(NaturalNews) Maca increases sperm count, shrinks enlarged prostates, increases libido, aids in sexual functioning, and reduces anxiety according to recent research findings. But maca is more than a new darling in the research lab. It is an herb that has stood the test of time, with anecdotal information passed from generation to generation since pre-recorded history. Besides improving sexual health, maca is a true adaptogen and known to increase stamina, memory and outlook.
Modern science documents what Inca warriors once knew
Inca warriors knew maca could increase their stamina, and they ate the root before going into battle. Maca also increased their sexual health and virility. Legend has it that maca was kept from the warriors when they returned from battle to protect the women.
Today, scientists in Italy have documented the ability of maca to increase general and sexual well-being in patients with mild erectile dysfunction (ED). In a double-blind clinical trial using 50 men affected by mild ED, half received maca dry extract at 2,400 mg, and the other half received a placebo. Treatment effect and subjective well-being were measured before and after 12 weeks. Both the maca treated men and those receiving the placebo experienced a significant increase in their erectile function scores and on scores revealing improvement in psychological performance. However, the scores of the maca treated group were significantly higher than the placebo group. Only the maca treated patients experienced a significant improvement in physical and social performance compared with their baseline scores. (Andrologia, April)
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital studied maca for its effect on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) induced sexual dysfunction. They conducted a double-blind study comparing a low dose (1.5 g/day) to a high-dose (3.0 g/day) maca regimen in 20 depressed outpatients with SSRI induced sexual dysfunction. Patients receiving the higher dose showed a significant improvement on a sexual experience scale and sexual function questionnaire, while subjects on the lower dose did not. Libido improved significantly and was not differentiated by dose amount. Maca was well tolerated by both groups. (CNS Neuroscience, Fall, 2008)
These studies followed groundbreaking research done by scientists in Peru who in 2002 treated 56 healthy male subjects ages 21 to 56 years with maca. They sought to determine whether the effect of maca was the result of change in mood or in serum testosterone levels. The men received 1,500 mg or 3,000 mg of maca, or a placebo. An improvement in sexual desire was observed by week 8 of treatment. Serum testosterone and estradiol levels were no different in men treated with maca than in those treated with placebo. However, measures of sexual desire increased by 42.2% in the group taking the higher dose. Analysis revealed that maca has an independent effect on sexual desire that is not the result of changes in mood or hormone levels. (Andrologia, December, 2002)
Maybe the best thing about maca is that it does not work like synthetic ED drugs that produce hormonal changes that may lead to unwanted side effects. Maca has been shown not to change testosterone levels. (Phytomedicine, August, 2007)
Among doctors using maca in their practice to treat the symptoms of ED, male impotence and menopause are Doctor Aquila Calderon, past dean of the National University of Federico Villareal Faculty of Human Medicine, and Dr. Gary Gordon, past president of the American College for Advancement in Medicine in Arizona.
Maca reduces psychological symptoms in women without raising hormone levels
Maca is also good for what ails women, but does not alter their hormone status. Researchers in Australia examined the estrogenic and androgenic activity of maca and its effect on the hormonal profiles and symptoms of postmenopausal women. Fourteen women were given 3.5 g/day of powered maca or a matching placebo for 6 weeks. Blood samples were assessed to determine steroid hormone levels. No differences were seen between baseline, maca treatment, and placebo treatment in serum concentrations of estradiol, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, or sex hormone-binding globulin. However, findings showed that maca significantly reduced psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and lowered measures of sexual dysfunction. (Menopause, November-December, 2008)
Maca was shown effective at preventing hormone related bone loss. Scientist in China evaluated an extract of maca on induced postmenopausal osteoporosis in rats. Bone mineral density and histopathological parameters indicated maca was able to prevent bone loss resulting from estrogen deficiency. (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, April 21, 2006)
Maca is both a food and an herb
The most active part of maca is its starchy, tuberous root, which is referred to as an herb, but maca is actually a food from the cruciferous vegetable family. In looks it resembles the radish, but in taste it is more like the potato. Like wheat and rice, maca contains protein, fats, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. It is rich in magnesium, selenium and calcium, and fatty acids.
