Maca for hormone balance

If you asked the ancient Incas their go-to superfood it would be maca.  In  Peru, the magic of maca – to balance hormones and invigorate – has been known for thousands of years. Found on top of the Andes Mountains in Peru,  maca looks a bit like  cross between a turnip and a parsnip.  Not only is it a hormone superfood in Peru it is planted amongst root veggies to repel pests and parasites.

 

 

Hormone benefits of Maca

Maca is a tuber, which means it grows underground.  It is a cruciferous vegetable and loaded with  hormone goodness including:

Fatty acids, plant sterols,  vitamins A, C, B2, B6 and niacin (B3). 

It also contains the minerals – calcium, magnesium (a woman’s essential.  Magnesium is one of the most important elements in our body, being involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions.  Women need it  for hormone balance, muscle function,  healthy bones, helps us to make protein, supports muscle and nerve function, blood glucose levels, blood pressure  and  energy production and help cope with stress); phosphorus, selenium (great for the thyroid and hormone balance), zinc (immunity and sperm health) potassium (for electrolyte balance and heart health) and copper (energy production, cardiovascular, serotonin production and oestrogen metabolism). Without these essential nutrients we are unable to effectively communicate & regenerate

A recent study done in America showed that 48% of the population have inadequate intake of  magnesium

Maca for  energy and adrenal stress:

Like licorice, Holy basil and ginseng, the maca root is one of the plants classified as an ‘herbal adaptogen’. This means it  stimulates hormones to help you adapt to stress and illness . Your endocrine (hormone) system is in the front line when it comes to handling the effects of stress on your body. When it is alarmed it kick starts a cascade of stress hormones including cortisol & adrenaline which affects everything including  fertility, hormone balance,  the nervous system, immunity, kidney function, metabolism, digestion and mood. Being  alarmed and working under pressure is part of life  these days but not so good long term and causes hormonal chaos.  I see many  clients displaying symptoms of burn out & adrenal fatigue (disturbed sleep, nightmares and  insomnia, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression,  digestive disturbance, menopause symptoms by the dozen, weight gain and sub-fertility / infertility and sexual dysfunction)  to name but a few symptoms.

So back to maca  –  the alkaloid and polysaccharide components of the plant root support the hypothalamus/pituitary gland and reproductives.  In the past warriors would take maca root before  going into battle to boost stamina and strength.  As we generally are not going into direct battle these days we can use it as  a “pick me up”  when we need some adrenal support.

Unlike caffeine maca gentle stimulates and energises but  can be eaten and drunk at any time of day because it doesn’t  interfere with sleep

 

Maca helps balance hormones

Due to its ability to influence the reproductive system, this great root supports hormonal balance in both men and women.  It has been shown to

Elevate  energy levels

Improve  libido & sexual stamina in men and women

Increase sperm count and sperm motility 

Reduce anxiety and mood swings 

Reduce peri-menopause symptoms such as hot flushes

Boost the immune system

Promote balance  within the body

Reduce painful menstrual cramps

Improve PMS symptoms

Enhance concentration and mental clarity 

Help us cope with stress

Reduce food cravings 

Support bone health

Maca for Food Cravings

Maca is high in fibre which improves gut health. As we already know choosing correct foods and a healthy lifestyle is essential to achieve hormone balance.  Fibre is an effective tummy filler, which can reduce hunger between meals and also helps reduce constipation (an issue for many women who suffer with stress and/or cyclic hormonal surges)

Maca powder also contains between 11% to 18% protein.   Your body needs protein to build healthy cells, muscles, endometrium &  support ovarian function. Nine amino acids are considered ‘essential’ to your health and maca contains 7 of them. It also helps you to feel full!

Maca for Sex and  Libido

Though its aphrodisiac affects are not scientifically understood entirely it’s ability to stimulate sexual sensation and desire, reduce erectile dysfunction, increase sperm count, and increase sex drive is helpful to say the least. Scientists  think it’s  amazing effect on the hormones and the pituitary gland, including its stress relieving properties are caused by maca’s unique long chain fatty acids  which have yet not been found in any other plant. They have been shown to increase sexual activity and correct erectile dysfunction in animals.  They are also similar in structure to endocannabinoids, chemicals that stimulate hedonistic hotspots in our brain, triggering pleasure. For whatever reason maca has been used for centuries in Peru to boost libido and virility.

