Historically, maca was used in Peruvian herbal medicine to treat anemia, menstrual and menopausal problems, memory enhancement, stomach cancer, and stress reduction, as well as to increase energy and stamina, strength and endurance.
Once colonial rule ended however, cultivation virtually stopped, except for small acreages planted for the farmers’ personal consumption. Production got so low, it was feared the plant would reach extinction. Fortunately, interest in maca started up again in 1961 when research showed it could increase fertility in rats. But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that things really took off. Athletes were becoming more aware of the harm that anabolic steroids and other such “enhancers” could cause, and were looking for more natural alternatives. They turned to maca for its reputed benefits of increased stamina and energy.
Maca’s nutritional value is quite high, with 59% carbohydrates, 10.2% protein, 8.5% fiber, and 2.2% lipids. It has a large amount of essential amino acids, and higher levels of iron and calcium than potatoes. It also contains fatty acids (including linolenic, palmitic and oleic acids). Maca is rich in sterols and has a high mineral content. It is thought that the beneficial effects on fertility are caused by its glucosinolates. Rich in sugars, protein, starches and essential minerals, it is a very important staple of the indigenous people of the high Andes.
Today, the health benefits of maca are proving to be just as the Incas believed them to be:
* It is thought that maca improves brain function, and is given to children to enhance their performance at school. A test tube study showed that the antioxidant content of maca leaf extract could protect against neurological damage.
*A study published in the International Journal of Biomedical Science showed that early post-menopausal women experienced relief from symptoms (night sweats, hot flashes), and even experienced increased bone density.
*Studies in rodents suggest that maca can reduce prostate size, due to the high levels of glucosinolates. Some call maca ‘Nature’s answer to Viagra’, because of its ability to normalize hormones such as testosterone, progesterone and estrogen, thereby slowing hormonal changes that come with aging.
*Aguila Calderon, MD, former Dean of Faculty of Human Medicine at the National University of Federico Villarreal in Lima states “Maca has a lot of easily absorbable calcium, plus magnesium, and a fair amount of silica. We are finding it very useful in treating decalcification of bones in children and adults.”