Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Amazing Health Benefits of Maca

Maca, dubbed the Incan superfood, is a Peruvian root vegetable that is becoming increasingly popular in the West. Many are drawn to it for its alleged health benefits and the legendary libido boosting effect. While some of the health claims have been backed by research, others remain anecdotal. Nonetheless, maca powder is undeniably a good addition to your diet and can be used as a supplement or as a food ingredient.

What is Maca?
Maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng, is a plant that grows high in the Andes Mountains. It belongs to the same group of vegetables as radish. Peruvian people have been cultivating it for thousands of years and according to some reports, it was used by Incan warriors prior to going to battle.
Traditionally, maca is prepared in many different ways and eaten baked, roasted or in a soup. It’s praised for its high nutritional value and contains many fatty acids, amino acids, minerals and vitamins. The root is made into a powder and can be used for medicinal purposes and as a supplement.

7 Health Benefits of Maca

As mentioned earlier, not all of the proposed health effects of maca have a scientific grounding. Some, such as the plant’s nutritional value, are facts, while others reside in the grey area between truth and myth and depend on personal experience.

1. Nutritional benefits
Maca is full of important vitamins, minerals, enzymes and amino acids. It contains trace elements such as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. For vegans and vegetarians, it’s an important source of vitamin B complex.
Its nourishing potential also makes it a powerful ingredient in creams and lotions.

2. It boosts sexual function naturally
This is one of the most famous reasons for taking maca and the plant is also known as the ‘aphrodisiac of the Andes’. According to WebMD, scientists are indeed looking into how maca could help men and women with low libido, however, the evidence is limited. Some animal studies have been conducted, but human studies need yet to be completed.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting the positive effects of maca on sexual function and desire. Some experts suggest it might have a good effect on sexual dysfunction. There is another powerful herb for increasing libido and you can read more about it in my post on how to naturally improve your libido.

3. It increases energy levels
Maca contains phytoestrogens which act as an anti-depressant and improve the person’s mood. The plant is believed to fight off fatigue (some use it for chronic fatigue syndrome) and boosts healthy energy levels. An increase in physical and mental abilities has also been reported. You can find more energizing foods in my article about top 10 superfoods to boost your energy.

4. It improves fertility
Maca root increases sperm count, sperm motility and sperm volume thus contributing to better chances of conception. It also helps with better regulation of sex hormones in your body.
There are different types of maca and it’s believed that the black maca root is the best choice if you’re trying to improve fertility.

5. It strengthens the body
Maca strengthens you and improves your stamina, so it’s often taken by athletes. The plant is described to be an adaptogen, which means that when it enters the body, it adapts and repairs whatever needs to be fixed. In this way, it improves the body’s overall function.

6. It balances hormones
Maca has an effect on the endocrine system and encourages the body to produce hormones and establish an optimal balance. The effect maca has on hormones is the main reason the plant is good for women undergoing hormonal changes, such as during menopause.

7. It improves women’s health and helps with menstrual cycle
Maca relieves menstrual issues such as cramping and pain. It also helps with the symptoms of menopause and eases mood swings. Moreover, since the plant contains calcium and magnesium, it protects the bones and can reduce the risk of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and as such you can use it in addition to following these 4 steps to prevent osteoporosis.

How To Use Maca
Maca is usually sold in powder form (like this one) and can be easily added to smoothies, juices, salads, desserts and other foods. Just make sure you don’t put it into something that’s very hot, as that will reduce the plant’s nutritional value.
It’s also available as a capsule (like this one), but that of course makes it less practical for culinary use.

Maca has a bit of an acquired taste that has been described as ‘malted’. Often, people learn to enjoy it and appreciate the added flavor.

How Much Maca Should You Eat?
Although Andean Peruvians eat it as a staple as well as give to their livestock without any adverse effects, it has been recommended to introduce maca powder to your diet gradually and start with small amounts.

This allows you to observe your body’s reaction and adjust the dose (or stop taking it) if you notice any unwanted effects. Always try to purchase organic maca to make sure it is pesticide free.
Initially, take ½ teaspoon of maca powder daily and build up to 1 tablespoon, which is an average daily dose. As with some other supplements, it’s advisable to have some days without it, so rotate between on and off days.
If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or have any medical condition consult your doctor first.

Maca – Possible Side Effects

  • Jittery feeling – This can happen if you consume too much and experience an excessive energizing effect. If it happens, reduce the dose.
  • Insomnia – To avoid difficulty sleeping, take maca before 1 PM. If insomnia occurs, take less. You can also use these 12 herbs for insomnia.
  • Digestive problems – Some mild cramping and gassiness can happen if you consume maca in its raw form (raw powder). If you have a sensitive stomach, opt for the gelatinized form instead (like this one). In this form, maca is heated under pressure for a few seconds, which makes it more easily digestible.
  • Acne – This can be the initial reaction and will pass on its own; it’s a sign of a hormonal rebalancing. In the long run, maca should improve the skin’s condition and clear it. You can also use this DIY natural face mask or follow my instructions in my post on why you should wash your face with ACV.
  • Heartburn – If you experience this side effect, reduce the dose or opt for the gelatinized form.

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