What is maca and what does it do?
Maca (Lepidium Meyenii), sometimes known as Peruvian Ginseng, is a plant which is native to Peru and has been used as both food and medicine for over 2000 years. In recent years, it has taken on global popularity for its health benefits, including its effect on our libido and fertility.
The plant itself is hardy enough to withstand the extreme mountain conditions of the Andes, and has therefore been used as a staple source of food for over 2000 years. The Andean people (those people in Peru who make their homes in the Andes) often use maca as a treatment for rheumatic conditions and respiratory illnesses.
Not only does maca possess adaptogenic qualities, helping you to resist stress, it has also been hailed as a superfood - but what does it really do for our wellbeing?
Let’s find out!
Maca is an edible herbaceous plant with a root which I’ve always thought looks a little bit like a celeriac in its raw form. As we’ve pointed out, it is sometimes called Peruvian Ginseng, which is a bit of a misnomer as maca isn’t a herb like ginseng, but actually a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, cauliflower or kale.
As you would expect from a cruciferous vegetable, maca contains a large amount of dietary fibre, but is also packed with amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s also full of iron and iodine, which promote healthy cell growth and maintenance and also help to manage and regulate metabolism. Potassium is found in relatively high quantities in maca, which is good for aiding the body in digestion and also our overall muscle health.
Its health benefits, however, are thought to come from other bioactive compounds found within the plant, and they are called macamides, macaridine, alkaloids and glucosinolates (Peres et al., 2020). Whilst these names might sound overly complex and scientific, the compounds themselves have tangible benefits for our health.
How does maca benefit health?
Maca is thought to hold adaptogenic properties: Adaptogens help us to combat stressors by working with our bodies to alter the production of stress hormones, keeping us in the ‘resistance’ stage of the stress response for longer. You can learn more about the properties of adaptogens in this article.
It may improve mood and energy: Maca is rich in B Vitamins, iron and zinc which naturally boosts energy. Studies have shown that maca can help to improve mood, alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression (Brooks et al., 2008), and also give a boost of energy similar to caffeine, but without the crash!
It may relieve symptoms of menopause: The menopause can be a time of huge discomfort for people who menstruate, as changes to hormonal levels can wreak havoc with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, sleep patterns, and mood. Maca is believed to be able to reduce some of these symptoms, including the hot flashes synonymous with menopause and sleep disturbances (Johnson, Roberts and Elkins, 2019).
It may improve libido: Maca is believed to hold properties which can improve low sexual desire. Studies have shown that taking maca can help to reduce sexual dysfunction and improve libido in certain groups of individuals (Dording et al., 2015). However, it is also noted that the studies warrant further research in order to determine the wider effects of maca and libido.
It may improve fertility in men: It is thought that taking maca supplements may help to improve sperm concentration, which is important for increasing fertility. Certain studies have concluded that whilst maca may help to improve sperm concentration in men, it does not improve their motility, which is the ability of the sperm to move around effectively (Alcalde and Rabasa, 2020). Studies have also been conducted into the efficacy of maca for alleviating mild erectile dysfunction, and an increase in sexual wellbeing was recorded after supplementing with maca (Zenico et al., 2009).
It is also believed that maca can help to improve our skin health, slow age related cognitive decline and may help to prevent prostate enlargement. However, these studies are in their very early stages, and more research is needed.
Are there any potential side effects associated with using maca?
Like most natural supplementation, maca is considered to be generally safe. However, as maca is still being heavily researched, it is not known whether maca is safe during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding.
Maca also contains a high amount of Vitamin K, which helps your blood to form clots. This means that anyone taking medication to thin their blood might need to avoid maca, as their effects might cancel themselves out.
As ever, if you have any concerns or queries before incorporating maca into your daily routine, please consult your healthcare provider, and they will be able to help you understand if maca will be beneficial for you.
What makes Vivo Life maca so special?
It is almost impossible to find raw maca outside of mountainous regions, so it’s usually powdered or available in capsule form.
Alongside our third party testing, Vivo Life’s organic, fair trade maca undergoes a natural gelatinisation process to remove the tough starch molecule which makes maca difficult for the body to absorb. Gelatinised maca is easier to digest, gentler on the endocrine system (which is responsible for digestion, metabolism, and reproduction) and has four times the nutrients of raw maca. The large amounts of starch is why maca shouldn’t be eaten raw - and you can read more about the benefits of gelatinised maca over raw in this article.
It also has a wonderful butterscotch flavour, and is incredibly versatile in how you can use it. It can be added to smoothies, hot drinks, protein powders, sprinkled on top of cereals, or even used in baking. It’s never been easier to help your body handle stress, boost your energy and add a little passion to your life.
Peres, N. da S.L., Bortoluzzi, L.C.P., Marques, L.L.M., Formigoni, M., Barros Fuchs, R.H., Aparecida Droval, A. and Cardoso, F.A.R. (2020). Medicinal effects of Peruvian maca ( Lepidium meyenii ): a review. Food & Function, [online] 11(1), pp.83–92. doi:10.1039/C9FO02732G.
Dording, C.M., Schettler, P.J., Dalton, E.D., Parkin, S.R., Walker, R.S.W., Fehling, K.B., Fava, M. and Mischoulon, D. (2015). A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015, pp.1–9. doi:10.1155/2015/949036.
Alcalde, A.M. and Rabasa, J. (2020). Does Lepidium meyenii (Maca) improve seminal quality? Andrologia. doi:10.1111/and.13755.
Johnson, A., Roberts, L. and Elkins, G. (2019). Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Menopause. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, [online] 24(24), p.2515690X1982938. doi:10.1177/2515690x19829380.
Brooks, N.A., Wilcox, G., Walker, K.Z., Ashton, J.F., Cox, M.B. and Stojanovska, L. (2008). Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content. Menopause, [online] 15(6), pp.1157–1162. doi:10.1097/gme.0b013e3181732953.
Zenico, T., Cicero, A.F.G., Valmorri, L., Mercuriali, M. and Bercovich, E. (2009). Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract on well-being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Andrologia, [online] 41(2), pp.95–99. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0272.2008.00892.x.