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Maca Root: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts

Maca Benefits

Also known as Peruvian ginseng and by its scientific name Lepidium meyenii, maca root is a highly nutritious vegetable that contains plenty of fiber, protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, potassium, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. In addition, maca root contains unique fatty acids such as macamides as well as phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. With such a powerful phytochemical and nutrient profile, it is not surprising that maca root has been associated with a number of health benefits.

In this article, we provide an overview of the potential health benefits of maca root powder, a concentrated superfood powder made by dehydrating maca root and then grinding it into fine powder that can be used to add a health kick to everything from smoothies to homemade energy bars. At the end of the article, you'll also find detailed information about the nutrient content of maca root.

Health Benefits

Here are 7 health benefits of maca root that are supported by scientific research:

1. Maca Provides a Boost of Energy

In Peru, maca root has a long history of use as a natural energy booster, and now there's scientific evidence suggesting it really works, at least in some people. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the peer-reviewed journal Pharmaceuticals found that consumption of black or red maca for 12 weeks increased self-perception of energy in people living in Lima, the capital of Peru. The beneficial effect of red maca appeared to be particularly strong. When the same experiment was conducted in the mountainous city of Cerro de Pasco, the researchers noticed that also the placebo had a significant positive effect of the participants' energy levels. In fact, there was no significant difference between the effect of maca and the placebo in this experiment. According to the researchers, the fact that the placebo had such a significant effect in one population but not another might be linked to the role genetic signatures play in how people respond to placebo. [1]

2. Maca is a Source of Nutrients for Healthy Hair

Did you know that maca may also help promote healthy hair and prevent hair loss? Maca root contains a wide range of macronutrients, minerals and vitamins that your body needs to keep your hair strong and beautiful. The protein in maca provides amino acids which your body uses for producing keratin, a key component of hair. Minerals like calcium, zinc, copper and iron – all of which are abundant in maca root – also play an important role in keeping hair strong and healthy. Finally, maca root contains a variety of B vitamins which have been linked to healthy hair growth and that are often added to dietary supplements designed to promote healthy hair.

3. Maca Has Been Touted as a Fertility Booster

One of the earliest purported health benefits of maca root is its ability to boost fertility, a discovery that was made when Incan farmers noticed that their animals produced more and healthier babies when the animals ate maca roots. The fertility-boosting potential of maca root has also been assessed in studies, with promising results. Black maca has been shown to increase sperm count and improve sperm motility, which suggests black maca might offer benefits for men with fertility problems. Red maca, by contrast, does not appear to have an impact on sperm count and motility, but it has been shown to promote the survival of embryos in animal models, which suggest it might offer some interesting benefits for women. [2].

4. Maca Has Effects on Memory and Learning

Animal studies have demonstrated that consumption of maca may also have positive effects on memory and learning ability. Black maca has been shown to improve memory and learning ability in mice that suffer from memory impairment caused by ovariectomy or the drug scopolamine. [3, 4, 5] These effects may be linked, at least in part, to the strong antioxidant activities of black maca and to its ability to inhibit the action of an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. [6]. Also red-skinned maca has been studied in this context, but it does not appear to be as effective as its black-skinned counterpart [3].

5. Maca Has Anti-Depressant Properties

Some people use maca powder as a natural anti-depressant, but does it actually work? A study published in the journal Menopause suggests that the much-touted mood-enhancing properties of maca powder are more than just a myth: this preliminary study found that a daily dose of maca powder over a period of six weeks caused a significant reduction in depression and anxiety scores in postmenopausal women. [7] Another study, published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, investigated the effects of black, yellow and red maca on depression in ovariectomized mice and found that all three types had significant anti-depressant activity [8].

6. Maca Has Effects on Prostate Size

One of the most researched potential health benefits red maca is its ability to fight prostatic hyperplasia, a urological condition characterized by an enlarged prostate gland. Several studies show that red maca root can reduce in prostate size in rodents with prostatic hyperplasia [9, 10, 11]. Interestingly, however, neither yellow nor black maca seems to have the same beneficial effect. A study published in the journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology looked at how different types of maca affected prostate size in normal rats and rats with prostatic hyperplasia and found that only red maca significantly reduced prostate size in the animals [9].

7. Maca Offers Protection Against Bone Loss

A natural consequence of menopause, low estrogen levels have been linked to a decrease in bone density and an increase in risk for osteoporosis in post-menopausal women. As the maca root has been touted as a natural remedy for hormonal imbalances, it is not surprising that the scientific community has shown interest in the potential of maca root to prevent osteoporosis in older women. In one study, estrogen-deficient female rats were given either yellow, black or red maca for four weeks, after which researchers analyzed the rats' bone structure. Both black and red maca were found to have a protective effect against bone loss, with red maca exerting the strongest effect. [12].

Nutrition Facts

Maca root is high in fiber, protein and carbohydrates, and low in fat. Maca powder also provides considerable amounts of minerals like calcium (413mg per 100g DW), magnesium (74mg per 100g DW), potassium (806mg per 100g DW), iron (7mg per 100g DW), zinc (3mg per 100g DW), and copper (430mcg per 100g DW). It also contains a variety of vitamins such as vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. In addition, maca root contains unique fatty acids such as macamides as well as phytochemicals like quercetin which have antioxidant properties [13, 14].