Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian root vegetable that looks a lot like a very top-heavy parsnip. It has been cultivated for around 2,600 years, and has been traditionally used as an aphrodisiac. Maca is rich in nutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron and vitamin E. Additionally, it contains five times the amount of protein as potatoes, and four times the amount of fibre.
|What, no leg day? Source: Konstantin Silka|
A study on mice has found an additional benefit of maca besides increasing hormone levels. Middle-aged mice, 14 months old, were administered maca powder for five weeks to measure any effect on cognitive decline. Maca was found to improve cognitive function, endurance and motor co-ordination, and this effect was caused by improved mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are the parts of the cell responsible for the vast majority of energy production, without them, you can't do anything. People with conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease have more damage to their mitochondria than those without, showing the importance of protecting your mitochondria against oxidative damage. And it's not just your brain - your heart muscle cells are 40% mitochondria. Interestingly, mitochondria have their own DNA which they use to reproduce; you get this DNA from your mother, and if you are European, you have basically the same DNA as one of seven Stone Age women who have an unbroken line of daughters. So play nice with your brothers and sisters. Anyway, with research on maca showing positive effects against hormonal and possibly mitochondrial drivers of aging, it looks like a worthy (fair-trade!) addition to your favourite smoothie or raw dessert.