If you asked the ancient Incas to name their 'go to' superfoods, maca would have been top of the list. Though most modern cultures are only just catching on to the perks of this sweet-tasting South American root, in Peru, the magic of maca - to balance hormones and invigorate - has been known for thousands of years. Maca is a potent nutritional supplement that boasts the following healing and health secrets:
1. Nutrient-Rich Roots
The maca plant belongs to the brassica (mustard) family and like broccoli and cauliflower, is a cruciferous vegetable. It grows in the mineral-rich mountains of the Andes at an elevation of about 12,000 to 14,000 feet. It is found in Peruvian provinces such as Junín and Pasco, where it thrives in extreme weather conditions that include powerful winds, bitter cold and harsh sunlight. Maca is a tuber, which means that under the ground, the plant stores its rich nutrients in a bulb shaped like a radish or turnip. It is rich in vitamins C and A as well as B2, B6 and Niacin. The hardy root is also packed with minerals, including iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, copper, magnesium and potassium. Maca is also rich in beneficial plant sterols that are biochemically related to hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. And it contains healthy fatty acids, which are beneficial for the heart and appear to help stabilize blood glucose levels and reduce inflammation.
2. Color Power
Though the cream/yellow varieties of maca often star in photos, there are actually 13 different colors (or phenotypes) of Peruvian maca, including purple and white. Throughout history, the Peruvians do not appear to have utilized these maca varieties for their individual benefits. Instead they used whatever colors were local, in the ratios they were available and mixed them together in one powder. Cut to the present and modern science is exploring the differences. For the last 10 years research has shown that different phenotypes of maca contain some different active ingredients, which trigger specific health benefits.
Dr. Gustavo Gonzales, a Professor and Researcher from the High Altitude Research Institute at the Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University in Lima, has been well recognized for his research into medicinal plants from the Peruvian highlands. His particular focus has been on maca and he has been involved in numerous studies exploring the individual health benefits of different maca colours on both rats and people. Research into maca's color benefits, has often been done in rats and more study needs to be conducted in people. It has mostly centered on these three shades of maca:
Yellow: This has been shown to help protect against UV radiation from the sun when applied in a liquid form to the skin.
Red: Red maca appears to be good for bone strength.
Black: has been shown to promote bone strength and improved brain function, such as memory and cognition. In men, it can help increase sperm count and reduce issues like enlarged prostate in men.
3. Energy Enhancement
In ancient times, warriors consumed the maca root to boost stamina and strength before going into battle. Maca was considered so valuable it was even used as currency and at times, reserved only for royalty. Cut to the present and maca is still used as a tonic to enhance vitality, energy and stamina. For this reason it is often called 'Peruvian ginseng'. It can help prevent an 11am energy dip or 3pm crash.
And it may also improve your exercise workout. Research involving male cyclists showed that after only 14 days on maca supplements their speed improved for a 40km time trial. And they all reported a boost in their sexual desire as well! Experts believe the benefits would be similar in women.
I drink a product called Mighty Maca® Plus almost daily. It was created by a physician and uses maca that is certified organic and sourced from Peru. Whenever I feel like a need a little afternoon pick-me-up but won't want to reach for caffeine, Mighty Maca is my go-to. I feel energized in a matter of minutes. Unlike caffeine, this maca formulation offers gentle stimulation that does not interfere with sleep. I also love the blend of some 30+ additional ingredients, each chosen for their own unique strengths as well as their synergistic health benefits when combined. Spirulina and Chlorella for alkalinity; turmeric and mangosteen to quench inflammation; cinnamon and flax seeds to balance blood sugar, and much more. The creator of the product, Dr. Anna Cabeca, fully stands behind the quality and effectiveness of her product and offers a 100% money back guarantee. I love that.
4. Adrenal Nourishment
Rushed, edgy or juggling too many responsibilities? Maca could be your best friend. Like licorice and ginseng, the maca root is one of the rare plants that can be classified as an 'herbal adaptogen'. This means it can directly change the balance of your hormones to help you adapt to stress and illness. Your endocrine (hormone) system is in the front line when it comes to handling the effects of stress on your body.
Long and short-term responses to stress are called the 'general adaptation syndrome' and this occurs in three different stages:
Alarm: You see a spider or slam on your car brakes.
Resistance: Chronic stress increases hormones like cortisol and adrenalin.
Adrenal exhaustion: Your hormones are out of balance, causing fatigue and burnout.
Your body's adaptive response triggers your HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-axis). This is a feedback loop that impacts on areas of your brain like the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and adrenal glands. Its job is to pick up signals from your body and the environment around you and react. It kick-starts a cascade of stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. It also affects your kidney function, metabolism, digestion and mood. When it's over-stimulated? You may suffer fluid retention, constant
anxiety, tummy troubles, weight gain and lowered immunity. Maca to the rescue!
