Nowadays, it seems like there’s always a new superfood on the market; some miracle pill screaming at you through television, magazines and word of mouth at the gym.
I’m always wary of these mass-marketed superfoods, because many people believe their consumption can repair the damage they’ve done to themselves through bad diet and a lack of self care. It just doesn’t work that way.
That said, there are some wonderful foods out there that can assist you as you reach for your fitness goals. Used correctly, their benefits are naturally restorative, especially if you’re putting in the work required to improve your health.
For example, what if I told you there was a superfood that has the incredible ability to naturally regulate hormones, boost libido, and drive your body’s natural energy levels through the roof?
Maca is one such supplement. Let’s take a close look at how maca benefits you in so many ways.
The Wonderful Array of Maca Benefits
Maca is starchy root vegetable grown in South America which is typically eaten cooked or dried. Though you won’t find it served at restaurants or in the produce section of your local supermarket, the dried, powdered version is commonly sold at most health food stores. It’s readily available online, as well.
The Wonderful World of Adaptogens
I’m in love with the maca supplement because it’s an adaptogen, a class of natural herbal substances that are becoming increasingly popular in the health world. They are prized for being able to help your body strengthen it’s ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
[Related Article: 3 Ways Stress Causes Weight Gain]
They are truly ultimate superfoods.
Adaptogens have been used for centuries in Ayruvedic medicine, and now science is backing up what ancient healers have known through time: that adaptogens offer safe, natural relief from the internal effects of stress.
There are many adaptogens, but maca benefits your health in so many ways and is certainly one of my favorites. Maca gives your body the chemicals it needs to regulate several internal processes—from sex drive to hormones; adrenal health to energy.
My Top 8 Maca Health Benefits:
1. Maca Benefits Your Adrenals
We live our lives on fast forward these days, rarely getting enough sleep and working way too hard at our jobs. As I discussed in my New York Times best-selling book The All-Day Energy Diet, many of us barely have enough energy to power our daily lives, and end up feeling frazzled and stressed out as a result.
This is not normal, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.
If you feel this way, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue, a condition caused by severe stress and a diet full of energy-draining instigators like coffee, wheat and sugar. Common symptoms include chronic tiredness, low energy, lack of focus, and a general feeling of brain fog. This sneaky condition is most effectively treated with nutrition and rest.
Maca has also been shown to provide effective support for blown-out adrenals. The adaptogenic qualities of maca actually help your body normalize cortisol levels, reduce exhaustion from stress, and protect against other negative stress effects.
In a study published in Phytotheraphy Research, research animals given maca actually showed “reduced or abolished” signs of factors associated with stress, including:
- Minimized stress-induced ulcers
- Elevated corticosterone levels
- The reduction of glucose,
- The increase in the weight of adrenal glands.
- Maca also eliminated the decrease in free fatty-acids (FFA) in plasma produced by stress.
Further adding to its stress-busting powers, maca intake has been linked to: 1) the reversal of ulcers, 2) enhanced anti-stress response, and 3) support of weak and tired adrenal glands.
It’s remarkable how maca benefits your stress levels. By putting a little bit in your smoothie every morning, you can help your exhausted adrenals get healthy and stay healthy.
2. Maca Benefits Your Hormones
You know you have hormones, but do you know what they do?
So often, when people hear the word ‘hormone’ they think about little chemicals which control our sexual and reproductive abilities. This is only partially true, as hormones are chemical messengers that tell all of your organs and tissues how to work, not just those related to reproduction.
Hormones are secreted into your blood and move throughout your body regulating everything from development, growth, metabolism, sex function, brain function, mood, body temperature… even thirst!
They wield a lot of power inside of your body, so a hormone imbalance can be quite a nasty condition. Hormone imbalances have been linked to a variety of symptoms including:
- low energy
- brain fog
- low libido
- hot flashes
- constant thirst
Though many of these hormone-related symptoms are notoriously linked to menopause, hormonal shifts can happen at any time. Hormones aren’t just effected by your age or your genetics. They’re effected—and regulated—by diet as well.
If you have a terrible diet and you haven’t been giving your body the nutrients it needs to fuel proper hormone function, it’s not uncommon to experience several nasty symptoms.
The good news? Maca benefits you by offering powerful support for balancing hormones.
