Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian plant that grows exclusively in the Andes. People of the Andes consumed maca for its nutritive value.
Even though there have been significant advances in modern medicine, researchers have realised the importance of traditional medicine and are investigating various plants and herbs that are/were used by the traditional people to incorporate its use in treatment of various health problems and diseases.
Maca is one such plant whose medicinal values have recently been investigated by researchers. These researches have found maca to have great nutritional, energising and fertility enhancing properties.
It has proven to be quite effective in treating sexual dysfunctions, memory and stress. It has also been considered as an adaptogen. It has also been found to be beneficial in treatment of osteoporosis and prostate hyperplasia.
The native population of Peru suggest the consumption of maca root not more than 20g/day in the boiled form,as the fresh root may have adverse effects on health. However, no scientific research has been conducted to back this data.
The roots of maca plant are first dried and then boiled, these soft roots can be consumed as juice. This is the most frequent form of consumption. Maca powder (dried and crushed maca root) is also available in the market in capsules.
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Nutritional Content of Maca
Dried maca contains 10-11% proteins, 59% carbohydrates, 2.2% lipids and 8.5% fibre. The amount of unsaturated fatty acids (Monounsaturated- MUFA and Polyunsaturated fatty acids- PUFA) in them is higher than saturated fatty acids.
It is also rich in minerals such as iron, calcium and potassium along with certain minerals.
It also contains several metabolites of importance like macaridine, macaene and macamides that are found only in this plant.
Different Glucosinolates present in maca are suggested to be responsible for its biological activity. The plant sterols in maca are also of significance in regulating the secretion of certain hormones.
Does Maca Help In Weight Loss?
The sterols and alkaloids present in maca act on the pituitary gland which is often called the ‘master gland’ as it is responsible for controlling the activity of other endocrine glands in the body.
Therefore, the effects of maca are multi-fold. It is found to enhance the function of adrenal gland, ovaries, testes, thyroid, pancreas and the pineal gland.
A few experimental studies were conducted on peri-menopausal and early-postmenopausal women with the aim of determining the effects of maca on physiological responses and post or peri-menopausal discomfort in these women.
The level hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, thyroid along with their body weight and lipid profile were measured after the trial period.
Along with the reduction in blood pressure the maca supplementation had a positive influence on the hormones and HDL (good cholesterol) levels. The women also experienced a reduction in their weight.
The exact mechanism behind these effects or a single ‘active’ component present in maca that brought about these changes is still not known.
Maca may be beneficial in weight loss not directly but indirectly due to the following reasons-
1) Maca provides essential nutrients
As discussed earlier maca is rich in essential nutrients such as iron, calcium and unsaturated fatty acids.
Sometimes people who go on a diet without consultation might suffer from nutritional deficiencies, therefore, maca can serve as a good option to compensate for these nutritional deficiencies.
The fat content in them comprises mostly of unsaturated fatty acids (good fats) and less of saturated fatty acids (bad fats) that promote fat accumulation in the body.
What does this mean?
Health experts also should consider including maca in weight loss diets as they are nutrient packed and easy to incorporate in the diet.
2) Maca improves stamina and reduces fatigue
Scientific evidence suggests that maca may be an energiser.
In one study, after administration with maca extract there was an improvement in the cycling time of the subjects .
Another animal-based research model concluded that subjects who consumed maca showed better resistance to fatigue .
What does this mean?
The resistance to fatigue brought about by maca may motivate an individual to exercise for longer and thereby help in losing weight.
3) Maca reduces anxiety and stress
Stress and stress related anxiety has often been associated with weight gain . Maca is considered as an adaptogen (a substance that helps the body adapt to stress).
Experimental studies have shown maca to be beneficial in reducing psychological symptoms such as stress, anxiety and depression .
What does this mean?
The anti-stress properties of maca might help prevent stress related weight gain.
Safety Concerns Regarding Maca
In all the clinical trials be it animal-based or human-based no chronic or acute toxic effects of maca have been observed.
Even though the native population of Peru, who traditionally use maca for its various beneficial effects, suggest that one shouldn’t consume maca more than 20 g a day, there is no scientific evidence to back this fact.
Human-based clinical researches have concluded that the consumption of, or less than 1g of maca is safe and did not cause any toxicity or side-effects.
NOTE– Although maca is generally considered as safe, people with thyroid problems, breastfeeding or pregnant women should consult a clinical physician before consuming maca, as maca interferes with the regulation of various hormones such as Progesterone, Oestrogen, Thyroid stimulating hormone, etc.
The use of maca for weight loss is still not confirmed due to the following reasons. Firstly, almost all the research studies that have been carried out, most of them are either on post-menopausal women, therefore, it is hard to tell the effects of maca on overweight individuals.
Secondly, none of these studies have used maca powder as the supplement they have either used Gelatinised maca powder or treated maca extracts. Because of this one might not experience the same results after using maca powder that is commercially available in the market.
Thirdly, it is important to note that these studies were not conducted with the aim of determining the effect of maca on weight loss, the reduction in weight loss was observed along with other physiological changes that were being monitored. There could be a number of other factors that could bring about this weight loss.
Fourthly, even though no toxicity has been observed by maca the exact mechanism of its action is not yet known. That is why we cannot comment on its use as a weight loss supplement.
The beneficial effects of maca have been proved by various scientific researches but its exact mechanism of action is still unknown.
The discovery of maca is quite recent and more human-based clinical trials with the aim of determining its association with weight loss need to carried out. It is to early to comment on its use as a weight loss supplement.