From infertility to anxiety, various manifestations of hormonal havoc have become increasingly common in recent years. As a result, people left and right are turning to all sorts of natural solutions to find balance. One of these popular prospects: maca.
Read on to learn what maca is, what it’s purported to do for the endocrine (a.k.a. hormonal) system, and what the science says about its benefits.
What Is Maca?
Also known as the Peruvian ginseng, maca is a root vegetable plant native to South America that has been used in alternative medicine for centuries.
While the tuber can be cooked and eaten, much like potatoes or turnips, it is most commonly consumed as a dried, ground powdery supplement—especially in the United States.
Categorized as an adaptogen, maca root is purported to help the body “adapt” to stressful life situations that might otherwise deplete your body’s hormone production and cause unsavory symptoms, says holistic health coach and functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti, H.H.C., founder of FLO Living, a virtual online health center dedicated to hormonal issues.
Read More: The Best Adaptogens For Every Wellness Need
Maca does this by supporting your endocrine system, helping you produce the right amounts of hormones, she says.
How Maca Works In Your Body
All adaptogens work on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is responsible for helping the body manage stress, according to a 2019 study published in Pharmaceuticals. The researchers suggest that the root helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol—too high or too low—affects all of our other hormones, including estrogen and progesterone in women, Vitti says. By influencing cortisol output, maca helps the body produce the right amount of other hormones, too.
In fact, one study published in International Journal of Biomedical Sciences shows that maca root helps modulate the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis, which is responsible for controlling and balancing the reproductive hormones in people with ovaries.
By supporting the endocrine system, Vitti says the root may help with symptoms including:
- Low libido
- Unexplained weight gain
“We also believe it helps with low energy, brain fog, mood swings, and low mood,” she adds.
More Science on Maca
Though scientific research on maca is still pretty limited, the small studies that have been done show promising results for men and women alike.
In terms of men, one study published in the First International Journal of Andrology looked at the effect maca root had on men with erectile dysfunction. After 12 weeks, men who used maca experienced a more significant increase in sexual well-being than those who consumed a placebo.
Meanwhile, a 2016 review published in the journal Maturitas found that maca root had favorable effects on both sperm motility and sperm quality, which suggests supplementation could support a couple’s quest to conceive.
And women? The aforementioned International Journal of Biomedical Sciences study found that early post-menopausal women who supplemented with maca experienced relief of symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
That said, hormonal issues are complex. “Just adding in one supplement or food, however ‘super,’ rarely works to help people overcome hormonal symptoms,” says Vitti. “Maca root supplementation alone is not going to be a miracle cure-all for hormonal issues.” However, it can be effective when used as part of a holistic health plan, she suggests.
Who Should Take Maca
For starters, only folks who get the green light from their healthcare providers should incorporate maca into their routine.
Though maca may be able to support fertility, people on certain fertility or ED drugs cannot take it, says Vitti. The same goes for pregnant or nursing women.
“Maca root contains high amounts of iodine, so people who have iodine allergies should not take it,” says Vitti. “Nor should people with Hashimoto’s or any kind of thyroid nodules.”
It’s important to make sure that the root won’t interfere with any medical issues or prescriptions before taking it.
How To Supplement With Maca
If you’re cleared to try maca, “there are a few different kinds you can buy,” says Vitti. “But to experience maca’s hormone-balancing properties you need one with over one percent glucosinolate.” Glucosinolate is a component that has been shown to alter the activity of hormones.
While maca is available in gelatinized or cooked form, Vitti recommends opting for raw maca powder. “The enzymes and nutrients in the plant are most effective in their raw state,” she explains. If, however, you have a sensitive stomach, raw maca may upset your system. In this case, a cooked supplement will be softer on your digestive tract. If opting for raw powder, check out plnt brand Organic Black Maca Powder. If opting for a gelatinized supplement, try Gaia Herbs Gelatinized Peruvian Maca Root.
Vitti recommends taking maca in the morning, because of its energizing effects. “You can add it to your smoothie or oatmeal, or even coffee,” she says.
Just how long the root takes to work depends on your unique symptoms or hormonal issues, Vitti says. She recommends using it consistently for at least one month to gauge its benefits.
Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook community, Eating Healthy, today!