By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapist)
What is Maca?
Maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng, is an edible plant native to South America. It is a perennial plant and part of the cruciferous family (along with cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) and can grow and thrive high in the Andes mountains of Peru, where it has been cultivated. The tuber (which is starchy), similar in size and shape to a white turnip, is eaten by animals of the region and has been used by people indigenous to the Andes mountain ranges for thousands of years. Maca is referred to as a herb. Like other starches, maca contains carbohydrates, protein, fats, and dietary fibre. It is also rich in plant sterols and a good source of iron, magnesium, selenium, and calcium.
Maca is an adaptogen
Adaptogens are a group of herbs, plants, spices and roots (and certain mushrooms) that support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. They are called adaptogens because of their unique ability to “adapt” their function according to the specific needs of the body. This may be a physical, chemical or biological need. They have been compared to a thermostat, moderating the body’s stress response like a thermostat controls temperature – a bit like a homeostatic mechanism. They have special compounds that can possess opposing qualities, such as being relaxing or stimulating. There are dozens of plants, growing in some of the world’s harshest environments, that fall under the adaptogen category, some examples include Reishi Mushrooms, Siberian Ginseng Root, Moringa, Astralagus, Maca, Turmeric and Liquorice – to name a few.
How does Maca help support health and fertility?
Maca is considered to be a natural aphrodisiac and thought to offer a range of health benefits, including supporting libido and energy as well as helping to balance hormones in both women and men. Maca has also been linked to helping reduce anxiety and stress due to the adaptogenic properties it contains which help support the endocrine system, regulating communication between the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which helps balance the production of hormones and supporting the immune system. Maca is rich in flavonoids and magnesium, both of which are linked to helping boost mood. In fact, it is one of the oldest adaptogens that has been linked to helping support fertility.
Maca is rich in vitamins C, B and E as well as containing a plentiful supply of the minerals’ magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, selenium, iron and zinc, all crucial when it comes to optimizing fertility. Maca is also a complete protein, containing the nine essential amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own. A wholesome, balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, is key to reproductive health.
Maca’s nutritional benefits (especially its high levels of magnesium, a proven immune system booster) and adaptogenic properties (which help with hormone balance and stress reduction) can further support your immune system. This is especially crucial for those who are having difficulty conceiving due to immune-related disorders.
Trying to reduce caffeine? Why not try a pinch of Maca in your Latte? It doesn’t contain caffeine but will give you an energy boost!
Please note: always check with your doctor before you add any new supplements or herbs to your diet as some react with medication.
Link to male fertility
In a few small studies, it has been found that Maca improved sperm quality in infertile and fertile men. One of the studies found there to be an increase in the volume, count and motility of sperm after consuming Maca.
Want to read more?
Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Gonzales C, Chung A, Vega K, Villena A. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) improved semen parameters in adult men. Asian J Androl. 2001 Dec;3(4):301-3. PMID: 11753476.
Lee MS, Lee HW, You S, Ha KT. The use of maca (Lepidium meyenii) to improve semen quality: A systematic review. Maturitas. 2016 Oct;92:64-69. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2016.07.013. Epub 2016 Jul 21. PMID: 27621241.