Maca is grown at high elevation in the Andes, and the plant requires very cold climate and high altitudes to achieve maximum potency. Not all varieties of maca on the market have been grown under ideal conditions.
Maca is a classic adaptogen
Adaptogens are substances that raise the non-specific resistance in an organism. They enable it to adapt to external conditions and work with its own natural rhythms to help rebuild systems and restore homeostasis. The ancient Andes mountain dwellers knew about the adaptogenic properties of maca and its ability to keep the body on an even keel. Folk medicine tradition describes how maca helped highlanders thrive at altitudes of 14,000 to 18,000 feet above sea level where oxygen content in the blood is low.
Modern scientists and doctors have found maca to be one of the best natural ways to regulate and support the endocrine system. Through this action, energy levels, metabolism, growth, sexual development, and psychology are normalized.
In today's world, adaptogens such as maca take on a greater significance than in the past, because of constantly increasing levels of stress. Dr. Hans Seyle, Nobel prize winning author of several works on adaptation, was the first to demonstrate the existence of biological stress. He described how the human body adapts to stress, and the stages it passes through when the stress goes unmitigated. He pointed out that positive or negative, stress is still stress and it differs from all other physical responses.
The system whereby the body copes with stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA axis) system, was first described by Selye. He pointed to an "alarm state", a "resistance state", and an "exhaustion state", largely referring to glandular states. Later he developed the idea of two "reservoirs" of stress resistance, or what he referred to as "alternative" stress energy.
Maca works to effectively help the body adapt to the high levels of stress involved in modern living. This adaptive mechanism involves normalization of both men's and women's hormonal imbalances. Instead of supplying plant hormones such as phytoestrogens, maca acts on the HPA pathway that is the precursor of male and female hormones. It also has an effect on the adrenal glands. Maca does not necessarily stimulate, but acts in a regulatory fashion balancing and returning homeostasis.
Maca helps normalize learning and memory too. Researchers from China studied the effect of black maca on learning and memory in hormonally deprived rats. They found that experimental memory impairments induced by hormonal deprivation were reduced in rats given black maca, due in part to its antioxidant activities. (Evidenced Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, October 9, 2000)
Maca shows remarkable ability to reduce prostate enlargement
Maca has demonstrated its ability to affect the size of the prostate according to seasoned researchers of maca in Lima, Peru. Their study was designed to determine the effect of red maca in prostate enlargement induced with a testosterone hormone drug in adult mice. Mice were examined at intervals during treatment. Testosterone and estradiol were assessed on the last day of treatment. The researchers found that red maca reduced prostate weight at 21 days of treatment. Weights of the seminal vesicle, testis and epididymis were not affected by the treatment. (Andrologia, June, 2008)
Maca shown to increase sperm count
Meanwhile, another research group in Lima evaluated the effect of different fractions of black maca on sperm creation. Maca was given along with one of several solvents. The greatest increase in sperm creation occurred in the group given the ethyl acetate fraction from the black maca extract, suggesting that the compounds related to the beneficial effect on sperm production of black maca are presented in this fraction. What can be fractioned out with a solvent is there in the maca totality, so males eating maca may expect some of this beneficial result. (Fertility Sterility, May, 2008)
The maca vegetable appears in health food stores occasionally. It has a sweet taste and can be eaten in a number of ways including raw, dried, baked or boiled. In Peru cookies, tarts and even mixed drinks are made with maca. Most consumers in the U.S. will have access to maca only as a supplement in the form of an extract, whole root herb, or as gelatinized root.
As a general rule, the gelatinized form has the highest level of bioavailability. Gelatinization does not refer to the presence of gelatin or that it is enclosed in a gelatin capsule. It is actually a process that removes the starch from the maca root and breaks down the chemical bonds that connect the starch to the protein and other components. With maca that is ungelatinized, the body must do the processing in the digestive tract, as preferred by people who shun excessive processing. A source of gelatinized maca root is the National University of Agriculture at La Molina, Peru.
There is red, yellow and black maca. Each seems to have a unique component for addressing sexual health. Black maca has been shown to be the most beneficial variety for reducing ED, for increasing sperm count and sperm motility, and for restoring learning and memory. Red maca is the variety most associated with reducing prostate size.
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.