MACA (Lepidium Meyenii/Peruvianum)

Click here to see partial listing of published scientific research on the effects of maca roots on fertility, sperm motility and sperm count, endocrine/adrenal function, male sexual performance/enhancements and hormonal health

Introduction

Maca is a root plant and a member of the cruciferous family, native to Peru. It is considered both a food and a medicine by indigenous people. It is consumed by the people of the highlands of Peru of all ages – from three year olds to the elderly. It looks something like a small turnip, either cream-colored or purple when it is harvested. It is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and iron, and contains trace minerals, including zinc, iodine, copper, selenium, bismuth, manganese and silica, as well as B vitamins. It also contains four alkaloids proven in scientific investigation to nourish the endocrine glands, including the reproductive system of men and women.

Maca has adaptogen qualities, that is, its effects are appropriate to the age and sex of the person using it. It has a long list of uses because of its broad range of nutritional and medicinal properties discovered by both Indians of the Peruvian highlands in ancient times and by contemporary populations and naturopathic physicians. Some examples: revitalizes men and women of middle and older age both mentally and physically, helps older men maintain sexual functioning; assists in human conception; helps maintain menopausal hormonal balance, reduces stress and boosts energy levels,, and is being used as an adjuvant therapy for chronic fatigue.

Where does Maca grow?

It grows at an altitude of between 13,000 and 14,500 feet above sea level in the high Andean plateaus of Peru, a cold, oxygen-poor environment with high winds and harsh sunlight. No other food plant exists in the world which will grow at so high an altitude. But the soil of these high plateaus are extremely rich in minerals, which accounts for the high level of trace minerals found in maca. Some of the Quechua-speaking Peruvian Indians who grow maca, still grow it in the traditional way, using no pesticides and a long fallow period before replanting,with only the natural fertilizer provided by their animals.

Indians of all ages who live in the high Andes eat maca, along with quinoa and amaranth and other crops of exceptional nutritional value. The earliest archeological evidence for the growing of maca for human consumption dates back to approximately 8,000 B.C. During the establishment of the Inca Empire, the Inca king prohibited the native peoples he conquered from trading maca, demanding that the entire maca crop be given in tribute to the royal family. Several different Spanish Chronicles mention maca. In 1653 Bernabe Cobo wrote: “Half of the Indians [of Peru] have no other bread,” [other than maca]. Maca was also endowed with certain mystical properties and has been found in tombs. Today the natives of the high Andes perform ceremonies to Pachamama – Mother Earth, in which maca is offered to the mountain in gratitude for blessings received.

Dr. Chacon’s research suggests that the alkaloids in maca act on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland which together help regulate the endocrine glands, including the adrenals, the thyroid, the ovaries, and the testes by releasing higher levels of precursor hormones.

Although human populations have eaten maca for more than 10,000 years, according to archeologists who have found evidence for the domestication of maca since about 8,000 B.C., the knowledge of the positive effects of eating maca gradually died out with the Spanish Conquest, except among those people living at the very highest altitude of Peru, where maca grows. These millenia of safe and effective human use has recently been supplemented by scientific studies.

Female rats fed cooked organic maca showed significant rate of maturation of egg follicles over the rats in the control group. Male rats fed maca showed significant increase in sperm count and sperm motility over rats in the control group.

German scientists in the 1980s, impressed by the nutritional properties recommended its use by Indians who had moved to urban centers and whose children were suffering from malnutrition. School teachers in government schools in the highlands now recommend to the parents that they feed their children maca, kiwicha [amaranth], quinoa, and other native crops and stay away from white bread and other “civilized food.” The nutritional qualities of maca have also been described in the book The Lost Crops of the Andes, along with other native crops. In the last five years a renaisssance in the use of maca has taken place in much of Peru, and now Europeans and North Americans are beginning to learn about the health benefits of maca.

In the Traditional Chinese Medicine system, maca is considered a “warm” food because its effect on the body is anabolic- strengthening, nourishing, and tonic. Several alternative health practitioners in the U.S., including medical doctors, have been using maca successfully to support healthy hormone balance and to support healthy immune system function.

In two visits to Peru, in September, 1995 and May and June of 1996, I interviewed two medical doctors, one a neurologist and the other a pediatrician who had integrated the use of herbs, including maca, into their medical practice and who had subordinated their specialities in the development of a naturopathic practice. One of these doctors, had prescribed the use of maca to about 200 menopausal and postmenopausal women with remarkably good results. Some of the cases which he described include the following:

A 48 year old woman from Lima, Peru who had suffered from hot flashes and menopausal depression and whose doctor had prescribed a pharmaceutical estrogen replacement therapy. She had used this supplemental estrogen for a few months but was worried about its long term use. She stopped using it and went to Dr. M. for a “natural alternative”. He prescribed maca and did follow-up blood work, confirming that she was maintaining a desirable post-menopausal level of blood serum estrogen. Her hot flashes disappeared and she stopped being depressed.

A 44 year old woman from Lima, Peru who had had a complete hysterectomy (including removal of the ovaries). She was suffering from depression, fatigue, and hot flashes and was found to have a blood serum level of estrogen of 15. After two months of taking maca, her blood serum estrogen level was retested and found to be at a level of 75, a level which Dr. M. said is quite acceptable to help maintain healthy bones and maintain a feeling of well being. And, in fact her symptoms disappeared. It is evident that the effect of maca on her body was to support her adrenal glands to produce a healthy level of estrogen.

Click here to see partial listing of published scientific research on the effects of maca roots on fertility, sperm motility and sperm count, endocrine/adrenal function, male sexual performance/enhancements and hormonal health.