Edition 29: March 2011
What Herb is That?
Maca makes people look, feel and perform better
MACA is celebrated as a highly nutritious, energy-imbuing food.
Widely used for the past 2000 years, maca has earned its place as one of the best super foods available today.
This powerful root is also used in herbal medicine to enhance strength, endurance or to act as an aphrodisiac.
This Incan powerhouse has an affinity with the endocrine system - the collection of glands that produce chemical ‘messengers’ called hormones, which are essential for normal bodily functions.
A wide variety of physiological processes are carried out unconsciously by these ‘messengers’.
Science is proving that maca beautifully regulates and supports endocrine health; thus positively affecting metabolism, energy levels, growth, sexual development and the sense of well being and attitude.
Maca is a cruciferous root vegetable that grows in the Andes Mountains in Peru; a harsh native habitat of altitudes up to 4500 metres, extreme cold and poor soils.
Similar to its relatives the radish and turnip, maca has short, green and fragrant tops that lie along the ground with thin frilly leaves in a rosette at the soil surface and off-white flowers that are self-fertile. Maca does vary greatly in the size and shape and colour of the root; each is considered a genetically unique variety, with nutritional and therapeutic properties.
Maca’s valuable root has been in use for approximately 2000 years as a benign medicinal food and a staple in the diet of the Incan peoples.
Optimum nutrient levels in plant root
Spanish records dating back to the 16th Century tell of the indigenous healers using maca in their system of medicine.
During Spanish colonisation it was used as currency; a form of payment of imperial taxes. Prior to that, maca was often traded for lowland tropical food staples, such as corn, rice, manioc (tapioca roots), quinoa and papaya.
Incan imperial warriors ate maca before battle to give them legendary strength. Such was their maca-enhanced virility that after a city was conquered; the women had to be protected from them.
Most maca cultivation in Peru is grown organically, as it is seldom attacked by pests at such high altitudes; in fact it is known that the plant itself naturally repels most root crop pests and it is fertilised mainly with sheep and alpaca manure. It is not yet clear whether maca that has been cultivated outside the Andes develops the same active constituents or potency.
The maca we know today is ground from the hard, dried roots. In Peru, maca is prepared and consumed in several ways, although traditionally it is always cooked. It can also be gelatinised to create products for more efficient digestion and also freeze-dried from the juice.
Maca is a superb adaptogen; an adaptogen is a substance that raises the non-specific resistance in an organism while inducing no negative side effects.
Adaptogens enable the body to adapt to external conditions and work with the body's natural rhythms to help rebuild weak immune systems, re-mineralise poorly nourished bodies and increase energy and endurance.
Maca does not itself contain any hormones, but its action on the body jogs the pituitary into producing the precursor hormones, which ultimately end up raising oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels. It also helping to balance the adrenal glands, the thyroid and the pancreas in a gentle way that doesn’t throw the entire body into confusion.
Maca's alkaloids act on the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, causing gender-appropriate responses in men and women. It assists with menstrual irregularities in women, who experience noticeable improvement with period pain, heavy bleeding, PMT and depression.
Maca improves sexual function in men and women by regulating hormonal activity.
'Nature's viagra' makes men more masculine
Studies reveal that it increases male libido, sperm production, motility and semen volume in men. Of course all this does enhance fertility.
For those who thought their sexual problems were psychological, maca therapy proves that it can be physiologically enhanced.
For men who are suffering from age-related sexual dysfunction; maca works extremely well and safely. It has been coined “Nature’s answer to Viagra” and it deals admirably with climacteric and erectile difficulties in men.
Maca's beneficial effects for sexual function could be due to its high concentration of proteins and vital nutrients; one of them being p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, which reputedly has aphrodisiac properties.
Research has also shown maca reduces enlarged prostate glands in rats.
Maca makes menopause easier and is a legitimate and safe alternative to hormone replacement therapy. It reduces hormonal dysfunction during menopause and andropause. It does not cause the ovaries to atrophy, like conventional HRT.
Maca is proven to be effective even on women who have undergone complete hysterectomies; it enables the adrenals to make sufficient hormones that avoid menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.
Athletes benefit from this herbal food that increases energy, endurance and stamina, as it supports the adrenal glands so they don't have to rely on damaging cortisol to fuel the body.
Its sterols, calcium and vitamin C help build muscle mass and its starches aid in physical endurance.
Encourages healthy teeth and bones
Maca has a beneficial action on the circulatory system and reduces anaemia.
Regularly taking maca can rejuvenate tissue such as the hair and nails and it renders the skin a more youthful appearance while encouraging healthy teeth and bones.
The root has easily-absorbable calcium that treats the decalcification of bones in children; and adults and in conjunction with its alkaloids it makes an effective bond builder, thus reducing osteomalacia and rickets. Maca may be prescribed for osteoporosis to increase bone density and the healing of bone fractures in the elderly.
Non-addictive maca affects not just the body; it works broadly to contribute to overall well-being. It nourishes and calms the nerves and enhances memory, learning and mental ability. Maca stimulates the appetite and aids in digestion.
One can use this magnificent herb confidently against premature ageing, general states of weakness and chronic fatigue as its effects are not localised to a specific organ.
Maca contains vitamin C and trace elements of zinc, which aid the immune system function of the thymus gland.
Some of its fatty acids function as fungicides and local antiseptics, which may aid in overall immunity enhancement and help speed up wound healing.
The plant acts as an anticarcinogen and antioxidant; its fibre as well as glucosinolate content show anti-tumoral promise in helping combat some cancers. Research has also looked at the herb for treating high blood pressure and diabetes.
Latin name: Lepidium meyenii
Therapuetic Properties: Superfood, nutrient, mineraliser, tonic, nervine, aphrodisiac, adaptagen, anti-depressant, analgesic, endocrine balancer, hormone regulator, liver tonic, expectorant, antiseptic, fungicidal, digestive, anti-carcinogen, antioxidant, immune-stimulant.