Misinformation about maca abounds. In the past year, I’d been experimenting with it and adding it to my smoothie. The word that comes to mind is “inert”. Now I know why…The following is the first guest post on my site by Dr. Shawn Tassone, OB-GYN and integrative Medicine Expert and Kim Ross, Functional Medicine Practitioner. Both serve as members of the Medical Team at Natural Health International and are committed to educating individuals about hormonal health.
By now you have probably heard of maca and some of the benefits it promotes for your health and how it tastes good in a smoothie. At the same time, you are likely confused by all of the various reports you hear about maca.
Some of the Facts
The scientific names, Lepidium peruvianum Chacon and Lepidium meyenii Walpers, are commonly known as maca. In the 1800’s a German botanist , Gerhard Walpers discovered an herbaceous plant growing in Bolivia and Chile and named it Lepidium meyenii Walpers . This plant does not seem to demonstrate the same medicinal properties that were later discovered when Dr. Gloria Chacon found Lepidium peruvianum Chacon, in the Peruvian Andes. 1, 2
It is a member of Brassicaceae family (the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages). 2 (You may see recommendations to avoid maca if you are sensitive to nightshades; however, this is a common misconception since maca does not belong to the Solanaceae or nightshade family.)
Maca is commonly regarded as an adaptogen; which is simply an agent that supporting homeostasis in the body, priming it to better endure adverse stressors. Other well-known adaptogens, include Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, holy basil, Ginseng, Licorice and Schisandra. 3 An important fact, is that much of the research indicates that these adaptogens only impact the adrenal glands, hence the energy promoting benefits and improvement is dealing with stress4. Lepidium peruvianum is different, as it has demonstrated effects on balancing hormones, not just the adrenal glands. It is a common mistake to then assume or state that all adaptogens have this impact on hormones, when in fact, to date, only Lepidium peruvianum demonstrates this.2
Lepidium peruvianum is a species native to Peru (hence the name) and grown exclusively in the central Peruvian Andes at an elevation of 12,000-14,000 feet. Lepidium peruvianum is only 1 of 14 Lepidium species known to grow at these high altitudes and is the only one known for its fertility enhancing properties, energizing effects and high nutritional values. 2
Most are not yet aware that research indicates that the various phenotypes (13 in total) are more than just different colors (predominate varieties being black, red, and yellow). They possess different DNA profiles, different active constituents and therefore can elicit different physiological responses in the body.2, 3, 5 This is a key point in why certain phenotypes of maca are better for women then men6,7
The research history
The beneficial properties of Lepidium peruvianum were first linked to alkaloids identified by Dr. Chacon in the 1960’s.8 She found that these alkaloids produced the fertility effects for which maca is known. She also postulated that the alkaloids were worked through the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is how the body controls and produces all hormones; finding the impact on hormones was gender specific.1 Since that time, other active constituents have been identified including polyunsaturated acids and their amides, plant sterols (related to cholesterol), and the steroid hormones (estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone) and aromatic glucosinolates.2
Dr. Gustavo F. Gonzales has done an extensive amount of research on the different maca phenotypes and some of his findings show9-14
Red maca can reduce the size of a prostate and protect the skin and liver against lipid peroxidation activity.
Black maca is considered most effective for its energy promoting properties, its effect on sperm production and motility and its influence on memory and learning
Red maca and black maca “have protective effects on bone architecture…”
Yellow maca enhances female fertility.
Dr. Henry Meissner and his team have published several articles on specific, concentrated Lepidium peruvianum phenotype combinations, known as Maca-GO.15-19 To date, these are the only clinical trials that have demonstrated how maca can have statistically significant effects on hormone levels in peri and post menopausal women. This is important since other maca products (not using this specific combination of maca phenotypes) falsely claim the effects of hormone balancing and impact on menopausal symptoms, citing the research done by Dr. Meissner. In fact, other studies by Brooks, Oshima and Mazaro-Costa, discovered research on other powdered maca or gelatinized maca (non-Maca-GO) did not shown a statistically significant effect on hormones.20-22
Dr. Meissner’s extensive research of Maca-GO demonstrated an increase in estradiol, progesterone, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), luteinizing hormone (LH), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), bone density markers, T3, while a reduction in FSH, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, body weight and blood pressure were observed.. Furthermore, there were statistically significant reductions in menopausal symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats most commonly) as reported in the Kupperman’s Menopausal Index. Meissner’s findings demonstrated the effects were most evident after using Maca-GO for 2 consecutive months. 15-19 It has been noted “Continuous intake of Maca-GO over 2-3 months showed not only statistically significant results compared to placebo, but also trends indicative of metabolic adjustments that may require more than 2-3 months to come to their full expressions…”2
As with all supplements, quality matters and the same holds true for maca.
According to Dr. Peter Bablis, DC, ND, LAc, Medical Herbalist, “The quality of seed sources and soil content, as well as organic or biodynamic growing strategies and drying methods, all play a part in maximizing the quality of active constituents.” He further comments that the elevation, region-specific quality soil and the traditional sun-drying method have all been shown to contribute to the highest quality raw material.3 Zhao, et al suggests that the planting site is a major determining factor with regards to constituents of maca. 23
In addition to the importance of growing methods, the manufacturing process is also a key factor for quality. Maca is naturally harder to digest, due to the higher starch and fiber content, which is why native Peruvians would cook maca (like a potato) to consume it. However, during the cooking process, active ingredients are destroyed. Dr. Meissner and the leaders at La Molina University in Peru have perfected the gelatinization process, removing the fiber and starches that make it hard to digest. “Raw maca has a natural water solubility of 68% with gelatinized macas ranging from 87-97%, while Meissner has perfected the process to such a degree that Maca-GO is 99% water soluble.”2 What does this mean? The bioavailability of Maca-GO has been maximized and as a result your body will benefit for the active constituents while being gentle on the digestive tract.
