By Dr. Zoltan Rona, M.D., M.Sc.
About a year ago, numerous patients were visiting my office singing the praises of a miraculous herbal remedy known as maca. I’ve learned a great deal from patients over the years and decided to pay attention to a growing number of reports praising this increasingly popular plant. Until that time, I had only heard of Maca as an obscure tonic.
Was this just another fast-fading fad like coral calcium, noni juice and kombucha? The major benefit reported by these people was energy enhancement but several women were also making claims of relief of menopausal hot flashes, insomnia and depression. Men too were boasting of their better sexual performance and just about all were raving about being able to deal much easier with stress since starting maca supplements.
What caught my attention about maca the most was the story of one of my patients, a 49 year woman who had been on hormone replacement (HRT) for over five years. She had just heard of the studies that linked breast cancer, stroke and heart disease with the use of HRT and wanted to stop using the estrogen and progesterone combination immediately. She tried soy products, black cohosh, ginseng, evening primrose oil, progesterone cream and numerous other natural remedies to relieve her hot flashes and insomnia but none were totally effective until she tried maca. She was able to stop the HRT and get complete menopausal symptom relief with maca in a matter of days. She initially thought that the effects were just placebo but going on and off the supplement proved that the effects of maca were very real. Incidentally, she was also able to off her anti-depressants because her depression and sleep had improved so dramatically.
Scientific studies using maca in humans are few and far between with most of the research having been conducted with animals. Human data is still mostly anecdotal and open to debate but several double-blind placebo-controlled studies are underway. What is proven about maca is that it appears to be very safe to use in virtually any amount. In fact, native Peruvians have been feasting on it for centuries.
Anecdotally, I recently participated in a senior tennis tournament and made it to the finals of a provincial event for the first time ever. Not bad for someone who only plays twice a week. On one day I played two matches, each over 2 hours and credit my energy, performance and endurance on taking maca in high doses before each match. I normally take a lot of supplements but this was the first time I used maca as a tennis performance enhancer.
What is maca and why is it suddenly so popular in North America?
Maca is a unique perennial that grows at altitudes of 14,500 feet in the Andean mountains of Peru. It has one of the highest frost tolerances of any cultivated plant and grows where no other plant can survive. One would expect such a hardy plant to have therapeutic properties and in this area, maca does not disappoint. Maca is rich in numerous medicinal compoundsincluding alkaloids, amino acids, beta-ecdysone, calcium, carbohydrates, iron, magnesium, p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate, phosphorus, potassium, protein, saponins, sitosterol, stigmasterol, tannins, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc.
From strictly a nutritional point of view, the contents of this plant, at worst, would supply individuals with much more than the bare minimal daily requirements of numerous vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids. The fact is that at least 50% of North Americans suffer from at least one or more of the nutrients that could easily be obtained from supplemental maca. Understandably, the following beneficial effects of maca in both men and women have been reported:
I recommend buying maca only from reputable companies that have knowledge and expertise in maca. Here are some points to consider when shopping for maca:
Because Peru is a third world country, look for companies who employ fair trade practices with local farmers and support traditional farming and sustainable harvesting to ensure the long-term health of maca and its environment.
Keep in mind that when it comes to maca, you truly do get what you pay for. For example, organic certification and gelatinization will cost you a bit more but for many consumers it may be worth the extra investment for the peace of mind, assurance of quality and greater efficacy.
Typical dosage for most adults is 1,500mg of gelatinized maca twice daily in capsule or powder form. However, one can safely take 6 or more times this amount for enhanced athletic performance amongst other active lifestyle purposes. If you are in your 40s, 50s, 60s or beyond, male or female, maca is a supplement well worth trying. Enjoy, and I would be pleased to hear of your results.
Dr. Zoltan Rona is a medical doctor with a private practice in Toronto. He is the author of 10 books on nutritional medicine and the medical editor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. He contributes articles frequently to Alive magazine, Vitality and other publications.