Native to the central Peruvian Andes mountain range, maca is an extremely high altitude, hardy plant with a turnip like root. It has been cultivated for at least 2,000 years by people indigenous to this region. It is said that they started to consume maca after noticing the positive effect it had on their livestock – in terms of energy and especially fertility!
Also known as “Peruvian Ginseng”, maca is perhaps most famous for its adaptogenic qualities. Adaptogens are a unique group of compounds which help your body adjust to stressful circumstances ranging from extreme heat or cold to infections or trauma. It is rich in plant alkaloids that regulate and balance the endocrine system – a collection of glands that produce the hormones responsible for sleep, mood, sexual health and stress responses.
Along with its high phytonutrient content, maca is a powerhouse of important nutrients, containing a rare blend of amino acids, minerals, vitamins and fibre.
Which Maca Is Best?
Interestingly, all three colours (red, yellow and black), arise from the same seed crop. One single colour cannot be independently cultivated, with just the skin being coloured differently. Furthermore, each of the differently coloured maca’s have an identical nutritional profile, it is the phytonutrients in the skin that endow red and black maca with their unique qualities.
A typical maca crop will yield 60 – 70 percent yellow maca, 20 – 25 percent red maca and 10 – 15 percent black maca. According to ancient Andean shamans, this is no mistake - they believe that la maca is telling you how to consume her. The most abundant, the yellow, is considered best for daily use. Red and black are considered rare and sacred, thus they are saved for medicinal use.
In traditional medicinal systems of the area, red maca is considered feminine and is used to nourish and nurture internal systems. Black maca is masculine – uplifting and energising, it is associated with external energy.Yellow Maca
Consumed the world over for its nutritional and adaptogenic benefits, yellow maca is especially rich in the active compounds that are unique to maca, “macamides”. Macamides work in the brain to preserve and increase levels of natural endocannabinoids, such as anandamide (also known as the bliss molecule), by inhibiting an enzyme called FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) that usually breaks it down. As the macamides and anandamide have a similar chemical structure, they confuse the enzyme and slow the breakdown of natural anandamide, meaning the brain maintains higher and more resilient levels of anandamide (bliss) for longer.
The yellow variety of maca has other benefits including:
- Energy boosting
- Hormone balancing
- Promotes fertility
- Increases mental focus
- Yellow maca is thought to be the best type of maca for daily consumption
Red maca has been shown to contain higher levels of phytonutrients such as alkaloids, tannins, saponins, steroids and cardiotonic glycosides that are derived from its red skin.
Red maca seems to have an enhanced effect on hormonal issues and can be especially effective for menopausal and post-menopausal women.
A study posted in the journal “Menopause” in 2008 found that a daily dose of red maca in post-menopausal women, over a 6 week period, resulted in a significant reduction in psychological symptoms associated with the menopause. The symptoms included anxiety, depression and it was also found to lower sexual dysfunction.
Another common symptom of the menopause is osteoporosis (bone loss), caused by a plummet in oestrogen levels. Due to maca’s beneficial effect on hormone balance, much research has been carried out to test its ability to prevent oestrogen deficiency-induced osteoporosis. One 2010 study found that red and black maca provided protection against this type of bone loss, with red maca being the most effective.
There may also be some benefit of red maca to prostate health. In animal models it does have a significant effect on BPH (Benign Prostate Hyperplasia), however more research is needed.Black Maca
The skin of black maca is rich in the antioxidant compounds known as anthocyanins, active compounds glucosinolates and dietary polyphenols. Black maca can give more protection against free radical damage. A 2011 study found that it reduced oxidative stress and improved memory impairment due to its antioxidant qualities and ability to inhibit the neurotransmitter ACE (acetylcholinesterase).
Black maca is traditionally associated with masculine energy and male sexual health and is used as a male aphrodisiac in its native Peru. In a 2001 study of nine healthy men it was found to increase sperm motility, sperm count and quality.
Black Maca has also been found to lower blood glucose levels. Controlling blood sugar levels helps to maintain a healthy body weight and reduces the risk of more serious health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Takeaways from this Article:
- Maca root is nutritionally identical. It is the skins that give each colour of maca its unique qualities.
- Yellow, red and black maca originate from the same seed crop. They cannot be cultivated independently.
- In the ancient traditions red maca is considered feminine – supports female sexual health.
- Black maca is considered masculine – supports male sexual health.
- Yellow maca is considered the best maca for daily consumption by both sexes.