Maca for Liver and Enzyme Support

Maca is a cruciferous vegetable, so it contains glucosinolates. In nature, glucosinolates are stored in cells of plants and act as natural pesticides to protect the plant. When  we digest maca the  glucosinolate properties  change   into health-boosting chemicals.  Sulfur (also found in garlic and onions) helps your body produce a master antioxidant called gluthionine. This is an amazing hormone boosting and detoxifiying enzyme which supports liver function (essential for hormone balance, detoxification and anti-ageing).

Optimising liver function is absolutely essential to maintain hormonal balance and oestrogen health conditions like the menopause, acne, vaginal atrophy/dryness, polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, luteul phase misfunction, recurrent miscarriage  and much more.   I wrote an article about the importance of the  liver ages ago and also offer seasonal health programmes and workshops  to support liver health 

Maca for PMS Relief

As we have already established Maca is a herbal adaptogen.  This means we can use it to help  menstrual mood madness.  At the start of the menstrual period, there is a very low level of oestrogen, but by mid cycle it has increased 10-fold before steeply plummeting again.  For some women this  hormonal rise and fall  causes  MOOD SWINGS, FLUID RETENTION, BREAST TENDERNESS. 

Maca for the Peri- and Menopause

Like Fennel, maca may be a great alternative to HRT. Unlike some herbs and phytoestrogens  (e.g. soy) maca does not try to mimic oestrogen in your body. Yet it can actually increase the body’s production of oestrogen if your levels are too low. And unlike HRT, which may cause a rise in cholesterol, such as triglycerides, maca has been shown to help lower unhealthy HDL cholesterol and increase healthy HDL cholesterol in menopausal women.

Research found that after taking maca for only four months, peri-menopausal women enjoyed a range of health benefits including weight loss, lower blood pressure, increased iron levels and good HDL cholesterol.

An Australian  research project trialled women in early menopause.  They were given two 500mg capsules off Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon maca twice a day for four months.  Results demonstrated  – increase in  oestrodial, progesterone and luteinizing hormone (which stimulates ovary function) but reduced the stress hormone cortisol.  The ladies  explained that their symptoms of  hot flushes, night sweats, nervous tension, anxiety and depression were all reduced plus concentration and sleep levels all improved.  Why is this? Well, It is thought that the plant sterols in maca stimulate changes in the action of the HPA axis which supports the adrenal, ovarian, pineal and thyroid glands.

Maca for Beauty

Hormonal imbalances including polycystic ovaries and the menopause leave many women acutely aware of changes to the health of their  skin.  Some suffer with dryness or thinning hair whilst others develop hair growth in places where it shouldn’t!  Others suffer with spots, pimples and acne.

Hormonal surges are often reflected in skin health  (we see this during puberty, PCOS, acne rosacae, menstruating, menopause and pregnancy) but as maca helps to stabilize  hormonal changes it is easy to understand why so many women report skin improvements after using it.

 

Using Maca

We usually consider maca as creamy/yellow in colour  but actually there are  13 different  types of maca. Research is still ongoing for the different maca colours  and benefits but this is what has been established so far:

Yellow:  shown to help protect against UV radiation from the sun when applied directly to the skin in a liquid form

Red maca appears to be good for bone strength.

Black: has been shown to promote bone strength and improve brain function, such as memory and cognition. In men, it can help increase sperm count and reduce issues like enlarged prostate in men.

My recommendations are

Buy the best you can!  Some is raw and some has been gelatinised.  This is a  process breaking down the starch in maca.  Just for you information traditionally it is always cooked before eating which removes the starches and fibres that make it hard for some people to digest

Don’t over dose: If you start a dose that’s too high it could make your symptoms worse so I would recommend you start with half dose. Begin with half a teaspoon of maca  daily for one week.  Then  take a week off. The following week take 1 teaspoon per day for a week – then a week off. MACA is powerful and dosage will vary dependent on YOU!

Take with food.

If you are on the FODMAP/Hunter/Gatherer/Paleo/Caveman diet : Maca contains carbohydrates called polysaccharides, you might want to take only low doses of maca or avoid it altogether.

