July 31 2021
Maca root is a vegetable predominantly found in the mountains of Andes in Peru at a very high altitude of about 13000 feet. They are also called as Lepidium meyenii and it is a cruciferous vegetable which looks like a radish or turnip and its uses are both dietary and medicinal. The root is the main edible part of maca. Maca is also known as Peruvian ginseng and it is traditionally used in Peru as an aphrodisiac and to balance the harsh climate in the mountains. Based on the colour of the roots, there are 13 different varieties of maca, the most commonly studied colour being the yellow, black and red maca root.
The constituents of maca include 10% water, 59% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 8.5% dietary fibre and 2.2% fat. Maca is found to abundantly contain large amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and iodine in addition to the presence of copper, manganese, zinc, vitamin C, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and thiamine (vitamin B1). Maca also contains fatty acids like linoleic, palmitic, oleic acids as well as 19 types of amino acids. High levels of choline are present in red and black maca. Maca also contains fatty acids unique to maca called macamides and the main active compounds are the alkaloid macaridine and glucosinolates which contribute a bitter flavour to maca most abundantly found in red maca followed by black and yellow.
The other constituents of maca are dietary polyphenols and a compound called MTCA which blocks monoamine oxidase which is an enzyme that breaks down transmitters and thus contains the ability to cause mutations in the DNA.
Mechanism of action:
Maca consists of fatty acids called macamides which affect the endocannabinoid system by increasing the anandamide levels by blocking fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) which is an enzyme responsible for the breaking down of anandamide which in turn acts on the cannabinoid receptor CB1 which promotes the feelings of happiness.
Black maca decreases the haemoglobin levels in the inhabitants of high altitude. Elevated haemoglobin levels are associated with chronic mountain sickness especially in those living at high altitudes. Maca also plays a role in neutralising free radicals and safeguards against oxidative stress. Maca also contributes to increasing the white blood cells and also enhances the production of IGF-1 levels in the cartilage thereby showing a beneficial effect in improving bone health. Maca is known to decrease angiotensin-converting enzyme ( ACE) reducing the availability of angiotensin which is a hormone that increases the blood pressure.
Health benefits of maca:
- Sex drive and sexual function - Taking maca supplements for about 12 weeks leads to an increased sexual desire in healthy men. It also improves antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction and causes an improvement in sex drive. Maca extract is taken for 12 weeks also showed an increased erectile function and promotes sexual well being in men with mild erectile dysfunction. Maca supplements have been found to improve semen quality in both fertile and healthy men. In women with postmenopausal symptoms, use of maca for 6 weeks reduced sexual dysfunction. The use of black maca in healthy men increased sperm count-its volume as well as quality. The supplements of Alvizia testosterone booster with horny goat weed and maca root extract are known to enhance sex drive.
Anxiety and depression:
In menopausal women, supplementing with maca for about 6 weeks decreased anxiety and depression also improving the mood, reducing fatigue and leading to an in generally enhanced quality of life due to the presence of compounds called flavonoids.
Studies conducted on postmenopausal women showed a decrease in blood pressure on supplementing with maca for about 6 weeks.
Maca contains a compound called reparation which decreases pain and stiffness and leads to an improvement in physical function in patients with osteoarthritis. Maca also increases bone density over the use of about 4 months in menopausal women. It also prevents bone loss which can occur as a result of a reduction in estrogen levels.
The use of maca showed a reduction in menopausal symptoms such as irritability and discomfort as a result of hot flashes and night sweats. It also reduces follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, increases estrogen and progesterone levels when administered orally to postmenopausal women for about 2 months. Maca supplements also protect bone health as women have a higher risk of osteoporosis after menopause.
Inflammation and oxidative stress:
People with a regular intake of maca showed a lower level of inflammatory markers and decreased levels of oxidative stress than those without the use of maca.
Blood sugar and exercise performance:
The intake of black maca showed a significant decrease in blood glucose. Ingestion of maca for 2 weeks also marked an improvement in cycling performance thereby showing its potential to enhance exercise performance due to which it is a preferred form of supplement among bodybuilders. Maca extract helps in gaining muscle mass, increases strength and boosts energy levels.
Chronic mountain sickness:
The difficulty in adapting to high altitudes is the reason for mountain sickness. The consumption of maca, especially red maca, is known to reduce the prevalence of chronic mountain sickness thereby improving the quality of life in those inhabiting high altitudes.
Supplementing with black maca shows evidence of improving learning and protects against memory impairment thereby preserving the brain function.
Topical application of maca extract to the skin protects the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. The use of red, black and yellow maca on the skin also prevents the development of sunburnt cells and other signs of damage due to ultraviolet radiation mainly because of the antioxidant properties of polyphenols and glucosinolates present in maca.