Maca - a top natural performer for PMS

Maca Only Grows In Peru

typical Peruvian woman with child and llama for post about maca

This portrait is brilliant on so many levels. Thanks to jennifrog via Flickr Creative Commons

I would not normally endorse something that seems rather exotic and comes from a long way away, but there are always exceptions and maca is one of them.  Maca is currently little known outside of the world of endurance athletes, hardened travellers, raw foodies and ‘superfood’ enthusiasts.  However, it’s been consumed in Peru in a variety of forms since the time of the Incas, working as an energy booster, hormone regulator and aphrodisiac (well, if you feel energetic, and your hormones are doing what they should, I suppose that’s a normal outcome!).  The Spanish Conquistadors also ate maca (and fed it to their animals), recording how it helped them adapt to the alien conditions of the Andes.  

maca root via wikimedia commonsMaca is basically the dried and ground up root of the maca plant, which looks a bit like a turnip, and is related to the cruciferous family of vegetables, i.e. the powerhouse plants  - kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, for instance.   It’s a very hardy plant that grows in extreme temperatures at high altitudes in the mountains of Peru, and to survive in such a challenging location the maca plant has to extract every bit of goodness out of the mineral-rich volcanic soil.  

What Makes Maca Special 

Maca is a safe, non-toxic adaptogen, which means that it works within the body to strengthen it, balance it, and help it respond to internal and external changes.  It works on the whole system, and can be taken by both men and women as both sexes can use maca in the way most suited to them.  Clever, eh? 

Full of vitamins, minerals and plant sterols (which lower bad cholesterol, reduce inflammation and help us build strength and recover quicker from physical and mental stress), maca is known for boosting energy and increasing endurance and libido.  All of these are good things in themselves, but we of course are most interested in maca’s role in promoting endocrine balance.  There are women all around the world who can testify to the positive effects of maca on symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome, perimenopause and menopause.

Maca helps you make the hormones you need

Maca seems to work by regulating the brain chemistry signals which lead to hormone secretions from the glands and which seem to be at the heart of the hormone imbalances suffered by women with PMS and menopause symptoms. By improving the connection between the pituitary gland and brain, maca restores the balance between the levels of hormones circulating round your body.  

So instead of introducing hormones into your body from outside, such as synthetic hormones or so-called bio-identical hormones (always a bit ‘hit and miss’ process), maca encourages the glands in your body to produce the hormones your own body needs. This makes it unique and powerful.  Maca is truly a functional food.  

Yet maca doesn’t boost energy by stimulating the body.  Unlike coffee and chocolate, maca doesn’t raise levels of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’).  This is good news because cortisol has a negative effects on hormonal health, stress levels and weight management.  

Is Maca this Peruvian woman's secret?

Is Maca her secret? Thanks to jennifrog via Flickr Creative Commons

All the benefits of maca come from its nutrients.  It’s rich in fibre, carbohydrates (around 60%) and protein (around 10% – and teeming with amino acids), and contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, Vitamin C, vitamin B1 and B2, fatty acids – all of which are really beneficial for women.

My Experience With Maca

I use maca myself to balance my hormones, but also to improve my fitness training and recovery and help me cope well with the day to day stresses of life.  (In addition to a balanced lifestyle in terms of exercise and what I eat, of course!).  I’ve also recommended it to female friends, including women who have PMS, are perimenopausal (often with aggravated PMS), menopausal, or withdrawing from hormone replacement therapy – all with good results.  I’ve heard enthusiastic accounts from women about maca significantly reducing their PMS symptoms, of periods become more regular and of premenstrual migraines being eliminated.  

Unfortunately, there is currently scant scientific research to back up these anecdotal findings.  I would love to see some scientific trials so that the benefits of maca can be more widely known.  But in the meantime, it has mostly been Peruvian doctors (unsurprisingly) who have documented the effects of the maca

How To Take Maca

gelatinised maca for PMS and hormone balance

gelatinised maca powder

Maca generally comes in two forms:

  • Raw maca powder 
  • Gelatinised maca powder, which has been cooked and processed (The Peruvians tend not to eat their maca raw) 

Maca is sold in capsules or as a loose powder, either online or in reputable health food shops.  

