For 2000 years the people of the remote mountain region of Junin in the Peruvian Andes have consumed a sacred medicinal root vegetable called Maca for the management of stress and to promote vitality, balance and well-being. For those populations who consume it regularly they boast some of the happiest and healthiest people on the planet with longevity commonly seeing active elderly living well into their 90s.
Maca is a root vegetable that grows only around 4000m above sea level in a remote part of the Peruvian Andes. Considered as the most sacred of the superfoods the Inca believed she (la maca – feminine) had special powers to help them adapt to the harsh climate and extreme conditions experienced living at such high altitudes. Once the root is harvested it is then sun-dried for 3 months before being extracted by boiling or macerating to create elixirs that were consumed daily to build resilience to stress and enhance well-being. Recent scientific studies have shown that following these ancient preparation practices the roots undergo a biochemical reaction to produce a series of novel bioactive molecules appropriately named macamides that are thought to be responsible for much of the therapeutic properties of maca.[i]
Freshly harvest maca roots.
Traditionally sun-dried maca roots ready for extraction.
So how does Maca work?
Macamides are unique to maca and are molecules that function in a system of our body known as the endocannabinoid system. They have a unique structure that closely resembles a molecule in our brain called Anandamide – our bliss molecule. Anandamide is a human cannabinoid that plays an important role as a regulator of our nervous system, however it’s lifespan is often short as it is targeted for breakdown by an enzyme known as fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Macamides have been predominantly classified as inhibitors of FAAH and therefore indirectly work to increase natural levels of our own anandamide.[ii] Although it seems complex the process is simple, macamides act as a shield to protect our own natural cannabinoids like anandamide.
The chemical structure of a macamide vs our own human endocannabinoid - anandamide
Anandamide plays the role of regulation in the nervous system via the cannabinoid system, it acts like a thermostat to ensure the body does not lose its balance during times of stress. In the presence of macamides the level of anandamide increases in the brain and the nervous system maintains better control over big fluctuations of hormones during times of stress.[iii] This is one of the hallmarks of the endocannabinoid system and why there has been much recent interest in using plants to access it. So, what does this mean for people consuming maca? Well better regulation of anandamide leads to better regulation of the master glands of the brain (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals – HPA) and better regulation of the body’s hormonal system. For example, there are benefits to the reproductive, nervous, adrenal and immune systems. Ideal for those struggling with thyroid issues, menopause, PMS, fertility, sexual dysfunction, mental health, fatigue, inflammation, autoimmunity and much more.
Different conditions that maca can be used to treat
Consuming maca regularly can assist to improve energy[iv] mood and mental health.[v] It can help the body balance sex hormones including alleviating symptoms of menopause and PMS,[vi] improving fertility,[vii] metabolic function,[viii] sexual dysfunction and libido.[ix] It can also assist with managing chronic stress, autoimmunity and inflammatory conditions by reducing levels of inflammation and improving HPA function.[x] For those looking for a natural way to balance their body during times of stress maca is well tolerated, caffeine free, safe and provides adaptogenic benefits to the entire nervous and hormonal systems. If you are looking to incorporate maca into your daily routine then find the best maca solution for you at www.themacaexperts.com or visit our friendly in-store health professionals to have an assessment of suitability for your specific condition.
Table 2 – How to start on maca in 3 easy steps
The Maca Experts is a small Wellington based family business run by Dr Corin Storkey and his partner Sally Huapaya (Peru). They spend 3-4 months per year working directly with their farmer and produce artisanal maca based on the ancient traditions of cultivation. All their maca is farm to table and they donate $2 per kg sold to a fund to help the children of their farming community. Their maca research program in collaboration with the University of Victoria in Wellington works to bring credible scientific evidence to support the ancient Incan traditions surrounding maca and helps create premium and therapeutic products for New Zealand consumers.
[i] Esparaza et al. Phytochemistry. Aug;116;(2015) 138-148.
