Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a plant that grows only at 4,000 feet above sea level in the central Peruvian Andes. Maca is consumed by both men and women for its nutritional and medicinal properties, which have been documented to include:
* Increases sperm count
*Shrinks enlarged prostates
*Treats erectile dysfunction
*Aids in overall sexual functioning
*Treats symptoms of menopause and postmenopause
But maca is more than a new darling in the research lab. It has stood the test of time, with anecdotal information passed from generation to generation since pre-recorded history. Besides improving sexual health, maca is a true adaptogen and known to increase stamina, memory and outlook.
Modern science documents what Inca warriors once knew
Inca warriors knew maca could increase their stamina, and they ate the root before going into battle. The plant also increased their sexual health and virility. Legend has it that maca was kept from warriors when they returned from battle to protect the women.
Today, researchers have quantified the effects of maca use. In a new study from Peru, they sought to determine health status, quality of life, and serum levels of interleukin 6 (IL-6) in subjects who consume the plant (IL-6 is a pro-inflammatory protein). The assessed lower extremity function, blood pressure, sexual hormone levels, serum IL-6, and chronic illness. Findings included lower testosterone/estradiol ratio, lower incidence of illness, and higher health status scores in those consuming maca. A greater portion of maca consumers successfully completed the rigorous lower extremity function test compared to those not consuming the plant. A significant association with lower values of serum IL-6 was also demonstrated in the maca users.
In another recent study from Peru, evidence was shown that maca has nutritional, energizing, and fertility enhancing properites. Itt acts on sexual dysfunction, osteoporosis, benign hyperplasia, memory and learning, and protects skin against ultraviolet radiation. Clinical trials showed efficacy of the plant on sexual dysfunction, and sperm count and motility.
In other work, scientists investigated the effect on sperm count and glycemia of two extracts from Peruvian plants on mice with induced diabetes. Black maca was shown to reduce glucose levels. Both diabetic and non-diabetic mice treated with the plant showed higher daily sperm production.
Scientists in Italy have documented the ability of maca to increase general and sexual well-being in patients with mild erectile dysfunction (ED). Both maca-treated men and those receiving a placebo experienced a significant increase in their erectile function scores and on scores revealing improvement in psychological performance. However, the scores of the maca-treated group were significantly higher than the placebo group. Only the maca-treated patients experienced a significant improvement in physical and social performance compared with their baseline scores. (Andrologia)
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital studied the plant for its effect on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) induced sexual dysfunction. Patients receiving 3 grams per day showed a significant improvement on a sexual experience scale and sexual function questionnaire. (CNS Neuroscience)
These studies followed groundbreaking research done by scientists in Peru who in 2002 treated 56 healthy male subjects ages 21 to 55 years with maca. They sought to determine whether the effect of the plant was the result of change in mood or in serum testosterone levels. An improvement in sexual desire was observed by week 8 of treatment. Serum testosterone and estradiol levels were no different in men treated with maca than in those treated with placebo. However, measures of sexual desire increased by 42.2% in the group taking maca. Analysis revealed that maca has an independent effect on sexual desire that is not the result of changes in mood or hormone levels. (Andrologia)
Maca shows remarkable ability to reduce prostate enlargement
Maca has demonstrated ability to reduce enlarged prostates. Investigation to determine the effect of red maca on prostate enlargement found that red maca reduced prostate weight at 21 days of treatment. Weights of the seminal vesicle, testis and epididymis were not affected by the treatment. (Andrologia)
Maca reduces symptoms in women without raising hormone levels
Maca is good for what ails women too, but it does not alter their hormone status. Scientists in South Korea report maca effective for infertility and hormone balance in women. In four randomized clinical trials that compared any type of maca-based intervention to placebo use for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. These trials assessed the effects of maca on healthy perimenopausal, early menopausal, and late postmenopausal women. Maca showed many favorable effects.
Researchers in Australia examined the estrogenic and androgenic activity of maca and its effect on the hormonal profiles and symptoms of postmenopausal women. No differences were seen between baseline, maca treatment, and placebo treatment in serum concentrations of estradiol. Follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and sex hormone-binding globulin were also unaffected. However, findings showed that maca significantly reduced psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and lowered measures of sexual dysfunction. (Menopause)
Maca was shown effective at preventing hormone related bone loss. Scientist in China evaluated an extract of maca on induced postmenopausal osteoporosis in rats. Bone mineral density and histopathological parameters indicated maca was able to prevent bone loss resulting from estrogen deficiency. (Journal of Ethnopharmacology)
Maca is both a food and an herb
The most active part of maca is its starchy, tuberous root, which is referred to as an herb, but maca is actually a food from the cruciferous vegetable family. In looks it resembles the radish, but in taste it is more like the potato. Maca contains protein, fats, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. It is rich in magnesium, selenium and calcium, and fatty acids.
Maca requires very cold climate and high altitudes to achieve maximum potency. Not all varieties of maca on the market have been grown under ideal conditions.
Maca is a classic adaptogen
Adaptogens are substances that raise the non-specific resistance in an organism. They enable it to adapt to external conditions and work with its own natural rhythms to help rebuild systems and restore homeostasis.
Modern scientists and doctors have found maca to be one of the best natural ways to regulate and support the endocrine system. Through this action, energy levels, metabolism, growth, sexual development, and psychology are normalized.
In today’s world, adaptogens such as maca take on a greater significance than in the past, because of constantly increasing levels of stress. Maca works to effectively help the body adapt to the high levels of stress involved in modern living. This adaptive mechanism involves normalization of both men’s and women’s hormonal imbalances through the HPA (hypothalmic-pituitary axis) pathway that is the precursor of male and female hormones. It also has an effect on the adrenal glands. Maca does not necessarily stimulate, but acts in a regulatory fashion to balance and return homeostasis.
The maca vegetable appears in health food stores occasionally. It has a sweet taste and can be eaten in a number of ways including raw, dried, baked or boiled. In Peru cookies, tarts and even mixed drinks are made with maca. Most consumers in the U.S. will have access to maca only as a supplement in the form of an extract, whole root herb, or as gelatinized root.
As a general rule, the gelatinized form has the highest level of bioavailability. Gelatinization does not refer to the presence of gelatin or that it is enclosed in a gelatin capsule. It is actually a process that removes the starch from the maca root and breaks down the chemical bonds that connect the starch to the protein and other components. With maca that is ungelatinized, the body must do the processing in the digestive tract, as preferred by people who shun excessive processing. A source of gelatinized maca root is the National University of Agriculture at La Molina, Peru.
There is red, yellow and black maca. Each seems to have a unique component for addressing sexual health. Black maca has been shown to be the most beneficial variety for reducing ED, for increasing sperm count and sperm motility, and for restoring learning and memory. Red maca is the variety most associated with reducing prostate size.
For more information:
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