Maca powder is usually cheaper than capsules and you can more easily adjust the amounts, but not everybody likes the slightly butterscotchy caramel-like taste and somewhat distinctive smell.

I would recommend choosing gelatinised maca because it is easier to digest, having had the hard to digest starchy part of the maca root removed – whilst still retaining all the beneficial nutrients.   The term ‘gelatinised’ can be a bit misleading, as the final product has no connection with gelatine, and looks very much like the raw unprocessed version.

1-3 teaspoons a day should be enough to feel maca’s energy-boosting and hormone-balancing effects.  As ever, my guidelines when experimenting with supplmentation – whether it’s with a herbal supplement like agnus castus or maca, or a synthetic multivitamin - are to: 

  • Start small (e.g. 1/2 teaspoon daily) and build up the dose gradually.  Less is more. With all supplements, you should aim for the mimimum amount that works effectively and which your body can usefully process.  
  • Everyone is different – particularly where hormonal fine tuning is concerned – so observe how you feel and listen to what your own body needs.  
  • Buy the best quality maca you can afford and if it’s not working for you, don’t waste your money (but remember that your experience may not mean that maca won’t work for somebody else).
  • Exercise caution if you are already taking some other hormone-altering substances, such as synthetic hormones or SSRIs.  Also take advice if you are pregnant or are breastfeeding.  (Peruvian women continue to ingest maca throughout pregnancy, but they are used to it over many generations, and consume it in many foods such as drinks or as maca flour).  

It’s also a good idea to take a ‘maca holiday’ every so often – maybe have a week off every month or six weeks.  More economical too!

If you are using your maca loose (and don’t mind the slight taste), you can use add it to: juices, smoothies, porridge / cereal, fresh fruit salad, soups and puddings. 

Although maca does not overstimulate the adrenal glands, I find that the energy kick it gives me, means it’s best taken at the start of the day.  If you are taking maca and finding that your sleep pattern is disturbed, try taking it earlier in the day and / or reduce the amount.  Similarly, there is a small chance that you may experience a maca ‘rush’.  I have seen very little documented about this, but I have heard from women who have experienced an occasional (and not entirely unpleasant) slightly spacey feeling for a minute or two.  This is nothing to worry about – but it is probably a sign that you’re overdoing the maca!

Have you tried maca? How have you got on? Let me know in the Comments below or on the PMS Warrior Facebook page (where you can help raise the profile of Premenstrual Syndrome by becoming a Fan)

Thanks for reading!
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12 thoughts on “Maca - a top natural performer for PMS

  1. I'm a big maca fan! I've been using it for about a year to balance my hormones. I take it especially around the time of my period, when I find my body craves maca. I also use it as an energy boost if I have a particularly full schedule. And yes, I've also had a trippy moment from too much maca but it soon passed after I did some grounding exercises and ate yang food.

    You can try my recipe for Raw Maca Elevenses Smoothie on my Raw Food blog here http://beautifulheartrawkitchen.wordpress.com/201

    Thank you to the Peruvians for farming it and sharing it with us over here.

    Aradhana

    • Trippy moment! YES, is that from too much maca or too little. I couldn't figure out if those were withdrawal symptoms or because I was taking too much.

      • Hi JoL – Much more likely to be a little too much maca! Ease back and take a smaller amount, perhaps less often. Or take a short break. But don't worry about withdrawal symptoms (I'm assuming you're not eating CUPFULLS of the stuff!)

  2. Hey Bo,
    Great article, thanks. I've been taking it for a few years now as an all-rounder really. I did a raw food diet a few years ago and it was one thing that was required to put in the smoothies. I didn't realise it was so potent for PMS so that's great to know.

    Why do you suggest taking a maca holiday? Also, do you think that's a good thing to do with other superfoods?

