Maca root, used for centuries in Central and South America, has become increasingly popular in the U.S. Personally I believe the reason that it is becoming popular is because it has energizing health benefits you can really feel! I don’t mean ‘energizing’ in that it contains caffeine or other stimulants, because it doesn’t. Maca root provides energy because it is an adaptogen, and in particular it can help to balance our endocrine system which manages hormones in the body.
In recent months a wider variety of Maca root has come to market here, expanding to the culture use of different varieties or ecotypes – Red Maca, Black Maca and the more common Yellow Maca, as well as more specific varieties. The color refers to the outside of the root hypocotyl (that bulbous stem which looks sort of like a radish); the inside of the plant is usually sort of tan or beige in color.
Scientific research has compared the activities of these different phenotypes of Maca and found that in addition to different appearances, they also have different chemical makeup and properties. I have provided the PMID numbers after the studies mentioned so that you can do your own research on PubMed if you choose.
Red Maca – There is a doctor in Chicago who has had great success recommending Red Maca specifically for women with menopause. This is not surprising considering Maca’s strongest ability to balance hormones with its natural and safe steroidal saponins. Studies have also indicated that it specifically works to protect the prostate where there is dysfunction.
Black Maca – Black Maca is well-known as an aphrodisiac, and has been shown in studies to be the strongest spermatogenic. This may be useful for women trying to conceive a child, as well as their partner, to know!
Yellow Maca – This is the most widely available type of Maca, and like the others, has been studied for promoting endocrine system (endogeneous hormones) balance.
How do they compare? Researchers at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Herediam in Lima Peru found that both Black and Red Maca could be protective of the uterus without having an estrogenic effect. (PMID:20616517) The same researchers found that Red Maca reduced prostate size and zinc volume in animals with BPH (enlarged prostate). (PMID:2176218). In another study, researchers found that both Black and Yellow Maca, but not Red Maca, could increase the production of sperm. (PMID:17683465)
In another research review, the overall experimental results were summarized this way “There are different types of maca with different colors ranging from white to black. We have studied the pharmacological effects of 3 types; yellow, black, and red maca. Evidence from experimental studies indicates effects of maca on nutrition, fertility, memory, and mood. Black maca has better effects on sperm production than yellow maca which has only moderate effects. Red maca, however, has no effect on sperm production. However, red maca has been shown to reduce prostate size in rats in which prostate hyperplasia had been induced with testosterone enanthate; yellow maca has shown moderate effects here, whereas black maca has not shown any effects. Randomized clinical trials have shown that maca has favorable effects on energy and mood, may decrease anxiety and improve sexual desire.” (PMID:20090350)
All of this evidence supports the idea that, while there is difference between the different ecotypes; Red, Black and Yellow Maca are all adaptogenic foods which can be used by anyone. Remember Maca is traditionally used as a FOOD, and we should think of it as a FOOD first. This is not a drug in the pharmacological sense. One may favor the results from taking a certain variety, and many anecdotal reports from super food users support this. For anyone looking for better health, and hormonal balance, the best Maca is the one you personally enjoy the most. Cheers!