Thursday, 20 October 2016

Health Benefits of Maca

The general consensus, whether or not we say it out loud, is that A big part of aging is a decline in hormone production, which negatively affects the integrity and function of every part of our bodies. Unfortunately, the common pharmaceutical hormone replacement therapies have their own side effects, but could herbal or food medicines such as maca be effective alternatives?

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
So how can it help women during, or after, menopause? Anecdotal cases have reported that consuming maca can improve energy and stamina, and even boost oestrogen levels in women who have had their ovaries removed! In one study, ten early post-menopausal women were given two grams of a product called Maca-GO for eight months. Compared to placebo, women taking maca had higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone, but lower levels of FSH, leading to less menopausal symptoms. FSH stands for Follicular Stimulating Hormone, and its production goes into overdrive during menopause in an attempt to stimulate growth of non-existent eggs in order to increase oestrogen and progesterone. A second study involving early post-menopausal women also showed that maca relieved symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats, while increasing oestrogen. They also found that ACTH (adreno-corticotrophic hormone), cortisol and BMI all decreased. Cortisol is the main "stress hormone", which in high levels can cause protein loss and weight gain. A third study on women, who were once again post-menopausal, had them taking maca for only six weeks in a crossover, placebo-controlled trial. When taking maca, the women experienced significant reductions in psychological symptoms of menopause, such as anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction. However, their hormone levels did not change. This may be because of the shorter duration of the study period where they were taking maca.

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.

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