Long revered as a healing herb, research shows that this humble root helps to reduce the effects of stress and boost mental clarity-and that’s just the beginning.
Maca is a tuber that is native to South America where it grows in the unique ecosystems of the high Andean mountains. Largely considered an Andean miracle food of sorts, maca roots are traditionally planted and then harvested in ceremony and in cyclical cadence with the earth; traditionally, they are dried naturally in the sun at altitude, and can be stored quite well. When prepared, it takes on a sweet, almost butterscotch-like flavor, and is consumed by local cultures in various ways: Among them are roasting, as tea, as sweet gruel with milk, or made into a flour mixture and used in making breads, cakes, and cookies. It is also prepared as a beverage by blending boiled roots with fruits or spices and water or milk. The miracle of maca is not, however, in its versatility of preparation, but in its wellness conferring attributes-however consumed.
Maca has traditionally been used by indigenous peoples as a healing herb and a foodstuff which has an important role in the dynamic interactions of physical, mental, and sexual energies. It has been used as such since before the era of the Inca Empire. Less well-known than its aphrodisiac properties, perhaps, is that it also promotes mental clarity and boosts both endurance and stamina-it can perhaps help you get through your day in this increasingly busy world. This may be because maca is an excellent adaptogen, tailoring its utility to the individual who consumes the root and helping to balance the body’s systems under physical and emotional stress. Researchers have demonstrated that maca refurbishes the impairment caused by stress and hormonal flux. Hormones and bodily processes that react to stress responses can lead to a range of problems, including difficulty concentrating and plain old stress-induced illness. Reducing the effects of stress has a positive outcome on systems and hormonal balance, blood sugar fluctuations, and mental clarity to name a few. This is nearly immediate and so effective that maca is even given to schoolchildren in the Andes during exams to assure good scores. Imagine what it can do for you in your daily tasks!
Maca has been used for millennia in the Andes region as a natural way to boost both male and female fertility. In study after study, it has shown a remarkable ability to work with your body’s unique chemistry to help improve sexual function and fecundity-in both genders. Maca is eaten by Andean women who want to get pregnant. Anecdotal evidence as well as research to support these claims is promising. Remember, this root is an adaptogen with systems balancing properties, so it can potentially serve as a regulator for women with irregular cycles-perhaps by helping reduce the effects of stress on conception efforts and bringing regularity to menstrual cycles, it may become more likely to achieve pregnancy.
Maca’s nutritional profile includes phytoestrogens which could allow the herb to stimulate the hormonal balance mentioned earlier. This would not only help regulate cycles, but also decrease cramping and mood changes. Maca has also shown significant promise in helping relieve the difficult symptoms of menopause.
Perhaps one of the reasons maca is so valued by the traditions of the area is its remarkable nutritional makeup-it is an extremely healthful root. Maca contains nearly all of the essential amino acids, as well as high concentrations of the same anticancer compounds found in vegetables like cabbage and broccoli. It plays a role in immune support, as it contains compounds similar to those found in Echinacea. One of the principle antioxidants present in green tea is found in significant concentrations in maca as well. What this means to you is that oxidative stressors leading to degenerative effects of environment and aging-can potentially be reduced by maca consumption.
The balancing effect of this herb not only helps the individual in the short term, but also in the long term by helping to assist the body to recover more quickly, getting it back to a healthy state. As you are dealing with both mental and physiological stress better, you are more prone to be at harmony with the environment-both the people and the earth around you. By supporting your immune system, you are less likely to suffer setbacks due to illness. More energy is available to reconnect to your spiritual side. You can actually feel the rejuvenating effects of maca on your body. Consider it a nice component to a healthy lifestyle, and an important part of an overall routine for your journey to wellness.
Dr. Pesek is founding director of the Center for Healing Across Cultures and a Health Sciences professor at Cleveland State University. He is also founding CEO of Earth Healers, Cleveland, Ohio.
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