~ Maca - A Powerful, Medicinal Food from the Peruvian Andes

Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon) is a root plant and a member of the cruciferous family, native to Peru. It is both a food and a medicine and is eaten by native peoples of the highlands of Peru of all ages - from three year olds to the elderly. It looks something like a small turnip, either cream-colored or purple when it is harvested. Whole World Botanicals' Royal Maca® is the only maca sold which is guaranteed to have been grown without pestcides or chemical fertilizers. It is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and iron, and contains trace minerals, including zinc, iodine, copper, selenium, bismuth, manganese and silica, as well as B vitamins. It also contains four alkaloids proven in scientific investigation to nourish the endocrine glands, including the reproductive system of men and women.

Maca has adaptogen qualities, that is, its effects are appropriate to the age and sex of the person using it. It has a long list of uses because of its broad range of nutritional and medicinal properties discovered by both Indians of the Peruvian highlands in ancient times and by contemporary populations and naturopathic physicians.

Some examples: revitalizes men and women of middle and older age both mentally and physically, helps older men maintain sexual functioning; assists in human conception; helps maintain menopausal hormonal balance, reduces stress and boosts energy levels,, and is being used as an adjuvant therapy for chronic fatigue.

Where does Maca grow?

It grows at an altitude of between 13,000 and 14,500 feet above sea level in the high Andean plateaus of Peru, a cold, oxygen-poor environment with high winds and harsh sunlight. No other food plant exists in the world which will grow at so high an altitude. But the soil of these high plateaus are extremely rich in minerals, which accounts for the high level of trace minerals found in maca. Some of the Quechua-speaking Peruvian Indians who grow maca, still grow it in the traditional way, using no pesticides and a long fallow period before replanting,with only the natural fertilizer provided by their animals.

Indians of all ages who live in the high Andes eat maca, along with quinoa and amaranth and other crops of exceptional nutritional value. The earliest archeological evidence for the growing of maca for human consumption dates back to approximately 8,000 B.C. During the establishment of the Inca Empire, the Inca king prohibited the native peoples he conquered from trading maca, demanding that the entire maca crop be given in tribute to the royal family. Several different Spanish Chronicles mention maca.

In 1653 Bernabe Cobo wrote: "Half of the Indians [of Peru] have no other bread," [other than maca]. Maca was also endowed with certain mystical properties and has been found in tombs. Today the natives of the high Andes perform ceremonies to Pachamama - Mother Earth, in which maca is offered to the mountain in gratitude for blessings received. Native healers prescribe maca for improving pulmonary function, curing rheumatism, arthritis, respiratory and fertility problems, and it is also used to ease menopausal and postmenopausal symptoms and to increase energy, thyroid and pancreatic balance and sexual vitality in both women and men. In the last decade, the use of maca has spread to urban areas in Peru and to parts of Europe, as its qualities become known.

The fertility powers of maca are prized by young couples in the Peruvian highlands. Young women and men who fail to conceive a child eat maca on a regular basis until conception occurs. At the very high altitudes at which they live, conception is often difficult. In fact, after the Spanish Conquest, when Spaniards went to Cusco to live, it was several years before the first Spanish baby was born. The tonic qualities of maca have helped the native population to thrive in the oxygen-poor environment of the high plateau in which they live. It is energizing both mentally and physically, on account both of its mineral content, and the alkeloids it contains.

Has it been scientifically studied?

Its valuable qualities have only been discovered by scientists in the last thirty years. Dr. Gloria Chacon isolated the four alkaloids which maca contains in 1990 and injected them into rats. In this way, she learned that it was the alkaloids which were responsible for the hormonal changes in the reproductive systems of both male and female rats. Dr. Chacon's research revealed that the alkaloids in maca act on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland which together help regulate the endocrine glands, including the adrenals, the thyroid, the ovaries, and the testes by releasing higher levels of precursor hormones.

Although human populations have eaten maca for more than 10,000 years, according to archeologists who have found evidence for the domestication of maca since about 8,000 B.C., the knowledge of the positive effects of eating maca gradually died out with the Spanish Conquest, except among those people living at the very highest altitude of Peru, where maca grows. These millenia of safe and effective human use (native women eating maca have a very low rate of breast cancer) has recently been supplemented by scientific studies.

Female rats fed maca or the alkaloids isolated from maca both showed significant rate of maturation of egg follicles over the rats in the control group. Male rats fed maca or maca alkaloids showed significant increase in sperm count and sperm motility over rats in the control group.

