Several studies have found that maca can help ease menopausal symptoms. including hot flashes and lack of sleep. A 2018 study found that post-menopausal women who took maca had reduced anxiety and lower measures of “sexual dysfunction” too.
We wanted to know more and so turned to leading nutritionist, Sue Bedford, to tell us more.
What is Maca?
Maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng, is an edible plant native to South America. It is a perennial plant and part of the cruciferous family (along with cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) and can grow and thrive high in the Andes mountains of Peru, where it has been cultivated. The tuber (which is starchy), similar in size and shape to a white turnip, is eaten by animals of the region and has been used by people indigenous to the Andes mountain ranges for thousands of years. Maca is referred to as a herb. Like other starches, maca contains carbohydrates, protein, fats, and dietary fibre. It is also rich in plant sterols and a good source of iron, magnesium, selenium, and calcium. The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally (NHS England). The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. Menopause may cause problematic symptoms in some, including hot flashes, sleep problems, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and declines in cognitive functioning. Some studies suggest that Maca may benefit people who are going through the menopause by helping alleviate some symptoms, particularly hot flashes and disturbed sleep.
Maca is an adaptogen
Adaptogens are a group of herbs, plants, spices and roots (and certain mushrooms) that support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. They are called adaptogens because of their unique ability to “adapt” their function according to the specific needs of the body. This may be a physical, chemical or biological need. They have been compared to a thermostat, moderating the body’s stress response like a thermostat controls temperature – a bit like a homeostatic mechanism. They have special compounds that can possess opposing qualities, such as being relaxing or stimulating. There are dozens of plants, growing in some of the world’s harshest environments, that fall under the adaptogen category, some examples include Reishi Mushrooms, Siberian Ginseng Root, Moringa, Astralagus, Maca, Turmeric and Liquorice – to name a few.
How can Maca help support health during the perimenopause and menopause?
Maca is thought to offer a range of health benefits, including supporting libido and energy as well as helping to balance hormones in both women and men. Maca has also been linked to helping reduce anxiety and stress due to the adaptogenic properties it contains which help support the endocrine system, regulating communication between the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which helps balance the production of hormones and supporting the immune system. Maca is rich in flavonoids and magnesium, both of which are linked to helping boost mood.
A wholesome, balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, is an important key to hormone health and Maca contains a whole array of important nutrients to aid this. It is rich in vitamins C, B and E aswell as containing a plentiful supply of the minerals’ magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, selenium, iron and zinc. Maca is also a complete protein, containing the nine essential amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own.
Maca’s nutritional benefits (especially its high levels of magnesium, a proven immune system booster) and adaptogenic properties (which help with hormone balance and stress reduction) can further support the immune system and help to balance hormones. This is especially crucial for those who experiencing some of the main menopausal symptoms including disrupted sleep and hot flashes.
Maca root appears to benefit menopausal women with hot flashes and sleep disturbances, according to recent research
It’s commonly marketed in powder form and may be used in coffee or smoothies; it’s also caffeine-free. A review of four high-quality trials published in 2011 indicated some evidence that maca can help with menopause symptoms. The researchers cautioned, however, that there isn’t enough information to decide if it is beneficial for treating menopause symptoms and more studies are required.