The following article is contributed by Dr. Anna Cabeca, internationally recognized gynecologist and sexual health expert.
Is Maca Right for your Hormone Health?
By Dr. Anna Cabeca
Magdalena recently shared with me that she gets a lot of questions about maca.
While she loves my Mighty Maca® Plus superfoods drink and knows it makes her feel great, she wasn’t able to fully answer a few questions relating to the different types of maca that are available for supporting women’s hormone health. So, in this article, I will give you the “scoop” on all things maca.
I have worked with thousands of women over the years, initially in my own private practice as an OB/GYN and more recently as the creator of numerous women’s health and menopause programs. In those decades focused on women’s health, I have found maca to be extremely beneficial in addressing all types of hormonal imbalances (adrenal, sexual and thyroid hormones in particular). I’ve seen maca improve PMS and menstrual irregularities, fertility issues, fatigue, as well as a variety of menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, diminished libido, and depression.
But what is the right maca for you? And what does the research say about this ugly little root?
Let’s talk about that and I’ll also give you some insights as to why I chose maca as the cornerstone ingredient in my superfoods blend.
Note that while I’m focusing more on menopause and women’s hormones, most of what is going to be discussed is relevant for all ages of women…and for men, too.
“Try maca…it fixes everything!”
Well, maybe not everything…but it is packed with nutrients and so much more.
I first came across maca on a trip to Peru. I was on a healing journey of sorts, traveling the globe, trying to find natural – yet proven – solutions to my own hormone nightmare…going into premature menopause at the age of 39 due to a personal trauma. Everywhere I went in Peru the locals said to “Try maca” to address my own issue, and it seemed to be the answer to pretty much any other health concern! Digestion got you down? “Try maca!” Fertility challenges? “Try maca!” Sexual dysfunction problems? “Try maca.” Stressed and fatigued? “Try maca.”
And I did try maca. And let me just say I was pregnant by the time I returned home from my trip.
Peruvian maca is grown locally in the high elevations of the Andes, in extremely harsh conditions and temperatures. Throughout the centuries, the maca plant has had to adapt in order to survive these challenging growing conditions and environmental stressors.
Today, Peruvian maca is considered to be an adaptogen. What does that mean? Well, an adaptogen is a natural substance that is considered to help the body adapt to stress by exerting a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.
When we consume adaptogens we can benefit from their innate ability to withstand stressors. Their nutrients and chemical makeup help our body’s adrenals (the gland that deals with our stress hormones) deal more effectively with environmental, mental and physical stressors. This then helps our entire body get back into balance.
That alone would make maca a potent ingredient worthy of consumption. But when I returned home from my travels I looked into the actual research relating to maca and found there was a lot more to this centuries-old root.
I found that maca contains fatty acids (good for heart health and stabilizing blood sugar levels), fiber, vitamins and minerals (including magnesium, which many women are deficient in), essential amino acids, protein, alkaloids, and glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are important as they are thought to have anti-cancer benefits.
I also learned that Maca is an alkaline and detoxifying root which is one of the reasons I designed my Mighty Maca Plus superfoods blend around maca. Today my maca based blend is a perfect addition to the Keto-Green™ diet that I use in all of my menopause health and women’s restorative health programs. I find that most women suffer from adrenal exhaustion…so I start every program with some “maca therapy!”
Along with its adaptogenic benefits on our stress hormones, maca helps our bodies better achieve hormone balance throughout the endocrine system. It boosts energy, too.
Finding the perfect maca for you
Magdalena asked me to talk about, “the right maca for women’s hormone health.” But before I talk about that, let’s discuss the importance of you buying only a quality – pure and safe – product.
So what does quality maca look like?
First, only buy organic Peruvian maca, and I suggest you also look for organic certification on the label. I purchase only certified organic maca for Mighty Maca Plus. You also want your organic maca to be from Peru versus somewhere else, as that will also ensure it is GMO-free The Peruvian government currently bans GMO in maca harvests.
I think Magdalena has talked about this previously, but a lot of maca (due to its growing popularity) is now coming out of other countries, including a good deal coming from China.
The problem with maca from other countries can be with the unregulated growing methods. You won’t see much in the way of organic or non-GMO, and the growing practices may include a variety of endocrine disrupting fertilizers and pesticides. There are also a lot of pollutants (including heavy metals) in general in China in the air and water sources.
