The health benefits of maca: Does this South American plant deserve its ‘superfood’ status?

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Maca root, a plant native to Peru, is rich in minerals, but does it deserve its supposed ‘superfood’ status? We asked Dr Michael Barnish, head of genetics and nutrition at REVIV about the benefits and things to watch out for when buying maca.

Maca, what is it?

Maca, or Peruvian ginseng, is the root of a plant native to the high Andes of Peru. It is a cruciferous vegetable and has been used as food and medicine in Peru for as long as records exist there. Maca was also cherished by the Inca Empire and even taken by their warriors before going into battle. In recent years, maca has been studied for its countless health benefits and is now very popular around the world, labelled as a superfood!

Maca, the four main benefits?

Maca root is linked to improved energy, hormonal balance and improved endurance and has been used and prized for millennia. People often think that maca is white in colour, with a slightly yellowish tinge. However, there are actually four different colours of maca, all with their own health benefits. Maca can be white, red, black or purple. When choosing a maca supplement, or powder, or if you are lucky enough to have access to the real thing, then make sure you combine all colours of maca to optimise your health.

Maca root is linked to improved energy, hormonal balance and improved endurance

It contains some protein and fibre, alongside essential nutrients, such as copper, iron, potassium, Vitamin B6, manganese and 133% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. With this blend of nutrients, it makes a fantastic dietary ingredient for eye health.

Also now popular with body builders and athletes, studies have shown in both animals and humans that supplementing with maca can improve energy levels following sporting events in humans and the animal studies report better endurance abilities following maca supplementation.

Maca, how to take it?

The taste of maca root powder, which some people dislike, has been described as earthy and nutty. Many people add it to their smoothies, oatmeal and sweet treats.

Maca, benefits for fertility and menopause?

Some research on maca and its effects on sex drive and fertility have also shown promising results, perhaps due to it being packed with those great nutrients. Better sex drives in both men and women, improved quality semen in both fertile and infertile men and an increased sperm count, motility and volume have all been reported by studies.

I personally suggest it to my female patients that are suffering with premenstrual syndrome or peri-menopausal and menopausal symptoms. There are some studies that have shown symptom relief with women suffering with these symptoms. Again, likely due to the high nutritional content and fibre, feeding the good gut bacteria. It isn’t quite hormone replacement therapy, however for those that want the most natural route, or those that need extra support, maca is one of the tools I use in my practice.

Maca makes a fantastic dietary ingredient for eye health

Just a note from doctor to consumer

When getting maca in supplement or powder form, please try to remember not all maca is made equally. If you really want to try and improve your health with a once or twice daily serving of maca, then firstly make sure the supplement or powder is a blend of all colours of maca. Freeze dried maca allows for no spoiling of the root upon transporting it around the world. Always opt for organically grown maca and also maca farms that support the local communities that grow them. Many towns and villages in the high Andes rely on maca farming, so make sure your maca brand supports these people.

Of course, maca can be grown elsewhere. However, given that this crop only grows in a specific region in Peru, maca grown elsewhere will not have the same nutritional content. It is has evolved to only grow in that region and farming it elsewhere will require selective farming or artificial farming techniques, which potentially depletes its goodness somewhat. The maca’s natural environment is inhospitable, high altitude, organic and brutal environment in the Peruvian high Andes. It is these conditions where the maca thrives and allows this plant pass onto us the amazing nutrients found in its root.

Maca, where to purchase?

I do not endorse any brand of maca, or have any shares, interests or royalties in companies that farm or supply maca, but the best maca available and the one that I take personally is from the online retailer, organic burst. Not only is the maca from the Andes, they are Fairtrade, organic and operate in a fair and sustainable way. Therefore, it is the maca I use. However, there will be other brands that can tick the boxes of organic, fair trade, community supporting and using a blend of all colours.

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