Maca is a region found in Peru’s highlands and today is well-known for the cultivation of maca root. It is an isolated area where a lot of the world’s most effective maca root (Lepidium meyenii ) comes from.
It has since been cultivated there by the Incas between 1,300–2,000 years ago. However, there is evidence that it goes as far back as 3600 years.
Maca root benefits have a long history. For the Incas, it was a treasure and was a staple food in their diet.
Maca was so precious that at the height of the Incan Empire, they used it as currency.
Maca root is the world’s highest altitude edible plant that grows 12,500 feet above sea level.
Stories passed on over the centuries say that the Incan armies would eat maca root before going to a fierce battle because it made them insanely strong.
Their rule was that after conquering a city, the warriors were forbidden from eating further maca to protect the captured women from the powerful sexual urges this plant would give them.
There is folklore that goes back centuries claiming that maca root benefits were reputed to increase libido and strength. Is this possible?
Note: Presently, China is also a source of beneficial maca root.
Le’s look at current evidence to determine how reliable the history of maca root benefits is.
What Makes Maca Root Beneficial For Health?
As starters, maca root comes in three distinct colors – black, red, and yellow. The different colors have to do with their level of anthocyanin (antioxidant pigment) content.
It appears to be the most beneficial for men. Particularly for:
- muscle gain
- mental focus
It appears to be better than black maca for:
- Chronic Mountain Sickness (a disease that causes illness to people that live at high altitudes)
One of the reasons for red maca’s superiority in this aspect is due to its predominant content of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA).
GABA is a unique amino acid that plays a role as a neurotransmitter (messenger cell) that has shown to be beneficial for stress and sleep.
It appears to be the weaker of the three in the sense that it contains a much lesser level of a beneficial compound called “glucosinolate.”
One study showed that the glucosinolate content in red and black maca is up to ten times higher than the yellow. More on glucosinolates later.
Maca Root Nutritional Value
The dried hypocotyl (the stem right above the root) consists of the following nutritional value: (Source)
- water – 80%
- protein – 10.2%
- carbohydrates – 59%
- lipids (fats) – 2.2%
- fiber – 8.5%
Maca contains an astounding amount of amino acids: (Major amino acids)
- leucine (91.0 mg)
- arginine (99.4 mg)
- phenylalanine (55.3 mg)
- lysine (54.3 mg)
- glycine (68.30 mg)
- alanine (63.1 mg)
- valine (79.3 mg)
- isoleucine (47.4 mg)
- glutamic acid (156.5 mg)
- serine (50.4 mg)
- aspartic acid (91.7 mg)
Maca also contains an incredible amount of particular essential minerals.
Per 100 grams of dried maca:
- iron – 16.6 mg
- calcium – 150 mg
- copper – 5.9 mg
- zinc – 3.8 mg
- potassium – 2050 mg
Maca is also rich in iodine. Four teaspoons of maca root powder (12 g) will provide you with .156 mg of iodine. (100% of the RDA)
In a Brazilian study, published in April 2020, researchers discovered the following major beneficial fatty acids in maca root: (Source on Page 8)
- linolenic acid
- oleic acid
- linoleic acid
- arachidonic acid (AKA – vitamin F)
Linolenic acid is an omega 3-fatty acid that is a potent anti-inflammatory and can help prevent numerous diseases.
Oleic acid is an omega 9-fatty acid (monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)) that helps prevent coronary heart disease.
Linoleic acid is an omega 6-fatty acid that is beneficial for the heart and can lower cholesterol levels.
Arachidonic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) that is crucial for health. Is it essential for newborns, exercise, neurological disorders, immune system, nervous system, muscles, and more.
Other Important Maca Root Benefits
Glucosinolates are phytochemical compounds (plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties) found in cruciferous vegetables such as mustard, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.
The glucosinolates are what make cruciferous plants superior to other plants in connection to human health.
Interestingly, fresh maca root contains 100 times the glucosinolate content than any of the cruciferous plants. (Source on page 4)
Glucosinolates have exhibited numerous health benefits:
- immune system booster
- protection against carcinogenesis
- cardiovascular protection
- protects the central nervous system
- protection against neuropathy
- fights fungal infection
- fights bacteria
- helps with a respiratory infection
- combats urinary tract infections
- helps with diabetes
- benefits effect against skin problems
With maca root’s incredible amount of glucosinolate content, it is no wonder that it has gotten “unprecedented international interest over the last two decades.“
Polysaccharides are a particular type of carbohydrate that is ordinarily used as an energy source.
Studies have determined that the following are the primary composition of polysaccharides found in maca root: (from highest to lowest)
- galactose (47.95%)
- arabinose (35.25%)
- D-glucuronic acid (27.34%)
There are a few other minor ones also – rhamnose, glucose, and mannose.
The polysaccharides found in maca can provide an anti-fatigue effect. They can decrease lactic acid build-up in your muscles. Thus, in essence, they can help you run and work out longer before fatigue can set in.