There are about 13 different phenotypes (colors) of the maca root that are grown in mixed fields today in Peru. One study found that yellow was the predominant phenotype typically found in any given field. The black, yellow, and red root have been primarily looked at in the limited color-specific research that has been done. That research has found that nutritionally, all colors seem to be the same, but variations in the amount of some compounds have been found in different root colors, as well as differences in the level of certain health benefits associated with different colors. An example: in one study, black maca was associated with an improved result relating to spermatogenesis, fatigue and memory. Another study showed that the red phenotype contained more glucosinolates. You can read more research about color variations here.
You can purchase color-specific maca, which is harvested from mixed crop fields and is usually hand-sorted. But I don’t personally feel that is the optimal strategy. The maca fields in Peru are typically planted with multiple phenotypes. Due to the windy conditions, cross-contamination is common. The maca I purchase for Mighty Maca Plus is naturally harvested from organic farms, to include all phenotypes (with all of the combined benefits) of the roots.
Maca alleviates menopause symptoms without being estrogenic
One of the questions Magdalena often gets about maca is regarding whether it is estrogenic in nature.
Many of my patients and clients over the years have desired natural alternatives to estrogen HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to address hot flashes, brain fog and weight gain, along with other menopause-related symptoms (vaginal dryness in particular). Some had breast cancer concerns associated with increased levels of circulating estrogen. Some had thyroid or estrogen dominance concerns. Excess estrogen can also be an issue for men as they age, as they may find that their estrogen levels become artificially high due to exposure to estrogenic endocrine disruptors in the environment and foods (like the hormones in that nice thick steak…did you know that it is all of this excess estrogenic activity that can result in moobs – man boobs?).
But the research has shown that maca is NOT estrogenic.
The maca root does not contain plant estrogens or any other phytohormones.
And rather than stimulating increased estrogen activity, maca is somehow able to regulate estrogen levels towards what is beneficial for a given individual. Think of it as “balancing” versus “stimulating” estrogen levels, important as not every woman can metabolize estrogen well, and certainly some have estrogen sensitivities or concerns.
So how does it do this “balancing”? Most researchers believe it has to do with how maca optimizes the functioning of the hypothalamus and the pituitary, resulting in overall endocrine system improvements across a wide range of age groups of women and men. And these endocrine improvements extend beyond the sexual hormones, to include the pineal gland (better sleep), thyroid and adrenals (more energy).
And this all equates to a reduction in symptoms that women in the perimenopause and menopause experience. One study on perimenopausal women showed that maca use significantly alleviated perimenopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes, depression, and sleep) by 74%-87%.
While I have heard that some women – including Magdalena – report tender breasts at times when taking maca, I have seldom seen that issue in my community. Other physicians who have run across that side-effect have said it has usually been a temporary effect that goes away with routine use. Again, maca is not estrogenic, but it does regulate hormones, so it isn’t totally surprising that there could be symptoms that pop up that one sees associated with changing hormones. I will just mention that in all of the actual published research on maca, I do not recall ever seeing breast tenderness as a reported side-effect. If you have found such information please do let me know.
The Peruvian Viagra! Fertility, sexual function, and libido
Did I mention that maca also contains arginine? Arginine works like Viagra by stimulating nitric oxide production; and research has shown that maca consumption can improve libido, fertility, and sexual function.
Just a few individual studies relating to maca and sexual health:
- Maca treatment improved libido in women having sexual dysfunction with women indicating that they had more frequent and enjoyable sexual activity. The women had been having sexual dysfunction as a side-effect of taking SSRI (selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medication.
- A study showed that treatment with maca improved sexual desire in men.
- A study of postmenopausal women found that maca consumption lowered measures of sexual dysfunction (independent of estrogenic activity). Maca consumption also reduced symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
- Maca resulted in improvements to sperm production and sperm motility in adult men.
Better than these studies is what I regularly hear from the women and men who use maca and my Mighty Maca blend in regards to how it has helped their libido, sexual dysfunction, and fertility. I hear so many wonderful stories about how this Peruvian Viagra has truly helped with people’s relationships and happiness.
Maca gets that nasty witch off your shoulders!
Magdalena also asked about whether maca can help with those terrible mood-swings.
While she uses my Mighty Maca Plus for a little pick-up some afternoons (many people use it for its energizing effect), she wasn’t sure how it affects overall mood, especially more serious symptoms like depression and anxiety.
