If you look into the history of Maca root, you will find that this internet-proclaimed “superfood” was first domesticated around 2000 years ago in present-day Peru. After seeing the incredible effect that Maca had on livestock (in terms of fertility and energy levels), the indigenous people started using it for themselves. The Peruvian people were definitely on to something. Fast forward to today, and maca root continues to be known for its powerful, positive effects on women's health and hormones.
What exactly is Maca?
Maca is typically referred to as Peruvian ginseng (although it's not true ginseng) as it almost entirely grows in the Andes in central Peru. It is an adaptogenic plant, meaning it helps the body manage various external and internal stressors. Maca is rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, sterols, fatty acids, fiber, and carbohydrates (after all, it is a plant belonging to the brassica family and similar to mustard, cabbage, and water cress). Maca is generally consumed in powder form, capsules, or as a liquid. The flavor is sometimes described as a nutty sweet vanilla. A good quality maca should have a heavy and pungent aroma and flavor. Several anecdotes and evidence-based studies affirm its numerous benefits, especially related to correcting hormone imbalances, that may make it worth taking. Maca powder can be enjoyed mixed in a latte, smoothie, or bowl of oatmeal.
Tell me more about hormone imbalances
Beginning with puberty, through menstruation and jumping to peri menopause, menopause and postmenopausal (with some women choosing pregnancy, childbirth, and breast-feeding) —our bodies experience a natural cycle of hormone imbalance throughout our lifetime. Yes, our bodies endure a lot. However, the hormonal imbalances that occur in these various life stages are normal. While this naturally occurs in the body, there are other external factors that may in-fact cause hormonal imbalances too, which may not be “normal”. These are known as endocrine disruptors, or chemicals that mimic the body’s hormones - another way to think about it is as “environmental estrogens”. Studies suggest that endocrine disruptors cause adverse effects in animals, however there are limited studies conducted on human health - as people are typically exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors at once, making it difficult to assess. The general consensus is to limit exposure to endocrine disruptors. Some examples of endocrine disruptors include DDT from pesticides, DES from pharmaceutical drugs, and the probably the most well-known, BPA found in certain plastics. BPA can mimic the body’s hormones and interfere with the natural hormonal rhythm of the body, including the production, action, function, and elimination of hormones. These changes in hormonal patterns can affect both men and women.
How maca can help
Contrary to popular belief, maca is not an estrogen and does not contain any other phyto-hormones. It is believed that the plant sterols in maca helps the function of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands which in turn balances the adrenal, thyroid, pancreas, ovarian, and testicular glands, resulting in overall endocrine system improvements. This means that maca root may be able to help balance and regulate our hormones when we are overly exposed to environmental estrogens, as well as in essential periods in our lifecycle, such as the menopause and postmenopausal stages.
Menopause is the point when a woman no longer menstruates, while postmenopause is considered the time after a woman no longer menstruates for 12 consecutive months. Some effects of menopause may include hot flashes, night sweats, hair dryness, changes in mood, and more, depending on the individual’s personal experience. There have been a number of studies looking at the relationship between maca and menopause and post-menopause, and some experts even consider it the ultimate natural hormone replacement therapy. A study in postmenopausal women found reduced symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats, balanced hormone levels, and reduced dependence on hormone replacement therapy. Another study conducted on 29 postmenopausal Chinese women found that the supplementation of 3.3 grams of maca a day for 12 weeks found improvements in diastolic blood pressure and depression. It is believed that the rich flavonoid content in maca is the reason for improved mood. Researchers of this study conclude that the best dosing of maca power is between 1–2 grams a day. It is noted that it is best to start on a low dosage and then increase the dosage if symptoms are not improving.
Though research on maca is preliminary, there is promising evidence that it can have positive effects on hormone regulation and hormone balancing, especially in postmenopausal women. Have any questions? Write them below!
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Hi! My name is Lina Abuhamdieh and I am a student at Georgia State University in the Coordinated Program for Dietetics. I have loved every minute of this program, and have especially enjoyed discovering new avenues in which I can work in once I graduate. My hope is to be a private practice dietitian and be able to provide clients with all things nutrition and fitness! I have also found a new passion in writing nutrition blogs, so I hope you enjoy!