German scientists in the 1980s, impressed by the nutritional properties recommended its use by Indians who had moved to urban centers and whose children were suffering from malnutrition. School teachers in government schools in the highlands now recommend to the parents that they feed their children maca, kiwicha [amaranth], quinoa, and other native crops and stay away from white bread and other "civilized food." The nutritional qualities of maca have also been described in the book The Lost Crops of the Andes, along with other native crops. In the last five years a renaisssance in the use of maca has taken place in much of Peru, and now Europeans and North Americans are beginning to learn about the health benefits of maca.   In the Traditional Chinese Medicine system, maca is considered a "warm" food because its effect on the body is anabolic- strengthening, nourishing, and tonic. Several alternative health practitioners in the U.S., including medical doctors, have been using maca successfully with their chronic fatigue patients, in conjunction with other nutrients, such as colloidal silver, and as part of an anti-aging program.

Medical doctors who are naturopaths practicing in Lima, Peru, have been accumulating a body of clinical information on the effectiveness of maca for a variety of physical conditions which affect contemporary urban populations, including chronic fatigue (CFS), stress, depression, candida, and immune deficiency. These doctors also prescribe maca for the tonification of the reproductive system in climacteric men and menopausal women, and the revitalization (increase in energy levels and muscle strength, improved thyroid and pancreatic functioning) of the elderly population and those with some kinds of chronic illnesses, including arthritis.

In two visits to Peru, in September, 1995 and May and June of 1996, I interviewed two medical doctors, one a cardiologist and the other a pediatrician who had integrated the use of herbs, including maca, into their medical practice and who had subordinated their specialities in the development of a naturopathic practice. One of these doctors, had prescribed the use of maca to about 200 menopausal and postmenopausal women with remarkably good results. Some of the cases which he described include the following:

A 48 year old woman from Lima, Peru who had suffered severe hot flashes and depression and whose doctor had prescribed a pharmaceutical estrogen replacement therapy. She had used this supplemental estrogen for a few months but was worried about its long term use. She stopped using it and went to Dr. M. for a "natural alternative". He prescribed maca and did follow-up blood work, confirming that she was maintaining a desirable post-menopausal level of blood serum estrogen.  Her hot flashes disappeared and she stopped being depressed.

A 44 year old woman from Lima, Peru who had had a complete hysterectomy (including removal of the ovaries). She was suffering from depression, fatigue, and hot flashes and was found to have a blood serum level of estrogen of 15. After two months of taking maca, her blood serum estrogen level was retested and found to be at a level of 75, a level which Dr. M. said is quite acceptable to prevent osteoporosis and maintain a feeling of well being. And, in fact her symptoms disappeared. It is evident that the effect of maca on her body was to support her adrenal glands to produce more estrogen.

An 82 year old woman from Lima, Peru had a bone scan and was found to have the beginning stages of osteoporosis. She was prescribed maca by Dr. M. and, coincidentally, three months later suffered a fall down a flight of steep stairs. Her left hip and arm were badly bruised with hematomas and she sustained a cut on her face. Dr. M. was called to examine her before she was moved. She appeared not to have any broken bones, which was confirmed the following day through x-rays. The doctor found it remarkable that the maca had been so effective after so few months of therapy and noted that maca not only stimulates a woman's ovaries to produce more estrogen which helps the calcium remain in the bones, but also has highly absorbable calcium, magnesium, and silica, all of which strengthen bones.

Some menopausal and postmenopausal women in the United States have begun to use Royal Maca® in the last year. Here are some of their results:

A 50 year old actress from NY: "I mainly do shows on the road, all over the U.S. and we maintain an exhausting schedule. Although I've always been a very strong and energetic person, the last year or two I've experienced greater fatigue than I've ever known. I had a complete physical and discovered that my estrogen level (I'm post menopausal) was very low (about 20 blood serum estradiol level). My doctor wanted to put me on HRT, but I wanted to try to find another alternative. I started taking one teaspoon of maca a day (after taking one tablespoon for two days) and I feel like my old self again! I called my best friend in Colorado and told her to order Royal Maca™. After two months, I cut down to 1/2 teaspoon a day."

A 56 year old wall upholsterer: "I've been taking one teaspoon of Royal Maca® every day for the last three months and I'm no longer fatigued at the end of a day of intense physical labor, gluing cloth to walls from a ladder. Instead of sinking into a couch with exhaustion and falling asleep in front of the TV, I now have enough energy to read, to cook, or to go out at night and enjoy myself. Also I began to get lubrication in my vagina after using maca for two or three weeks--something I haven't had for seven or eight years since my menopause started. And the burning sensation in my vagina which I've had for the last 20 years due to a chronic yeast infection totally went away after using maca for about two months."

A 55 year old psychologist: "I was experiencing painful intercourse caused by thinning and drying of the vaginal wall. My gynecologist told me that these were normal aging changes and that they were likely to get worse with time. I took 2 teaspoons a day of Royal Maca® for two weeks, then took one teaspoon a day for about a month, then went down to 1/4 teaspoon a day. After three weeks of using the herb, all the pain in the vagina was gone. In addition I feel much energetic and I have more libido."
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