What is Maca?

Jacob Queen

Maca is a plant that is native to the mountains of Peru. It is a root plant that is a part of the cruciferous family, and it closely resembles a radish. The National Research Council of America refers to it as “one of the lost crops of the Incas." Throughout Peruvian history, it has been used as a food source and medicine. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and is believed to enhance fertility.

Maca is commonly used to increase energy and libido.
Maca is commonly used to increase energy and libido.

The Peruvian mountains offer the perfect growing environment for the plant, because it prefers elevations above 10,000 feet (about 3.0 km). It is one of the few edible foods that can grow and thrive at these altitudes. This is one of the reasons it became so valuable to the early Peruvians, who were said to use it as type of currency.

Maca is a member of the cruciferous family, which also includes vegetables such as kale.
Maca is a member of the cruciferous family, which also includes vegetables such as kale.

Isothiocyanates and glucosinolates are found in the roots of the plant and are considered the primary medicinal components. They are believed to be cancer-fighting agents, and in addition, isothiocyanates may promote sexual libido. The maca plant also has 22 phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants help eliminate free radicals that attack healthy cells in the body. This function is believed to be crucial in preventing cancerous cells from forming.

The isothiocyanates in maca may help to promote sexual libido.
The isothiocyanates in maca may help to promote sexual libido.

Ancient Incas believed that maca could increase fertility, and research conducted in Peru may have offered some evidence to support that belief. In 1960, Doctor Gloria Chacon de Popovici published papers related to studies she conducted using maca on mice. The rodents who were given maca appeared to show an increase in sperm count.

There are no proven negative side effects of using maca as a nutritional supplement.
There are no proven negative side effects of using maca as a nutritional supplement.

For centuries, maca has been a valuable food source for people living in the mountainous areas of Peru. It is typically eaten like a potato, either boiled, roasted or fried. It is also used in breads and tea. The roots are rich in protein and the triple minerals, iron, calcium, and phosphorus. Raw maca contains the highest levels of nutrients, but some studies indicate that ingesting the plant without cooking it can lead to indigestion.

Though no well-documented studies have addressed the issue, there does not appear to be any negative side effects related to the use of maca as a nutritional supplement or herbal remedy. Generally speaking, due to the thin research, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should avoid its use. Thyroid patients should also avoid using it because of the glucosinolates it contains. These glucosinolates, in combination with low iodine levels associated with hypothyroidism, can cause goiter.

Breastfeeding or pregnant mothers should not use maca supplements, because the effects of high doses on the baby have not been studied.
Breastfeeding or pregnant mothers should not use maca supplements, because the effects of high doses on the baby have not been studied.

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Discussion Comments

SteamLouis

Are there any recipes that make maca taste better? I have some maca powder and I tried to take it with water. All I can say is that it wasn't a very pleasant experience.

Also, I heard that raw maca is more beneficial than the dry kind. Is this true? If so, where can I get raw maca?

fify

@turquoise-- I'm not sure. I've heard different things about this. My close friend took maca throughout her pregnancy and had no problems. But my doctor said that there have been no studies done on maca and told me to be cautious.

I personally think that it's probably safe because it's not a herb or a medicine, it's a vegetable. But you should ask your doctor to be sure.

Maca root is great for increasing fertility in both men and women though.

turquoise

I'm taking maca for its fertility benefits. I'm just curious, is it safe to take maca during pregnancy? If I do get pregnant, I don't want to unknowingly harm the fetus.

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