Black Maca – a unique phenotype of super food for maximized human performance

I’m a huge fan of Maca root.  It really is one of the most energizing foods (other than things that contain stimulants, like the caffeine in coffee or theobromine in chocolate) and it is also a powerful adaptogen (balancing substance).  Some times called the “Ginseng of super foods” it helps combat fatigue, is an aphrodisiac, and is chock-full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

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Some years ago, our company The Food Movement started importing a couple of unique phenotypes of Maca root, specifically the Red and Black Maca, from Peru where it is exclusively grown. (Maca needs the high-altitude and rich volcanic soil in the Andes mountains to truly thrive).

People always ask me – what is the difference between these varieties? And companies who market the cheaper varieties (mostly conventional Yellow Maca or gelatinized powders) sometimes claim there is NO difference between different ecotypes of Maca.  Well, I can offer my opinion all day long, but when people start making assertions that are just plain false, I find a good way to balance out these differences in information is to turn to the science.

CAN BLACK MACA IMPROVE YOUR … mood? energy levels? blood sugar levels? libido? overall health status?

In this post, I want to look specifically at Black Maca. A very interesting study compared the effects of Black and Red Maca in otherwise healthy individuals.  They found some differences in chemistry, in that the levels of fatty acids and macamides (more on this in a minute) were higher in Black Maca, while the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA dominated in the Red.   Both varieties resulted in improvement in mood, energy, and health status, and reduced CMS score (chronic mountain sickness which occurs at high altitudes) but only the Black Maca reduced blood glucose.

Researchers in the journal Andrologia compared extracts of Black and Yellow Maca to try and raise the sperm count in adult mice.  They found that “Black maca administration resulted in higher concentration of sperm count in epididymis and vas deferens compared to yellow maca. ”

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One customer writing to TFMC commented “I feel like a new man taking the Food Movement Black Maca.  One tablespoon a day got me feeling good and having more energy, but when I started adding 2 or more to my smoothie — woooooo! I was hooked.  I’ll be ordering at least once a month from now on.”

There is much more research on Maca root, but I’ve given you just a couple of the studies comparing the different ecotypes of Maca. So, when someone says there is “no difference” between different kinds of Maca, they are quite misinformed according to the published research.

Which type is best for you? Only you can answer that – lately I have found very good effects from mixing more than one kind.  The really amazing benefits of what I like to call The Maca Trifecta (red, black and yellow combined) is something to be experienced.

Asian demand for Maca root disrupts international natural products trade

It really pains me to type that title, folks. I’m a big fan of Maca.  It is one of the best ‘tonic’ super foods – meaning that it is safe enough to eat every day and provides continual body strengthening benefits.  It is a member of the Cabbage family that only grows in the Andes mountains on the coast of South America.

When the Food Movement project first began bringing Red and Black Lepidium preuvianum (Maca root) from Peru into the US health food store market, I was ecstatic that we were able to bring this international superstar to folks at a fair price, and were able to work with our supplier partners to obtain verifiable certified organic plants in a raw form.  Now international demand has pushed prices sky high and made good materials more scarce.

So here’s the long a short of it; if you see a Maca you like on the shelves right now – especially at prices consistent with what they were earlier in the year – buy it all.  If you liked Maca at $13.99 for an 8 oz (retail price on TFM Red Maca before the recent disruption) you can expect to buy quite a bit more as the overall market absorbs supply-side price increases of 400 to 500%!

Consider this recent report from America TV

While price increases can cause problems for retail and wholesale suppliers, as well as importers (not to mention consumers!) the real problem may end up being one of supply. For a crop that only grows properly in a certain part of the world, there can be only a certain amount of supply without sacrificing quality.  At this moment I’d rather pay too much for Maca than have none at all!  It seems that it may be the only option we have.

As far as blaming Asian markets for this problem – if anyone is to blame it  might just be the Chinese government.  Because they had state-controlled limits on birth rates, recently lifted, their people were not concerned with procreating at the rate they are in the free world.  China’s one-child policy from 1979 to 2009 may have averted as much as 200 million births, although ethnic minorities within China were not limited by the single child rule and other exceptions were actually made to this limit.  Even so, since the change in China’s family planning policy, their demand for products ranging from Prenatal Vitamins and EFAs to aphrodisiacs such as Maca root, have skyrocketed.  As these pressures impact our global market, we can only do our best to keep our eyes on the prize in regards to sustainability, fair trade principles, and environmental footprint.  Good Maca will likely continue to be available, but we will always struggle with increased levels of inferior products as Maca poaching and other tactics become more profitable than ever.

Which kind of Maca is right for me? US consumers enjoy a rainbow of super food options

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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!