Powder or capsules? Maca is considered “fragile”, meaning it can oxidize when exposed to air, heat and moisture. The oxidation process can create a loss of the active constituents than make it so effective. A stability analysis on Maca-GO showed that when maca was stored as a powder in jars or bags, the active ingredients degenerated by 50% within 3 months. (Hence, why this should come in blister packs to protect the active ingredients and extend shelf life.) Other forms of maca are more than likely indigestible or ineffective.
Why does all of this matter?
Information allows people to make proper decisions about their health. Maca is currently a hot topic despite the fact that Peruvians have known of its benefits for hundreds of years, and detailed research about phenotypes have been conducted for over 20 years. Not all maca is created equal and the research clearly proves this. So when choosing a maca supplement, you should ask questions and be sure you are taking the right maca for your health and hormonal concerns.
About The Authors:
Shawn Tassone, MD PhD is board certified in OBGYN and Integrative Medicine. With his PhD in Mind-Body Medicine his beliefs center around self-care and creating an environment with an active patient. He speaks around the world and is the author of two books, Hands Off My Belly! The Pregnant Woman’s Guide to Surviving Myth, Mothers, and Moods and Spiritual Pregnancy: Develop, Nurture, and Embrace the Journey to Motherhood. He is also a patient advocate and an expert in Bioidentical Hormone Replacement. Request your free copy of “5 Hormone Healing Habits for Happier Menopause” at Shawn’s website: www.drshawntassone.com and connect with him on social media:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/womenhealthdocs Twitter: @TassoneDoc
Kim Ross, MS, CNS, CDN, IFMCP is a Certified Nutrition Specialist, Certified Dietician Nutritionist and Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner. Trained in Functional Medicine, Kim looks at the whole person, rather than just symptoms or a diagnosis. Kim specializes in women’s health, hormones, digestive health and detoxification and helps women regain their health with an individualized plan allowing them to achieve their goals naturally. Request your free copy of “5 Tips for Happy Hormones” on Kim’s Website: www.functionalmedicinebykimross.com or connect with her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/FMByKimRoss
Walker, M. Effects of Peruvian Maca on Hormonal Functions. November 1998.
Carter, R. Clinical Effects of a Proprietary, Standardized, Concentrated, Organic Lepidium peruvianum Formulation (Maca-GO) as an Alternative to HRT. White Paper. 2009.
Bablis P. Are you using the right type of Maca?
Singh, N., Nath, R., Lata, A., Singh, S.P., Kohli RP, Bhargava KP. Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha), a Rejuvenating Herbal Drug Which enhances Survival During Stress (an Adaptogen). International Journal of Crude Drug Research. 1982:20(1):29-35.
Meissner HO, Mscisz A, Kedzia B, Pisulewski P, Piatkowska E. Puruvian Maca: Two Scientific Names Lepidium Meyenii Walpers and Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon-Are They Phytochemically-Synonymous? Int J Biomed Sci. 2015; 2(1): 1-15.
Yucra S, Gasco M, Rubio J, Nieto J, Gonzales GF. Effect of different fractions from hydroalcoholic extract of Black Maca (Lepidium meyenii) on testicular function in adult male rats. Fertil Steril. 2008;89(5 Suppl):1461-7.
Gonzales C, Cárdenas-valencia I, Leiva-revilla J, Anza-ramirez C, Rubio J, Gonzales GF. Effects of different varieties of Maca (Lepidium meyenii) on bone structure in ovariectomized rats. Forsch Komplementmed. 2010;17(3):137-43.
Chacon RG. Phytochemical study on Lepidium meyenii. PhD Thesis. Peru: Univ. Natl.Mayo de San Marcos. 1961;1046.
Gonzales GF, Miranda S, Nieto J, et al. Red maca (Lepidium meyenii) reduced prostate size in rats. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2005;3:5.
Gonzales-castañeda C, Rivera V, Chirinos AL, Evelson P, Gonzales GF. Photoprotection against the UVB-induced oxidative stress and epidermal damage in mice using leaves of three different varieties of Lepidium meyenii (maca). Int J Dermatol. 2011;50(8):928-38.
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Gonzales C, Rubio J, Gasco M, Nieto J, Yucra S, Gonzales GF. Effect of short-term and long-term treatments with three ecotypes of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on spermatogenesis in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006;103(3):448-54.
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Meissner HO, Mscisz A, Reich-bilinska H, et al. Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (III) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006;2(4):375-94.
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Oshima M, Gu Y, Tsukada S. Effects of Lepidium meyenii Walp and Jatropha macrantha on blood levels of estradiol-17 beta, progesterone, testosterone and the rate of embryo implantation in mice. J Vet Med Sci. 2003;65(10):1145-6.
Mazaro-costa R, Andersen ML, Hachul H, Tufik S. Medicinal plants as alternative treatments for female sexual dysfunction: utopian vision or possible treatment in climacteric women?. J Sex Med. 2010;7(11):3695-714.