Maca is a hardy plant that grows at high altitudes in the Andean highlands of Peru. Related to the turnip, it has been used as a food and medicine by indigenous South Americans for more than 2000 years. Maca is a rich source of the essential minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; it is also high in protein and amino acids. These are all beneficial for the wellbeing of women of all ages. The high calcium content, for example, is useful for the growing bones of young girls in addition to limiting the development of osteoporosis in aging women.
But the principal benefit for women comes from maca’s unique array of phytonutrients. Included in the plant are fatty acids, plant sterols, and alkaloids, all of which are known for their respective health benefits. New York-based anthropologist Viana Muller, Ph.D., notes that “Maca has been used successfully by the native people of Peru for hormonal imbalances, menstrual irregularities, fertility, and menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, loss of energy, libido, and depression.”
Maca is one of very few naturally occurring products that are considered to be an adaptogen. This refers to the ability of a substance to bring one or more of the body’s systems back into balance. Maca works on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands to normalize the entire endocrine (hormonal) system of men and women. So, regardless of whether glands such as the thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, testes, or ovaries are over- or under-producing their respective hormones, the active compounds in maca bring the system back to its optimum level.
For women, this is extremely fortuitous because hormonal levels fluctuate naturally during the menstrual cycle and throughout life. Therefore, if a woman is having hormone-related health problems, it can be difficult for a doctor to know what the ideal progesterone/estrogen levels should be for that woman at any given time of the month. Rather than supplement the body with either a synthetic or natural hormone, it is far preferable to use an adaptogen like maca which allows the body to achieve its own optimum balance of progesterone and estrogen.
Much recent research has been done on the benefits of natural hormone sources, such as Black Cohosh, soy, wild yam, and natural progesterone, and there is overwhelming evidence that these natural substances are better for women than their synthetic equivalents. However, even these relatively body-friendly products are simply counteracting the symptoms of an underlying misbalance. Maca, on the other hand, is a holistic solution allowing the body’s own resources to resolve the fundamental problem.
There is currently intensified interest in safer alternatives to synthetic hormones due to the recent HRT scare regarding the use of combination estrogen/progestin drugs in healthy menopausal women. The NIH went as far as halting a major clinical drug trial because of the identified health risks. As a result, numerous American doctors, who have been made aware of maca’s efficacy in dealing with hormonal problems, have taken the initiative of introducing it as an alternative to their patients.
For example, Dr. Alan Warshowsky, who is Director of Women’s Health at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Hospital in New York, says that “at least 50 percent of my menopausal patients are using maca and doing well.” Women’s health specialist, Dr. Cynthia Watson of Santa Monica, has used maca in her practice for over six years. She gives her patients the choice of either natural hormone supplements or maca, believing that both approaches work well. She notes that “the ones who have chosen to go with maca extract are doing phenomenally well.”
No adverse drug interactions or side effects have ever been encountered with the medicinal use of maca. Its safety and efficacy ensure that it has a ma