Here at Natural Healthy Concepts, we’re always looking for the latest and greatest trends in the health world. Right now, our latest obsession is maca powder, not just because of its adaptogenic properties, but because of its potential benefits for healthy energy levels. Although maca may seem new to us, this plant’s history goes back thousands of years.
A Brief History of Maca
Lepidium meyenii, or maca, is a Peruvian plant that is found only in the high altitudes (4000-4500 m) of the central Andes, where it prefers extreme cold, extreme sunlight, and intense wind. It is actually a member of the mustard family, along with plants like turnip, black mustard, cabbage, and watercress. When harvested, maca has a bulbous root that strongly resembles a radish, and is traditionally prepared by drying the root and grinding it into a fine powder, or by boiling it and drinking it as a juice. In its cooked and powdered forms, maca has a sweet, earthy, and nutty flavor, somewhat akin to butterscotch.
Maca has been used as a food source and for medicinal purposes in Peru for many years; it is thought that maca was first domesticated between 1,300 and 2,000 years ago by the Incans. The first written description of the plant was recored in 1553 by Cieza de Leon in his Chronicle of Peru while Father Bernabe Cobo, in his 1653 work History of the New World, coined the term “maca” to refer to the plant. Both writers noted the plant’s apparent effect on health and fertility, as well as its potential benefits for healthy energy levels.
Today, maca powder has become a popular ingredient in smoothies, in baked goods, and even in hot chocolate to support healthy energy levels and other metabolic functions. But does this plant really offer any health benefits?
Science and Maca
Although Peruvians used maca for a number of purposes, it wasn’t until much later that the effects of this root were scientifically examined for potential health benefits. Partially this is because maca root is made of (on average) 10.5% protein and 8.5% fiber and contains 19 essential amino acids. It’s also a source of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, and D, as well as minerals like iron, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and more. It is also a source of unique compounds called macaenes and macamides that may support healthy energy levels. Currently, there have been over 400 studies on maca, and so far, research into maca’s effect on healthy energy levels has been promising.
In a 2016 study, researchers studied the effects of red and black maca on participants living at both high and low altitudes. They concluded:
Consumption of spray-dried extracts of red and black maca resulted in improvement in mood, energy, and health status, and reduced CMS [chronic mountain sickness] score… Both varieties produced similar responses in mood, and HRQL [health-related quality of life] score. Maca extracts consumed at LA or HA had good acceptability and did not show serious adverse effects. In conclusion, maca extract consumption relative to the placebo improved quality of life parameters.
From this study, it appears that maca extract did in fact, offer support for healthy energy levels, as well as overall health.
Additionally, maca may offer support for women’s health, particularly for a healthy hormone balance. In a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, maca was shown to have a positive effect for early-postmenopausal women. The researchers state,
Maca-GO treatment significantly (P<0.001) lowered total KMI and GMS, relieving symptoms responsible for negative physiological and psychological manifestations, frequency and severity of flushes and night sweating – in particular, which are recognized under commonly –used term of ‘menopausal discomfort.’
They also note that that maca also offered support for other symptoms associated with the female aging process like hormone balance. Further, this study adds that the maca had a residual effect; when the maca was replaced with a placebo for one month, participants experienced a “reduced degree of placebo effect.”
Other Potential Benefits of Maca Powder
Beyond its energy-giving properties, maca is also considered an adaptogen. We’ve written about adaptogens before on our blog— they are a rare class of herb made of compounds that support a healthy response to stress. Other adaptogens are plants like ginseng, ashwagandha, eleuthero, holy basil, licorice root, rhodiola, and schisandra. It is thought that these herbs possess compounds that support a feeling of calm and may also support adrenal gland health, which may support energy levels.
Maca may also offer support for a healthy libido and for overall sexual health. Several studies have looked at maca’s effect on reproductive and sexual health, with mainly positive results. You can read more about maca and sexual health in this post.
Incorporating Maca Powder into Your Diet
If you’re looking for an even easier way to add maca to your health journey, we carry a great selection of maca supplements to support your health. Choose a liquid extract, a capsule, or even a chocolate bar to get the maca you need.
This liquid supplement from Herb Pharm uses hand-harvested, certified organically grown maca from the Peruvian highlands that is sun-dried and sustainably extracted.
If you prefer a capsule, this supplement from NOW Foods is an easy way to get the maca you need.
For those with a sweet tooth, we love this 70% dark chocolate bar with maca to support healthy energy levels (plus it’s a decadent treat).
A maca powder makes a great addition to shakes and smoothies, as well as a topping for yogurt. We’re fans of this one from Vega— it offers antioxidant support and is certified organic. Below we’ve included a smoothie recipe that’s a good way to get started with maca powder!
Blackberry Banana Smoothie Bowl with Maca and Almond Butter
This gorgeous smoothie is a quick and delicious way to add maca to your diet. We love new smoothie combinations, and serving them in a bowl is a fun twist that allows for pretty toppings!
- 1 cup frozen banana
- ¾ cups frozen blueberries
- ¾ cups frozen blackberries
- ¼ cup cream unsalted almond butter
- 1 teaspoon maca powder
- 1 teaspoon chia
- 1-1½ cups almond or other nut milk
- Kiwi, bee pollen (propolis), and coconut flakes for topping
- Add all ingredients (except toppings) to a high powered blender and blend until smooth.
- Pour into bowl, top with kiwi, bee pollen, and coconut flakes, and enjoy!
How do you use maca? Share your story in the comments!