Well, given that maca is an adaptogen, which helps our body deal with stressors and have a healthier stress response, it would make logical sense that maca could help regulate our mood as well as our hormones, right?
The women in my restorative health programs swear by my Mighty Maca blend’s ability to keep that nasty, moody witch off their shoulders.
Maca… Plus! Synergy with 40+ other beneficial ingredients!
Finally, Magdalena also asked me about what form of maca is best (tablets, liquid, powder, gel or raw). To a certain extent, I think this is a matter of preference, but I will say that I chose raw powder over gelatinized for my superfoods blend. While many of the studies have used gel tablets, I feel that the raw form better preserves the beneficial enzymes and nutrients. Gelatinized maca is heated at high temperatures to remove the plant’s starch, but that impacts the enzymes and other beautiful components of the root in my opinion.
As one example, glucosinolates have been found to be sensitive to heating. The challenge is, however, that there isn’t specific information as to how this degradation occurs at varying levels of heat during the gelatinization process, nor comparisons of this degraded form to non-gelatinized/raw versions of maca. So the jury is still out on whether gelatinized or raw might be better in regards to some components of the root. More research is required.
For now, knowing that I wanted optimal amounts of glucosinolates in my product, I did find a supplier that could provide me with a high percentage of glucosinolates in my raw maca (my blend contains about 2.4%). I am very happy to provide that formula in my blend, and I’ll continue to pour over new research as it becomes available. I feel confident in my choices related to my selecting the right maca that I feel good about putting my name on!
I have heard some people say that gelatinized helps with digestion.
Over the many years my product has been on the market I have only found a very small handful of people having had an issue with the raw, organic maca I use. I even have celiacs who routinely use my Mighty Maca Plus blend. I do know that Magdalena has heard of issues such as indigestion relating to various other maca products that use the raw form.
My comment relating to those products is that I’d want to know what else the maca might contain: does it contain impurities, and has it been tested for fungi, that sort of thing. I know that my own superfoods blend contains certified organic maca that has been also tested for all sorts of impurities.
I also know that the other 40+ ingredients in my maca blend are all beneficial on their own as well as synergistic with maca. And maybe that is why I don’t see digestive issues or other side-effects with my product.
So why am I saying all of these ingredients work together so well? Here’s one example. My maca blend contains its own digestive enzymes, including bromelain, a super digestive aid (it also may be preventative with diabetes, various cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.
Mighty Maca Plus also is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories such as mangosteen and turmeric.
And for those worried about estrogen sensitivities, my blend contains flaxseed. Research has shown that flaxseed (high in Omega 3s) may be protective for certain types of cancer, especially in postmenopausal women. And you’ll find extra fiber in my blend as well, which also helps flush out that excess estrogen.
The best maca product for balanced hormones is….(drum-roll please)
Again, I think the best maca or product containing maca is the one that will make you feel the best, so that is why I offer a free 4-day trial pack of my Mighty Maca Plus superfoods blend. All you have to pay is a nominal $3.95 shipping cost.
I’ve provided a lot of research, and I have tons of testimonials…but hey, we are all biologically unique so all of those studies and real-life results may or may not apply to you. Certain studies are very narrow in scope, specific to an age, sex or health condition, etc. Or you may have a particular health status (like being pregnant or breastfeeding…I do not suggest you take maca or my blend in these instances as they are detoxifying) that will make it “work” for you better or worse than others.
But having said that, why not try it? I always say, “try the simple stuff first”! And trying a natural solution just makes sense. If you are concerned about some underlying health issue or pre-existing estrogen sensitivities, discuss those concerns with your physician. He/she may want to monitor your hormone levels to see how various dosages are working with your own unique hormone blueprint.
Remember, I chose the right kind of maca (Peruvian certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, preservative-free…and tested for heavy metals, fungi, and bacteria…) to use as the main ingredient in my green superfoods blend. Then I added 40+ synergistic ingredients with health benefits of their own! And finally, I added a money-back guarantee and my own name on every canister of the product. I believe in it and use it daily (and so do my kids!).
And let Magdalena and I know how it makes you feel.
Please note that this is a sponsored post, meaning I do receive a small percentage of sales, but all opinions are my own.
Dr. Anna Cabeca Bio: