Maca: A new phytonutrient that can ease menopausal symptoms.
Reprinted from Nature & Health magazine, December 1999/January 2000.
Rather than hormone replacement therapy (HRT), millions of women are putting their faith in a remedy which has been used for 10,000 years, which is safe and amazingly effective: a cruciferous root vegetable from Peru called maca. Anthropologist Dr Viana Muller has brought this extraordinary remedy to the attention of the Western world. “Once in a decade a remedy used by native peoples for thousands of years comes to our attention and it seems so important to health that we wonder how we ever got along without it,” Dr Muller says. “Maca is that kind of supplement. Now women have an alternative to hormone replacement therapy drugs. Maca works in an entirely different and more satisfactory way for most women than phytoestrogen herbs like black cohosh and licorice root. And men, too, find that maca can counteract the difficulties they may experience in maintaining good sexual relationships as they age, due to a general slowing down in the output of the endocrine glands.”
The scientist responsible for much of the current knowledge of the maca root is Dr Gloria Chacon de Popivici, a biologist trained at the University of San Marcos, in Lima, Peru. Dr Chacon says that maca root works in a fundamentally different way than HRT, promoting optimal functioning of the hypothalamus and the pituitary, thereby improving the functioning of all the endocrine glands.
Dr Chacon has done the most important scientific work to date on the maca plant. She isolated four alkaloids from the maca root and carried out animal studies with male and female rats given either powdered maca root or the alkaloids. Females receiving either root powder or alkaloids showed multiple egg follicle maturation, while in males, significantly higher sperm production and motility rates were noted than in control groups. Dr Chacon established that it was the alkaloids in the maca root, not its plant hormones, that produced fertility effects on the ovaries and testes of the rats. “These effects are measurable within 72 hours of dosing the animals,” she said. She deduced that the alkaloids were acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, which explains why both male and female rats were affected in a gender-appropriate manner. This also explains why the effects in humans are not limited to ovaries and testes, but also act on the adrenals, giving a feeling of greater energy and vitality, and on the pancreas and thyroid as well.
Dr Muller says, “Implications of Dr Chacon‟s discovery of the pituitary-stimulating effects of maca are enormous. What it means is that hormone replacement therapy – even the natural varieties – will no longer be the gold standard for optimising health from a holistic point of view.”
Alternative to HRT
It is important to remember that maca does not itself contain any hormones, but its action on the body jogs the pituitary into producing the precursor hormones which ultimately end up raising oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels, as well as helping to balance the adrenal glands, the thyroid and the pancreas. But this occurs naturally, not with time-bomb drugs which throw the entire body into a dangerous state of confusion.
Dr Jorge Malaspina, a respected cardiologist, has been using maca in his practice in Lima, Peru, practice for over a decade. He says, “Maca does not cause the ovaries in women to atrophy, as conventional hormone replacement therapy does.” This means that maca may be discontinued at any time without danger. He adds, “Different medicinal plants work on the ovaries by stimulating them. With maca, though, we should say that it „regulates‟ the ovarian function.”
Dr Malaspina reiterates what Dr Chacon says about the way maca regulates the organs of internal secretion, such as the pituitary, the adrenal glands, and the pancreas. He has also found maca to be effective even on women who have undergone complete hysterectomies. He describes one patient who had a serum oestradiol level of 15, which is very low. After two months on maca it went up to 75. He says that a level above 60 is an adequate postmenopausal level. “Maca enables the adrenals to make sufficient hormones to avoid symptoms”, he says. Dr Malaspina adamantly prefers maca therapy to HRT. “The presence of outside hormones circulating in the system sends a message to the pituitary and the hypothalamus that there is a sufficient quantity of hormones in the body, and so they stop producing them. When menopause arrives, then, the ovaries are atrophied and do not produce the oestrogen and progesterone which the body requires minimally to function. For this reason, I encourage women to start with maca before menopause. It seems to help the endocrine system to stay in balance.”
Doctors Malaspina, Muller and Chacon, as well as doctors from the USA and Canada, also have good news for men who are suffering age-related sexual dysfunction.
They can forget expensive, possibly dangerous Viagra. Maca works extremely well and safely.
Dr Jorge Aguila Calderon, Dean of the Faculty of Human Medicine at the National University of Federico Villareal in Lima, prescribes maca for a wide variety of conditions, including osteoporosis and the healing of bone fractures in the very elderly. He says, “Maca has a lot of easily absorbable calcium in it, plus magnesium, and a fair amount of silica, which we are finding very useful in treating decalcification of bones in children and adults.”
Dr Calderon has also helped patients overcome male impotence, male sterility, and female sterility by employing maca therapy. Additional problems he treats with maca are rickets, various forms of anaemia, menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, climacteric and erectile difficulties in men, premature ageing, and general states of weakness, such as chronic fatigue.
Another health professional using maca is Dr Garry F. Gordon, President of the International College of Advanced Longevity Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. He said: “Using maca myself, I experienced a significant improvement in erectile tissue response. I call it „nature‟s answer to Viagra‟.
“What I see in maca is a means of normalising our steroid hormones like testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen. Therefore, it has the facility to forestall the hormonal changes of ageing. It acts on men to restore them to healthy functional status in which they experience a more active libido. Lots of men and women who previously believed their sexual problems were psychological, are now clearly going to look for something physiological to improve quality of life in the area of sexuality. Of course, as someone interested in longevity, I‟m aware that mortality comes on much sooner for those individuals whose sexual activity is diminished or nonexistent. I believe that people who engage in sex twice a week, or more, live longer. I‟ve found sexual activity to be a reliable marker for overall ageing.”
Maca at a glance
What it is: Maca is a dehydrated, cruciferous root vegetable, and not a drug, so it is imported without any problems. It is a benign, medicinal food which has been in use for 10,000 years, possibly more, and has had ample time to be judged effective. It is also easily affordable. What‟s in it: Proteins, as polypeptides, make up 11% of the dry maca root; calcium makes up 10% and magnesium and potassium are present in significant amounts. Other minerals include iron, silica, and traces of iodine, manganese zinc, copper, and sodium. Vitamins in maca are hiamine, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. The amino acid proteins in maca include aspartic acid, glutamic acid, serine, histidine, glycine, threonine, cystine, alanine, arginine, tyrosine, phenylalanine, valine, methionine, lysine, tryptophan, proline, hoproline, and sarcosine.
Benefits: According to doctors in Peru and the US, maca may be of benefit for:
- Menopausal symptoms: Hot flashes, tender breasts, sleeplessness and
emotional upsets, “brain fog”, vaginal dryness
- Osteoporosis: Significant bone rebuilding, improvement in bone
- Energy booster: Balances the endocrine system – thyroid, pituitary
and adrenal glands
- Male impotence
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Period problems: Pain, PMS, flooding and/or scant flow