opening up plenty of options in consuming this superfood. Its taste can be masked by sweet foods, or easily added to savory dishes.  In order to maintain your daily intake, it’s all about creating a set habit, ritual or routine for yourself when consuming maca:

  • Add into any of your protein shakes or smoothies
  • Purchase in pre-prepared and convenient capsules
  • Purchase your own plastic capsules which you can fill with the powdered form
  • Sprinkle over salads
  • Stir into a shot glass of water or juice and consume directly (if you’re not put off by the rich nutty taste!)
  • Blend into your recipe mix for energy bites
  • Add a pinch into your afternoon Golden Mylk
  • Make your own cashew butter with a sprinkle of Maca
  • Sprinkle into your coffee (remember, I said sprinkle!  Too much and it will taste like your drinking a root!)

Maca is best consumed in raw form, as cooking or baking may reduce the number of vitamins, minerals and other important antioxidants that are available, therefore reducing the overall maca root benefits.  Personally, I regularly throw organic maca in my protein shake with MCT oil before a run, or with some Copomo Mayan Nut zero caffeine coffee in the mornings and evenings for a pick me up that won’t disturb sleep.

Dosage

There is no set daily dosage of maca, but as with introducing any new supplement into your diet, it’s best to start in small doses and monitor your tolerance.

If you do end up purchasing a maca supplement, you will find that the manufacturer will recommend a daily intake of about 1 tsp or between 1000mg and 3000mg if it is a powder or advise how many milligrams are contained in each capsule.  It is also helpful to remember that if you purchase a loose maca powder that, 3000mg equals 0.6 of a teaspoon.

In order to really determine if maca may benefit you, regular daily use for 10-14+ days may be necessary in order to begin experiencing the benefits.  Remember that maca is a food rather than a medicine, therefore you don’t need to worry as much about overdosing as you would with a medication.  However, this is not a license to be foolish!

By including maca in your diet, you’re taking an extra step towards a holistic approach to your health.  Rather than reaching for other quick energy fixes like that large cup of coffee or sugary snack, maca may provide a boost in mood, energy, and focus without drastic changes in highs and lows.  If you are experiencing repeated bouts of high and low energy throughout the day or even chronic fatigue, you may want to check out our posts 7 Best Tips to Fight Fatigue Symptoms in Athletes and Why the Standard American Diet Causes Fatigue.

By reading this article, we hope you feel equipped with knowledge regarding one of the top superfoods on the planet.  Through the use of natural supplements to improve your health issues, you may find that you’re able to correct nagging symptoms or experience a performance boost without unwanted side-effects.  If you’re experiencing consistent issues with fatigue or GI upset, it may be important to consider an elimination diet first or professional evaluation with a functional medicine practitioner to help determine the root cause of the problem.

At the end of the day, whether you’re a busy parent, weekend warrior, college athlete, or professional athlete, you’ll find many maca root benefits to truly improve your life in a variety of ways.

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184420/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614567/
  3. http://www.mrsresearchgroup.com/report/134170#report-details
  4. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/2193874/0
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21977053
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614576/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4944358/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25037390
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26453017
  10. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/facts-statistics-infographic#2
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18784609
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24931003
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0087089/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614604/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614604/
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614644/
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27621241
  18. https://search.proquest.com/docview/204823537?accountid=50452
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28231388
  20. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/13880209.2015.1087036

About The Author

Michael Bogden

Michael is a residency and fellowship trained sports physical therapist. A life long advocate for exercise and nutrition, he unexpectedly ran into issues with fatigue and recovery which significantly hindered his training. After working closely with his wife, Kylene, a dietitian trained in functional nutrition, he learned an entirely new approach to eating and living a more holistic lifestyle. This dramatic life change lead to remarkable improvement in his overall energy and performance. In 2017, with the help of a Functional Sports Nutrition approach, he improved his half marathon PR by 5 minutes. These improvements inspired him to create the FWDfuel blog with Kylene in order to spread the word so that others could experience the same success.

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