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Thanks to the efforts of a single Peruvian researcher, a neglected and little known ancient plant was saved from certain extinction about 50 years ago. Today that resurrected root is considered a superfood that improves energy, stamina and libido, and can help menopausal women balance their hormones naturally.
Maca is a root vegetable (belonging to the Brassica family) that has been cultivated in the Peruvian Andes for over 2,600 years. Growing at about 10,000 feet above sea level, it is the highest altitude crop in the world.
Back from the brink, maca is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as a result of the research of Gloria Chacon de Popovici, Ph.D., a Peruvian biologist, who conducted studies beginning in the 1960’s showing that maca increases fertility in rats, dogs, guinea pigs, rams, cows and humans.
Among traditional peoples in Peru, maca has long been treasured for it aphrodisiac qualities. Modern research is now lending scientific support to the wisdom of the ancients.
Studies in men have found that maca supplementation can improve a man's subjective perception of his general and sexual well-being, as well as increase his sexual desire.
In postmenopausal women, it’s been found to reduce psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and improve libido.
Although maca grabs headlines for its aphrodisiac qualities and its reputation as a natural Viagra, it has many other health benefits.
Maca is an adaptogen
According to David "Avocado" Wolfe, author of Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future, maca is a powerful adaptogen or nutritive substance that counters adverse sources of stress and allows the body to adapt naturally to stressful conditions. Adaptogens also help to improve the body’s natural balance or homeostasis.
As a result Wolfe says, maca "increases energy, endurance, oxygen in the blood, physical strength, neurotransmitter production, and libido. It supports the endocrine system, the adrenals, and the thyroid, typically improves one’s mood, and helps support healthy hormone production."
Maca has been recommended for everything from impotence and infertility to depression, hot flashes, stress and memory loss.
How does maca work?
How does maca work its magic? One way is that it stimulates the hypothalamus and pituitary glands which in turn regulate the other glands in the body, and can bring balance to the adrenal, thyroid, pancreatic, ovarian and testicular glands.
Typically dried and powdered, maca is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, sodium and iron as well as vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), C and E. It also contains zinc, iodine, copper, selenium, manganese and silicon.
Compared to the potato which also originated in the Andes, maca contains five times more protein and four times more fiber.
How much maca can you take?
Wolfe recommends 1 to 2 tablespoons of maca daily and points out that studies have shown no toxicity or pharmacological effects.
Maca has a butterscotch aroma but a funky turnip flavor that can be a little strong for some. Don't let that stop you. Add powdered maca to smoothies, salad dressings, soups, broth, tea or coffee.
When buying maca, look for the organic, raw, dried, powdered root. You can find it in local health foods or on-line.