    I haven't made made Alison's maca smoothie yet, but if they are anything like her maca balls, it's going to be super! Yumyum.

    • Hi Leora,

      Well, you could argue that in Peru, they eat maca throughout their lives without a break. And you could also argue 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'!

      However, with any food – and maca is a food, albeit what I would call a 'functional food' – it's nice to give your body a break, so that it can 'recalibrate'.

      So to take an example, you may have been told to eat 'an apple a day' – but you'll eventually get sick of apples if you do that. But skip an apple for a day or two, and you'll soon crave a return to a nice crisp juicy vitamin-packed hard fruit.

      Also, we take maca for it's active properties and it may also be that there's a cumulative effect, so it's wise to pause occasionally and clear out a little. (Just a day a week, or a week a month, might be right for you).

      Taking a break also means you can become sensitive to whether removing maca (if for longer that a day) makes you feel differently. I always advise the minimum effective dose of anything – more is not better.

      We all get acclimiatised to things and there may be a tailing of of effectiveness the longer you take anything potent (I find this happens with exercise and work, as much as food actually). So variety and taking breaks are refreshing. It's interesting you mention raw foods as my limited observation of raw food diets is that they can be a bit samey and after a surge of glowing good health initially there is a tailing off after a couple of years.

      I'm not sure about superfoods, I suppose it depends which ones? But my byword would be variety and balance in all things.

  3. Is it o.k to take Maca 1500mg tablets along with Angus Cactus for PMS? I also take Ginkgo Biloba and omega 3,6,9.

    Please advise as I have been getting headaches, not severe but just dull ache. Started Maca a few weeks ago.

  4. Hi Gilly,
    Obviously I can only provide outline information to inform women, not give personalised advice without a proper assessment and lots more information to build up a holistic picture. There are lots of factors involved in different symptoms and lots of options would be explored in a personal consultation.

    That said, in principle, there's no problem taking maca and agnus castus at the same time. They work in different ways: maca works on neurotransmitters, helping to boost mood though raised serotonin and lowered cortisol, whereas agnus castus works primarily to raise progesterone, crucial to balancing hormones and regulating periods.

    Headaches can have many causes including hormonal changes (e.g. during perimenopause), stress, use of stimulants like coffee, changes in diet etc. However, if none of these apply to you, and if your headaches only started when you started taking the maca, why not stop taking the maca and see if your headaches disappear.

    People are all different and respond differently – including to supplements and foods. Supplements are only worth taking if they are giving some benefit and each individual has to monitor how they are affected. For this reason, I always suggest starting with a small dose of any supplement (including maca – see the post above) and building up gradually to ensure you don't shock your body with a sudden change. This can be easier to do with a powder. Factors like the potency and intensity of the product can lead to different effects. Even the size and weight of the person taking maca should be considered.
    So in summary, only take something that is doing you good without side effects, always start gradually and build up slowly, and always always listen to your body.

    • Thank you so much! Your website is giving me a lot of hope that I can overcome my terrible PMS! I have always been a very healthy eater and am fit but hoping the supplements will work for me. The only time I didnt have PMS was when I was pregnant but even though I breast fed my daughter exclusively for 15 months my period still came 4 mos after giving birth. Since then I have been doing everything besides medication to try and ease my pms (I get terribly anxious, angry, I yell and feel depressed, bloated and feel out of control).

      I Just started taking Maca today and its very early in my cycle so hoping I will see a difference in a few weeks. Although I also just completely cut out alcohol and hoping that helps my liver detoxify my extra hormones. Again, thanks so much for the amazing information here! Ha I have my husband on the Maca too for energy and mental clarity.

  5. PMS Bliss Balls!

    Organic crunchy peanut butter, a little maple syrup, raw cacao powder, and maca powder. Mix it up and roll it into a ball. These give me endless energy, seem to stop my PMS moody madness, and also take care of that chocolate craving. Try it! My guy loves it too…..

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