A 2003 study looked at the effect of maca on hormone levels and concluded that “progesterone levels increased significantly in mice that received maca.” Obesity, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle can all cause low progesterone levels. Increasing progesterone can help your body:
- normalize blood sugar levels
- boost thyroid function
- use fat for energy
- with anti-inflammatory support
- reduce swelling and inflammation
As an adaptogen, maca gives your body the chemicals it needs to make hormones. It does this by stimulating your body to regulate the pituitary gland—the gland responsible for releasing progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone into the bloodstream.
This is especially important for women experiencing menopause who have been considering the use of maca. There is growing concern in the medical community about the dangers of hormone replacement for menopause. Because maca isn’t a hormone, it can be safely used to regulate your hormones.
3. Maca Benefits Fertility & Sex Drive
Tackling your hectic life requires the determination of a warrior, doesn’t it? That being the case, you should eat the foods that warriors once did.
Maca has also been shown to significantly increase testosterone levels. Ancient Incan warriors seemed to know this long before it was confirmed in a 2008 study—thousands of years ago, they ate maca root to amp up their energy and boost their “man-drive” before battle.
In this 2008 study, researchers set out to test the claims that maca ignites sex drive. The question guiding this study was essentially: how long does it take to get mice so excited that they ejaculate?
Obviously, you can link this question to a common concern for aging men. As testosterone decreases with age, the desire to get excited goes down, as does the speed (and ability to reach) sexual release. The study recorded massive change in just two weeks time—mice who were fed maca showed a “significant decrease… in latency.” In other words, maca made sexual release happen more.
Now this is where it gets interesting. The researchers realized the maca was supporting two vital aspects of healthy sexuality: 1) the adaptogenic qualities actually increased testosterone, and 2) sexual function was enhanced because the maca boosted energy. Maca-fed mice had more pep, vim, zest, and zing, and this increased energy literally brought them “back to life.”
I’ve often said that “movement creates energy, and energy creates vitality.” Maca benefits your energy stores in a big way.
4. Maca Can Protect You Against Osteoporosis
Let’s look at menopause for a minute, because all women will face menopause at some point in their lifetime.
Around the age of 50, menopause begins and estrogen levels begin to decrease. Low estrogen effects bone density and prolonged periods of low estrogen have been directly linked to osteoporosis.
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To combat this, most women have relied on Hormone Replacement Therapy to ease the effects of menopause, but this synthetic fix has serious side effects: The 2002 Women’s Health Initiative linked HRT to increased rates of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blood clots.
It’s just another example of how unnatural substances which are made to replace natural ones can end up doing more harm than good.
Having been consumed for more than 2,000 years, maca has already proven itself to be a nontoxic, non-harmful food source. And now, researchers are proving it to be a powerful ally against osteoporosis. As one 2006 study concluded, “Maca was effective in the prevention of estrogen deficient bone loss.”
5. Maca Amps Up Energy Levels
Here’s how much of a fan I am of maca: it’s an important ingredient in my bestselling All-Day Energy Greens powder.
As I mentioned above and in The All-Day Energy Diet, Maca benefits your energy levels by helping to correct adrenal fatigue, balancing hormones, and increasing your body’s ability to deal with stress. Maca also works as a stimulant.
In 2003, a team of researchers looked into claims of maca as a natural energizer. After breaking down the substance, understanding the chemical makeup of maca, and watching how the molecules of maca work within the body, the study concluded that maca has the ability to “exert many activities on the central nervous system.”
It’s yet another example of maca’s proven plant power.
6. Maca Benefits Your Mood
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or mood swings, maca may help you balance your mood. A pretty cool study in 2006 looked at maca’s antidepressant qualities.
Determined to test the effects of maca on depression, researchers tested maca on mice. A swimming test was used to measure energy levels. They basically studied maca-fueled mice in a swim competition. The results? Mice given maca “showed antidepressant activity.”
I love studies like this because we’ve become so accustomed to believe medicine is the only way to fix or heal depression. While prescription drugs and pharmaceuticals offer support for depression, there’s still not a one-size-fits-all medicinal answer. There are so many scary side-effects and counter-indications for prescription medication, so it’s no wonder so many people stay away from them, even if they need the benefits they provide.
