What do you think of when you hear the term “Super Foods?” I think pomegranate juice and blueberries. I had never heard of the super food maca until I recently attended a lecture by raw foodie David Wolfe. He spoke a lot about super foods like raw cacoa, spirulina and chlorella. After I heard about the benefits of these foods, I went out and bought them and now add them to my morning smoothie. But that is another post for another day. David Wolfe’s discussion of maca really peaked my interest.
He spoke about how maca helps balance hormones and gives you energy and vitality.
Certainly, I want to know more about anything natural that helps with hormonal balance. So I have spent much of the last month researching maca and I am happy to share what I have learned.
Maca lepidium peruvianum, is a turnip-like adaptogenic root belonging to the mustard family. Adaptogens are an extremely rare class of herb that modulates the body’s response by supporting it in dealing with physiological, biochemical, and psychological stressors. (1) It is found exclusively in the central Peruvian Andes at 12-14,000 feet under harsh natural growing and weather conditions. There are 13 different phenotypes within the species Lepidium peruvianum (maca that exhibit different colors, have different analytical profiles and even in some cases elicit different physiological effects on the body.(2) The maca root contains natural substances, which are believed to stimulate the pituitary and hypothalamus and adrenal glands to support and balance hormones. (3)
The active ingredients in maca are not phyto-estrogens, nor are they hormone like substances such as those found in wild yam. Maca does not introduce any hormones into your body. Instead, maca contains naturally occurring alkaloids.
Dr. Gloria Chacon, a biologist from Peru, states that the alkaloids in maca act on the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, which explains why the effects in humans are not limited to [the] sex hormones, but also act on the adrenals, giving a feeling of greater energy and vitality, and on the pancreas and thyroid as well. Maca is also described as having powerful energizing affects. It sounds like a great supplement for PCOS doesn’t it?
However, I found that not all maca is created equal. Maca is a tuber and is difficult to digest raw. For that reason, the native Peruvians traditionally cooked maca the same way we would cook a potato. However, boiling point temperatures can often destroy key active ingredients. There are a lot of raw maca powder products out on the market but many people have a hard time digesting this form of maca and have stomach pains and digestion issues. Also, as I mentioned in the beginning of the post there are 13 different types of maca.
Scientists have shown that different types different types of maca were not just different colors but some had different active ingredients and interestingly research was finding that some had different effects on the body. So how do you know which phenotype is the best for PCOS?