An adaptogen that helps the body respond to stress in a healthy way and boosts energy, athletes love maca root for its caffeine-free energizing properties. Grown at high elevations in the Andes mountains, maca root has long been relied on for its all-natural energy boost.
What Is Maca Root?
Maca is a cultivated, perennial plant grown mainly in the harsh, unpredictable conditions of Peru’s Andes mountains. It looks similar to a turnip and is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower and radishes. The primarily edible part of the maca plant, and the part used in herbal medicine, is the maca root.
Peruvians have been using maca root to treat an assortment of ailments for millennia, and its popularity across the rest of the world has soared in recent years. Researchers continue to identify what makes maca root such a powerful natural healer, and we’ll explore some of the recent findings below.
Benefits of Maca Root
This nutrient-rich superfood boasts a diverse range of medical and health benefits. Maca root is known for promoting endurance, boosting mood and regulating blood pressure.
Historically, Inca warriors from the Peruvian highlands consumed maca root to keep energy levels high during their conquests. Today, many competitive athletes use maca root to improve endurance, energy and physical performance. Maca root contains some essential nutrients for metabolism, including fatty acids and amino acids, but we’re not quite sure yet how maca improves endurance.
In a 2009 pilot study, a research team assessed the effects of maca supplementation on the physical performance of eight endurance-trained cyclists over two weeks. Cyclists who supplemented with maca were able to complete their 40-kilometer rides in less time than those who didn’t take the supplement.
Evidence from clinical trials supports the theory that maca root may boost energy. Maca is a safer substitute for caffeine or drug-based stimulants that can damage the liver and heart.
As an adaptogenic herb, maca root can boost mood by adjusting the body’s adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production process. ACTH regulates cortisol—a primary stress hormone. Too much of it can cause irritability and low mood.
The stress-busting properties of maca root may also extend to improved sleep quality in people who struggle to find calmness after a demanding day. In a 12-week experiment, a Peruvian research team found that participants who took maca root reported improved mood after just two weeks and maintained these improvements for the duration of the study. The control group participants, who were given a placebo, reported no improvement in mood, suggesting a strong relationship between maca root and increased well-being.
Regulates Blood Pressure
Among many other maca root health benefits, the supplement has a long history as an alternative treatment for high blood pressure. There’s no consensus about how maca root works to reduce blood pressure. Because some types of fatty and amino acids play a role in blood pressure regulation, it’s possible that those found in maca root may contribute to its effect on blood pressure.
In a clinical study, researchers found that maca supplementation had significant effects on both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. The results also showed a drop in cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as a reduction in total body weight.
Studies on Other Possible Maca Root Benefits
In addition to the more well-known benefits, scientists are also exploring other possible maca uses. Limited research suggests maca root may also have a positive effect on memory impairment and possibly prevent UV damage.
Traditionally, people of the Peruvian Andes use maca from childhood to improve learning and memory retention. Two animal-based studies from 2011[8,9] have shown promising results in improving memory impairment, but there’s currently a lack of human-based research.
With maca’s recent rise in popularity, it’s likely we’ll see more studies on memory-related benefits soon.
There’s some evidence that maca root may help protect the skin from harmful UV rays. Because it grows at high altitudes where exposure to UV light is extreme, it’s suggested that maca has adapted to defend against UV radiation.
While maca root has shown to offer UV protection comparable to conventional sunscreen, maca leaves, on the other hand, when used topically, may help prevent sunburn.
Maca has an impressive nutritional profile. It’s rich in calcium, potassium and some B vitamins, and is an excellent source of plant-based iron. It’s also trans fat and cholesterol-free.
Because one serving of maca powder contains over 14 grams of protein, some people claim that maca root is good for weight gain and building muscle, but there’s no evidence of a connection.
Maca Root in Summary
Used by South American tribes for thousands of years, maca root has a history of positive health benefits for endurance. Current science not only supports its use as a stamina-enhancer but as a mood booster too, thanks to its adaptogenic properties.
Maca root is a safe and healthy energy- and mood-boosting alternative to caffeine, and it appears to benefit the cardiovascular system too.