If you're under chronic stress or suffer from anxiety, the adaptogen effects of maca can reduce some of that load. Unlike HRT or drugs like antidepressants, maca helps tone the HPA axis to support the body's own production of numerous hormones, increasing or decreasing their levels according to what you individually need. This reduces the unhealthy knock-on effects that stress and anxiety have on your cardiovascular, respiratory, lymphatic, reproductive and nervous systems. As a result, maca helps prevent you from getting stuck in the adrenal exhaustion stage.
5. Balance in Peri- and Menopause
Are you going through menopause or peri-menopause? Maca may be the ultimate natural HRT. Unlike some herbs and phytoestrogens such as soy, maca does not try to mimic estrogen in your body. Yet it can actually increase the body's production of estrogen if your levels are too low.
Maca in perimenopausal and menopausal women has been linked to an increase in hormones, including progesterone and luteinizing hormone (which stimulates ovary function). The maca also stimulated estradiol and suppressed the production of chemicals like the stress hormone, cortisol. Having worked with over 2000 women, we consistently hear stories about a reduction in hot flashes, night sweats, depression, insomnia, nervousness and anxiety, as well as improved concentration.
Though it's not well understood how maca works, one of the main theories is that the plant sterols in maca stimulate changes in the action of the HPA axis and also, the adrenal, ovarian, pineal and thyroid glands. While many people with under-active thyroid can take maca, without any problems, women with overactive thyroid issues may find it causes side effects. This may be due to the glucosinolates. On the flip side, the iodine levels in maca can be very beneficial for optimizing thyroid function in some women.
If you have thyroid issues you should monitor them when you start taking maca to see if it causes any changes.
6. PMS Relief
Does your menstrual cycle sometimes make you feel like you're riding a roller coaster? Here's why: at the start of the menstrual period, there is a very low level of estrogen, but by mid cycle it has increased 10-fold before steeply plummeting again. This hormonal rise and fall can be evened out by maca because it's a herbal adaptogen.
Hello, relief from the mood swings, fluid retention and breast tenderness. Maca's adaptogenic actions also mean it can boost fertility and help women suffering from conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). A few words of caution though: maca may stimulate the body to produce more estrogen. This means it should be used with caution or not at all by women with estrogen-sensitive conditions such as estrogen receptor positive breast, ovarian or uterine cancers, endometriosis or uterine fibroids.
7. Libido Stimulation
Maca has been used for centuries in Peru to boost libido and virility. Though its aphrodisiac affects are not well understood by science, it's ability to stimulate sexual sensation and desire has led it to be dubbed 'nature's Viagra'. Some experts believe its libido lift is caused by maca's unique long chain fatty acids called, macaenes and macamides, which have yet not been found in any other plant. They have been shown to increase sexual activity and correct erectile dysfunction in animals. And they are similar in structure to endocannabinoids, chemicals that stimulate hedonistic hotspots in our brain, triggering pleasure.
In one study, at Victoria University in Australia, postmenopausal women were given 3.5 grams of powdered Maca per day for 6 weeks and placebo for 6 weeks. When using the maca they reported less anxiety and depression and higher libido. Maca may also boost libido in women struggling to achieve orgasm while taking antidepressants.
8. Reduced Cravings
Maca is high in fibers, such as cellulose and lignins, which improve gut health. Fiber is also an effective tummy filler, which can reduce hunger between meals. Most maca powders also contain between 11% to 18% protein. Your body needs protein to build muscle, promote fat burning, and support the healthy function of all your cells. Nine amino acids are considered 'essential', to your health and the optimal function of your body. Maca contains 7 of them and many others that are non-essential.
According to the 'protein leverage theory', your body keeps signaling you to keep eating until you eat enough protein. When it registers it has enough, your brain switches off your hunger pangs. So as a high protein food and supplement, maca can help you reach that protein sweet spot every day. And it's not laden with sweeteners and flavorings, like many protein powders.
9. Liver and Enzyme Support
Maca is a cruciferous vegetable, so it contains glucosinolates. In nature, glucosinolates are stored in cells of plants and act as natural pesticides to protect the plant. When you chew and digest them they change into health-boosting chemicals, which protect against cancer. They also contain sulfurs, which are found in foods like garlic and onions and form bonds that help your enzymes do their job in the body. In particular, sulfurs help your body produce a master antioxidant called gluthionine. This boosts the function of your liver and helps your liver detoxify.
Some people believe that glucosinolates block the body's uptake of iodine. But the enzymes that might cause any problems are destroyed through cooking and also leach into cooking water. So if you have thyroid issues, you may still be able to tolerate maca without problems. Make sure you avoid the raw maca and choose a form of maca that has been pre-gelatinized (more on that in a minute).
10. Bone Benefits
Maca contains calcium and phosphorous. Both of these nutrients help strengthen bones. Black and red varieties of maca appear to the most beneficial.
maca, balancing, hormone, roots, superfood, estrogen dominance, menopause.
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