Maca Only Grows In Peru
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 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.
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
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.
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)