Remember – we are all individual.  Everyone reacts differently to nutritional supplements and food. If you experience  side effects from maca then your particular system may be too sensitive to tolerate  it.    Side effects include stomach bloating, cramps, nausea (or a gurgling tummy) and also heart palpitations or the jitters.   Please note that people with thyroid issues should use maca only with the support of their health professional due to the glucosinoates and iodine levels. It is possible that Maca may stimulate the body to produce more oestrogen  in some ladies.  If you suffer with  oestrogen-sensitive conditions such as oestrogen receptor positive breast, ovarian or uterine cancers, endometriosis or uterine fibroids  or if you know you are oestrogen dominant use maca with caution!  (I recommend  personalised nutrition programmes and functional lab test analysis). 

 

Maca Recipes:

I suggest you add a teaspoon to smoothies, yoghurt, porridge or as an ingredient within your protein bars or fertility truffles.

Maca Smoothie

  • ¼ cup frozen berries
  • 1 tbsp dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa content) or raw cacao powder
  • 1 tbsp maca powder
  • 2 cubes of frozen wheatgrass or frozen coconut oil (optional)
  • 1 cup of milk (unsweetened oat, hemp, cashew, almond or coconut milk, or cow/goat/sheep milk)

Directions: Add all ingredients to blender and blend until perfectly smooth then drink  immediately.

 

Nourishing Maca  Drink (enough for 1 mug and so simple.  Basically whizz it and warm it! I love this after a brisk cold walk or relaxing after yoga)

1 mug of milk – I use cashew because I love the creaminess but you could use coconut, almond, oat, hazlenut or whatever you fancy. I am not a fan of dairy milk but please choose whatever rocks your boat

¼ to half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder

½ tsp ground or freshly  grated nutmeg (you could add this at the end of top to make it look special and because nutmeg smells so divine!)

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp – 1 dessertspoon  maca powder

half – 1 teaspoon organic  coconut oil

Squidge of maple syrup or  raw local honey

small pinch of black pepper (optional but helps turmeric synergy)

Instructions

Place the milk, maca powder, turmeric, cinnamon and nutmeg to a small blender and process on high speed to combine (this is the whizz).  Then warm over medium heat, stirring frequently but be careful not to boil. Add the coconut oil and maple syrup and stir to combine.  I like  to vary the strength of the flavours dependent on my mood.  Please feel free because every time I make it it tastes different!.  Please note that extra spices will settle to the bottom of your cup. If you prefer a smooth tea without the remaining undissolved spices you can filter the tea through a small mesh strainer prior to serving.

Supper BrekkieMaca  SuperBrekkie 

1 sachet chia seeds

1 dessertspoon maca powder

200 ml fresh kefir

Handful blueberries or any fruit

Place  handful blueberries in a glass.  Pour half the kefir  into the glass then add a maca layer.  Pour the remaining kefir on top.  Finally layer the chia seeds on top.  Leave to soak in the fridge for a short while and then gently mix together and eat with a spoon.

 

Justine Evans ND is a Hormone Alchemist and and fertility doula. She is a degree qualified nutritional therapist and registered naturopath (ND). Passionate about female health  Justine integrates a mind/body approach to women’s health using cycles, seasons and moon energy but also integrates functional medicine.  Justine is the founder of Creation Fertility and it’s products.  Justine can be contacted on 07747 133170

Disclaimer: This article has been written as personal opinion and guidance only and should not be construed as medical advice.  I am not a medical doctor.

 

 

 

Meet me at The Wellness Day  on 10th March

Sources for this Article Include:
1.     Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content.  Nicole A Brooks, Gisela Wilcox, Karen Z Walker, John F Ashton, Marc B Cox, Lily Stojanovska.  Menopause. 2008 Nov-Dec;15(6)
2.      Julio Rubio, Maria Caldas, Sonia Dávila, Manuel Gasco, Gustavo F Gonzales. Effect of three different cultivars of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on learning and depression in ovariectomized mice. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2006 Jun 23;6:23.
3. G F Gonzales, A Córdova, K Vega, A Chung, A Villena, C Góñez, S Castillo. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. Andrologia. 2002 Dec;34(6):367-72.
4. Christina M Dording, Lauren Fisher, George Papakostas, Amy Farabaugh, Shamsah Sonawalla, Maurizio Fava, David Mischoulon. A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. meyenii) for the management of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2008 Fall; 14(3):182-91.