Although centuries old, maca comes from the brassica (mustard) family, similar to turnip, cabbage, and watercress (1). This root was first considered a superfood by the Incans who grew this hearty plant high in the Andes Mountains of Peru.
They valued maca, which they commonly called Peruvian ginseng, for its incredible sources of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fiber, carbohydrates, tannins and amino acids, as well as a number of complex alkaloids and up to 20 essential fatty acids, along with numerous other phytochemicals.
The healing properties of maca were so powerful, in fact, that Incan imperial warriors regularly ate it prior to battle to help increase their “fighting spirit,” strength, stamina, and libido. Although relatively small, this vegetable was so potent that its use was restricted mainly to royalty and their court. Incans respected the value of this plant so much they even used it as a form of payment (2).
Today, many athletes and even bodybuilders still use maca to help build their strength, stamina and overall performance (3, 4). But maca has another, lesser known benefit that researchers are only beginning to understand. This potent vegetable has the ability to balance hormones, which makes it invaluable for both men and women in various stages of life. However, maca is especially good for women during menopause.
Maca For Women
Regulates Hormonal Imbalances
Maca is considered to be an endocrine adaptogen. While it does not contain any hormones itself, it does contain the necessary nutrients to support normal hormone production within your body. One of these nutrients is DIM (Diindolylmethane), a phytochemical that is found in many cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. DIM has been found in numerous studies to greatly improve hormone balance (both estrogen and testosterone) in both men and women. It has also been found effective against some forms of cancer (5).
Research shows that maca can actually help to normalize hormone levels by working with your endocrine system. For women, maca can be a lifesaver, especially when most conventional options typically involve synthetic forms of hormones that are proven to be dangerous, even causing such things as ovarian cancer, stroke, and asthma, among other things (6,7,8).
Essentially, maca provides the nutrients your body needs to naturally produce its own hormones to effectively restore balance. In comparison, conventional hormone treatments introduce synthetically made chemicals that can wreak havoc on your endocrine system. Hormone regulation is vital as these substances are responsible for virtually every process in your body.
Reduces Symptoms of Menopause
Because maca can help to balance hormones, it is extremely helpful for women to reduce the typical symptoms associated with menopause.
One 2006 study reveals that maca can help to alleviate the negative physiological and psychological symptoms experienced by women in perimenopause, such as the frequency of hot flashes, the incidence of night sweats, interrupted sleep, nervousness, depression, and heart palpitations. Researchers state, “It appears that Maca-GO may act as a toner of hormonal processes, leading to alleviation of discomfort felt by perimenopausal women, hence, its potential use as non-hormonal alternative to HRT program.” (9)
A previous study also concluded that for women, maca is able to successfully restore hormone balance. The researchers concluded, “Changes in hormone levels was accompanied by a substantially-reduced feeling of discomfort associated with menopause.” (10)
Many women complain of “brain fog” during menopause, which has been linked to fluctuating hormones levels (11). One study suggests that maca can improve this type of memory loss (12). Others show that maca is a potent neuroprotective agent, which makes it a potential treatment to help prevent or slow disease, and possibly, even in the case of injury, halt or at least slow, the loss of neurons (13) .
Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Maca contains a variety of plant sterols, including sitosterol, campestrol, ergosterol, brassicasterol, and ergostadienol (17). These chemicals are essentially the equivalent of the cholesterol found your body. These sterols, however, help to form the cell membranes in plants. While there are different types of plant sterols, they all have a similar chemical structure and have been shown by researchers to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol in humans as well as combat three of the most common types of cancer.
Lowers Glucose Levels
While maca may not specifically control diabetes, a 2007 study revealed that after just two weeks, subjects who took maca experienced “significantly improved glucose tolerance, and lowered levels of glucose in their blood.” (18).
Reduces High Blood Pressure
Other benefits shown by researchers include hyperglycemia and hypertension prevention associated with Type 2 diabetes. The study reveals that maca can significantly inhibit “the hypertension relevant angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE).” (19). Thus maca may be also be useful for high blood pressure in general.
Maca for Women… And Men?
Reduces Prostate Size
Maca can be very beneficial for men as well. For example, a specific type of maca (red maca) is shown in studies to suppress prostatic growth and even reduce prostate size, which makes it a valuable tool for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a problem older men often face (20). In fact, researchers found maca may be as potent as finasteride (a popular drug used to treat BPH) in reducing prostate size.
Other studies suggest maca may also be a potential treatment for male infertility, especially if it is a result of lead exposure (21). Another study shows that maca can effectively improve sperm production and motility (22) .
Overall, maca is a highly functional food that has enormous potential for both men and women facing hormonal changes. It has been used for thousands of years and it is still one of the best natural remedies for these types of issues according to many studies.