While I am a proponent of working with your doctor to find what works for you, I’m also a huge advocate of supporting your health naturally. And, when science (like the swimming test) comes out and proves a connection between plants and profound health benefits, I think it’s vital to take note.
If you’re struggling from stress, low-energy, lack of motivation, or depression, a dose of maca daily has scientifically proven benefits that might do the trick.
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7. Maca Enhances Memory
Maca’s benefits aren’t limited to the body; it has also shown profound effects on the brain.
In the study mentioned above—the swimming study—it was shown that maca actually helped mice learn better. They could process and store information more effectively, showing increased cognitive function after just 21 days.
Another study look at the effects of maca on brain damaged mice, finding “maca improved experimental memory impairment… due in part, by its antioxidant and AcHE inhibitory activities.” This finding is profound because AcHE inhibitors keep your brain’s neurotransmitters from breaking down. Your brain needs these neurotransmitters to learn, remember, and move your body.
Maca as an AcHE Inhibitor means it may also offer relief from the symptoms of dementia associated with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
Essentially, this means that as an antioxidant and AcHE Inhibitor, maca both protects and boosts brain health.
8. Maca Boosts Your Immunity
If seven benefits aren’t enough to have you running out the door in search of tubs of maca, here’s one more massive perk: Immunity.
With increasing fears of disease–whether it’s flu season or ebola scares, the single best way for you to combat sickness is to avoid it all together. Boost your immune system!
[Related Article: The #1 Controversial Secret on How to Never Get Sick Again]
Remember, maca benefits your body more and more as it builds up in your system. So you want to take it daily. Taking it daily allows your body to use the consistent levels from maca to maximize health and truly start thriving.
Study after study shows the effects of maca becoming more and more powerful after 7 days, 14 days and 21 days. After 21 days, your brain will likely know the truth of that statement better than ever!
The Safest Way to Start
Maca has been used safely as a food for thousands of years, but there are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- If you’re on HRT: Women on HRT should talk to their doctors about using maca. It may be possible to replace some or all of your estrogen dosage with maca, but please do it under a doctor’s supervision.
- If you’re a breast cancer patient: Women taking tamoxifen or other estrogen blockers, and people who have had breast cancer should discuss the use of maca with a doctor, because it raises estrogen levels.
- If you’re at risk for breast cancer: Men or women with a strong history of breast cancer should discuss maca use with a doctor first.
- If you’re on thyroid medication: Work with your doctor to monitor your thyroid activity.
- If you’re pregnant: Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not take maca, as a general precaution.
- If you’re just starting out with maca: The best way to begin reaping maca benefits is to start adding it to a daily green smoothie. One half-teaspoon the first week is a good place to start. Increase this amount to one teaspoon per day as your body becomes accustomed to the supplement. If you notice any side effects like breast tenderness or aggression, feel free to pull your dosage back a bit. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to find the amount that’s right for you.
Here are 5 easy maca smoothie recipes to get you started:
- Thyroid Home Remedy Tonic
- Chocolate Nut-Milk Recipe (with Maca) via Food Matters
- Maca Madness Green Smoothie via Dishing up the Dirt
- Kale Smoothie for Ladies via In Sonnet’s Kitchen
- Peanut Butter Maca Smoothie via Blissful Basil
How to Get Your Maca
Traditionally, the Incas used Maca in soups, stews, and other dishes, but it can be hard to find fresh Maca in other areas of the world.
If you truly want the best maca benefits, then the easiest option is to use Maca root powder, which is sold as a dried and ground supplement. Basic maca powder can be blended into smoothies, sprinkled into soup, or stirred into tea. It’s that easy to add to your diet.
You can also get a daily dose of maca plus 7 other miraculous superfoods with my great-tasting Energy Greens–-the purest, highest-quality, and best-tasting greens powder on the market.
However you choose to get your maca fix, make sure you give it a shot and take it consistently. I’d love to hear how it helps you out in the comments below!
What is maca root powder?
How does maca effect thyroid function?
There is currently no evidence that shows maca has any negative effects on thyroid function.
How does maca effect hormones?
What are the benefits of maca powder?
How to use maca powder?
How much maca should I add to a smoothie?
How long to feel the benefits of maca?
Everyone responds differently but you could feel the differences in the space of a couple of days or few weeks.
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.