They can also form a process of enhancing creatine and glutathione peroxidase (a potent antioxidant) levels in your body.
In a study published in June 2020, it was discovered that the polysaccharides from maca root also play the role of prebiotic, able to induce higher growth of probiotics even better than inulin, a potent prebiotic fiber.
Macamides and Macaenes
Macamides and macaenes are two unique compounds found only in maca root. There is no other plant source where you can find them in.
In the 1990s, a team of chemists, led by Dr. Qun Yi Zheng, discovered these two compounds in maca. Studies done on animals showed that they are potent sex and energy enhancers.
A recent study published in July 2020 confirms that maca root is indeed a sex enhancer.
The study consisted of 69 men suffering from asthenozoospermia or oligozoospermia (infertility with low sperm count).
Some of the men were given 2 grams of maca root daily for 12 weeks. Other participants in the group were given a placebo.
At the end of the study, the maca group had a much higher sperm and seminal concentration.
Studies also show that they may play a significant role as a neuroprotective (protects the brain), analgesic (pain killer), and anti-inflammatory.
A study published on August 27, 2018, stated that thiohydantoin, a new bioactive compound, was discovered in maca root.
They have shown to have antiparasitic, antituberculosis, and anti-cancer activities.
Maca contains some potent antioxidant compounds that are essential for health in so many ways. (Source on page 42)
Phenols are potent antioxidants that can help fight many diseases due to their significant anti-inflammatory activities. They are also anti-atherosclerotic (artery-protective) and anti-carcinogenic (stops the formation of cancer).
Flavonoids are potent antioxidants with significant scavenging activities against free-radical (excessive levels of free radicals are what makes you sick and age). Flavonoids are destroyers of these free-radicals.
Saponins are compounds that exhibit numerous health benefits, including
- fighting cardiovascular disease
- hypocholesterolemic (lowers cholesterol)
- anti-hepatic (protect the liver)
Diosgenin is a natural medicinal steroid that has been shown in many studies to be useful as or for:
- blood disorders
- cerebral disorders
- allergic diseases
- menopausal symptoms
- skin aging
- cardiovascular diseases
Most of today’s steroidal drugs, such as sex hormones and corticosteroids, are produced from natural compounds and predominantly from diosgenin.
The pharmaceutical industry is remarkably interested in diosgenin’s therapeutic potential and is working on creating possible agents to fight many diseases.
A recent study, April 2020, showed the diosgenin levels found in all types of maca. The results showed that all three maca colors contained this natural steroid, but the yellow had by far the highest level. (Source on page 11)
Note: The diosgenin levels are only compared with the black, red, and yellow maca root.
The pharmaceutical industry is fully aware that diosgenin can be converted into progesterone, aldosterone, cortisol, and estrogen (four medical steroids) used worldwide.
The implications and applications of diosgenin are too valuable to be ignored by science and Pharma.
Fresh maca root contains a significant amount of phytosterols:
Its sterol content is made up of the following percentages:
- Beta-sitosterol – 45.5%
- campesterol – 27.3%
- ergosterol – 13.6%
- brasicasterol – 9.1%
- ergostadienol – 4.5%
Phytosterols are plant sterols that play a significant role in lowering cholesterol.
Since these plant sterols are related to cholesterol, when ingested, they compete with cholesterol in the digestive system causing less production of cholesterol and the lowering effect that follows.
Beta-sitosterol is maca’s most abundant sterol. Studies have shown that this particular phytosterol has many other health benefits.
It is beneficial for:
- the central nervous system
- skin health and anti-aging
- the cardiovascular system
- liver health
- the endocrine system (glands of your body)
- the reproductive system
- wound healing
The bottom line is that maca root benefits are incomparable!
The recommended dosage is 1.5 to 3 grams per day. (One teaspoon of maca powder equals about 3 gm)
It is also recommended that you take maca root for up to four months. Maca root works best if taken daily for a more extended period.
Other studies also confirm that 1.5 to 3 gm daily is appropriate and will not harm you.
Possible Side Effects
According to this scientific information sheet, maca root is safe when taken by mouth.
If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, speak to your doctor before using maca since there is not enough evidence to determine if it can harm you.
If you have any medical condition associated with estrogen, do not use maca because its extract can act like estrogen.
If you suffer from over-active thyroid issues, maca root should be avoided because it can overstimulate the thyroid gland due to its high iodine content.
Maca root benefits are astounding. You do not usually find a natural substance that can make you smarter by boosting mental focus and protecting your brain, (nootropic abilities of maca) and stronger, more energetic, and increase your sex drive.
The amino acid, fatty acid, mineral, antioxidant, and sterol content found in maca root are an all-around booster of health.
To top this off, its unique content of glucosinolates, macamides, and macaenes, thiohydantoin, and diosgenin puts maca root at the top of the list of superfoods with medicinal applications that may be unmatched.
The Incan Empire indeed had a secret weapon of vitality, intensity, and vigor.