[ii] Muhammad, I., et al., Constituents of Lepidium meyenii 'maca'. Phytochemistry, 2002. 59(1): p. 105-10.
[ii] Ai, Z., et al., Antidepressant-like behavioral, anatomical, and biochemical effects of petroleum ether extract from maca (Lepidium meyenii) in mice exposed to chronic unpredictable mild stress. Journal of medicinal food, 2014. 17(5): p. 535-542. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24730393 (c) Zhao, J., et al., New alkamides from maca (Lepidium meyenii). J Agric Food Chem, 2005. 53(3): p. 690-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15686421.
[iii] Ai, Z., et al., Antidepressant-like behavioral, anatomical, and biochemical effects of petroleum ether extract from maca (Lepidium meyenii) in mice exposed to chronic unpredictable mild stress. Journal of medicinal food, 2014. 17(5): p. 535-542. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24730393.
[iv](a) Shin, S., et al., Gelatinized and fermented powders of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) improve physical stamina and epididymal sperm counts in male mice. J. Emb. Trans, 2008. 23: p. 283-289. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291889082_Gelatinizedand_fermented_powders_of_Lepidium_meyenii_Maca_improve_physical_stamina_and_epididymal_sperm_counts_in_male_mice (b) Choi, E.H., et al., Supplementation of standardised lipid-soluble extract from maca (Lepidium meyenii) increases swimming endurance capacity in rats. Journal of Functional Foods, 2012. 4(2): p. 568-573. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464612000436
[v] Brooks, N. A., Wilcox, G., Walker, K. Z., Ashton, J. F., Cox, M. B., & Stojanovska, L. (2008). Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content. Menopause, 15(6), 1157-1162. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18784609
[vi] Meissner, H. O., Mrozikiewicz, P., Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska, T., Mscisz, A., Kedzia, B., Lowicka, A., Reich-Bilinska H, Kapczynski W & Barchia, I. (2006). Hormone-balancing effect of pre-gelatinized organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon):(I) biochemical and pharmacodynamic study on Maca using clinical laboratory model on ovariectomized rats. International journal of biomedical science: IJBS, 2(3), 260. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23674989 (b) Meissner, H. O., Kedzia, B., Mrozikiewicz, P. M., & Mscisz, A. (2006). Short and long-term physiological responses of male and female rats to two dietary levels of pre-gelatinized Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon). International journal of biomedical science: IJBS, 2(1), 13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23674962 (c) Brooks, N. A., Wilcox, G., Walker, K. Z., Ashton, J. F., Cox, M. B., & Stojanovska, L. (2008). Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content. Menopause, 15(6), 1157-1162. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18784609
[vii] Zinaman, M. J., Brown, C. C., Selevan, S. G., & Clegg, E. D. (2000). Semen quality and human fertility: a prospective study with healthy couples. Journal of Andrology, 21(1), 145- 153. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10670528. (b) Gonzales, G. F. (2015) Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:193496. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21977053
[viii] Meissner, H. O., Reich-Bilinska, H., Mscisz, A., & Kedzia, B. (2006). Therapeutic Effects of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon) used as a non-hormonal alternative to HRT in perimenopausal women-Clinical Pilot Study. International journal of biomedical science: IJBS, 2(2), 143. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614596/
[ix] Gonzales, G. F., Cordova, A., Vega, K., Chung, A., Villena, A., Góñez, C., & Castillo, S. (2002). Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. Andrologia, 34(6), 367-372. (b) Zenico, T., Cicero, A. F. G., Valmorri, L., Mercuriali, M., & Bercovich, E. (2009). Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract on well‐being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double‐blind clinical trial. Andrologia, 41(2), 95-99.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19260845
[x] Zheng, W., et al., Lepidium meyenii Walp Exhibits Anti-Inflammatory Activity against ConA-Induced Acute Hepatitis. Mediators Inflamm, 2018. 2018: p. 8982756. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30647537