Simple Health

Is Maca Root Really Healthy?

July 5, 2013
A picture of a jar of maca root powder with the blog post title "Is Maca Root Really Healthy?"

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I admit that have been wanting to write this article for a while. There’s so much information out there about the benefits of raw maca root. And I wanted to give you some additional information that is not as readily available. This way you can make a more informed decision about whether or not maca is right for you. I began researching maca powder last year after hearing about the benefits of it in a seminar. It seemed like a great “superfood” and lots of people in the natural health realm were talking about how great it was. It made me curious to learn more.

Maca is a cruciferous root vegetable that grows in the heart of the Andes Mountains. These days it is considered an Andean superfood. People are popping capsules and mixing maca powder into their smoothies daily.

Some of the reported benefits of maca powder include: hormone balancing, increased libido, increased fertility, boosted immune system, increased energy and stamina.

And some who take maca powder do experience these benefits

But there is a dark side to maca that fewer are talking about. If we follow the use of maca the way that it has been used historically, maca root is never supposed to be consumed raw. The Peruvians have been using maca for thousands of years. But they always cooked it! The ancient Incas cooked it whole in fire pits, or boiled, mashed, and made it into little balls that were then cooked.

Modern Peruvians prize maca roots. The raw roots can be stored for many months or are dried and ground. The raw roots are either roasted or boiled (like what you would do with a potato). Roots that have been dried are boiled and then combined with milk to make a porridge or pudding.

But maca root is never consumed raw!

Why is this? The Peruvians know that raw maca root is not healthy to consume in its raw form. Maca is a particularly dirty vegetable. It contains enzymes that are mildly toxic to humans. These enzymes prevent the digestive tract from doing its job to digest the maca. This can lead to painful colon spasms, nausea, indigestion, cramps, and acid reflux.

As a cruciferous vegetable, maca can cause problems with the thyroid. Those with thyroid problems and those who are on thyroid medication should avoid maca because it can interfere with the effectiveness of thyroid medications. It can also cause or aggravate existing thyroid conditions.

Maca is goitrogenic, so regular consumption can cause goiter. This is particularly true if you eat a low sodium diet and do not take iodine.

Because maca interacts with the hormones, it can actually cause hormonal imbalance. Along with this, many experience hot flashes, headaches, water retention, bloating, and acne breakouts.

The use of maca powder for extended periods can cause some to suffer from aggressiveness, anxiety, depression, and emotional instability.

It can also cause a rapid heartbeat and insomnia.

My experience

How do I know about these symptoms? Because I experienced many of them first hand. I took maca powder for a while to increase my libido and energy. Soon after adding maca to my smoothies, I began having digestive upset and severe reflux. My moods changed and I became very irritable, anxious, and depressed. My monthly cycle changed and I began having my period every three weeks…and they lasted 8-9 days. I also gained weight very quickly. I simply did not know about any negative side effects of maca because most of the websites promoting it did not include that information. They only included information about the health benefits.

Luckily for me, the negative effects subsided after a few days (phew!)

After the negative experience, I wanted to know more!

After experiencing the side effects, I began to dig a little deeper into the world of maca. That was when I discovered the historical use of maca by the Peruvians. I also began to read comments and forum posts of people who were experiencing symptoms from raw maca consumption. And there are a lot of them out there in the vast world of the internet. So I know that it’s not an isolated problem.

Do I recommend maca? Usually not. The side effect potential and the thyroid implications for me outweigh the benefits.  But that’s for me.

If you do choose to consume maca powder, then it’s best to choose organic gelatinized maca. And avoid raw forms…even if they are organic. The gelatinized maca has been cooked so that the toxic enzymes have been removed. Even those with sensitive digestion often handle gelatinized maca without having problems.

Maca root impacts hormones

Even with the digestive issues out of the way, maca root does have an effect on hormone levels. So start off slow and listen to your body to see if it is tolerating the maca powder. If you start experiencing mood issues, insomnia, or rapid heartbeat, then discontinue taking maca.

Biologically, we are all different. And different herbs and food will have a different response in our bodies. Just because one guru says something will work for you does not necessarily mean that it’s true. Your best defense is to learn as much as you can, and listen to your body!