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What is Maca?

by Nicole Nutter

women using macaKeep that five dollar bill in your wallet instead of handing it over to the barista at your local coffee shop. If you’re someone who can’t go a day without your cup of Joe, you might be interested in an alternative, non-caffeinated way to that much needed energy boost. Maca is classified as both an herb as well as a root vegetable, and can improve your energy level, stamina and vitality. Not sure you can break up with that morning brew just yet? Well, maca is also said to improve sexual health and performance, along with being believed to help with several other medical conditions. So put down that coffee-creamer and take a look at what this native Peruvian plant has to offer.

Maca is nutritionally dense, and can be taken as a supplement (liquid or pill) or as a food. Full of vitamins, minerals like calcium, iron and magnesium, enzymes and 19 essential amino acids, this super-food has helped in health improvement of those with conditions such as depression, leukemia and osteoporosis. It is loaded with B-vitamins (the energy givers) and it is a vegetarian source of B-12. In addition, it contains fiber, proteins and carbohydrates, and some different plant sterols accredited with many medicinal benefits.

nautral macaMany people enjoy maca powder with their food, or added to juice, shakes, or smoothies. Other ideas include a teaspoon of it into a bowl of vegetable and lentil soup, or added to any herbal tea. Maca powder can even be mixed into maple syrup or honey to produce a wet paste that you can put on fruit or eat straight off the spoon, but we don’t suggest this one if you’re on a low-sugar diet. It is suggested that you start with a lower amount per day, around ? teaspoon, and then over the next few weeks move up to 1 or 2 teaspoons per day. If you decide this is something you want to take every day, one day off each week is recommended.

Proponents of maca root, including Natural News, claim that it helps to balance our hormones by nourishing and stimulating the ‘master glands’ (the hypothalamus and pituitary glands). When these are balanced, since they conveniently regulate the other glands, “they can bring balance to the adrenal, thyroid, pancreas, ovarian and testicular glands.” Maca doesn’t introduce hormones into the body, but works as an adaptogen, responding to individuals’ different needs. Hormone imbalances can have a significant effect on a person given that they regulate so many different things. Some of these include growth, sexual development, tissue function, and mood. Cathy Wong, a licensed naturopathic doctor and an American College of Nutrition-certified nutrition specialist, says it, “has been shown to be beneficial for all sorts of hormonal problems including PMS, menopause, and hot flashes. Maca’s also a fertility enhancer and is best known for improving libido and sexual function, especially in men. For this reason, it has earned the nickname ‘nature’s Viagra.’”

Often an acclaimed aphrodisiac, many are attracted to the herb for its aforementioned positive influence on sexual health. Fertility studies have shown maca to increase semen volume, sperm count, and sperm motility without affecting levels of testosterone and estradiol. Medications can often have side effects, and several selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of medications used to help with depression, can cause sexual dysfunction and diminish sex-drive. CNC Neuroscience & Therapeutics conducted a survey in 2008 of the sexual dysfunction of 20 people with depression. Researchers found that maca may help to alleviate sexual dysfunction in both men and women and may also help achieve sexual enhancement. Many people, especially women hoping to become pregnant, prefer natural supplements when attempting to improve their sexual health and maca appears to have great advantages, including enhanced ovarian function.

How can one herb work in so many different ways? The benefits of maca seem never-ending. It has also been said to help with anemia, acne, chronic fatigue syndrome and to balance blood pressure. If you are interested in trying maca, you should understand that you might experience detoxification symptoms. Natural News reports that, “this is because when a body more accustomed to consuming processed and cooked foods starts taking in such a nutritionally dense supplement, the body will absorb the superior nutrients it needs and ‘throw off’ the old junk it doesn’t need for elimination.” If you feel under the weather when you first begin taking maca, it generally only lasts for a few days. To help with many adverse symptoms, most recommend doing a colon and liver cleanse to quickly remove some of the waste before or while you take the herb.

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