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.

New research shows Maca root contains compounds which stimulate the body’s own cannabinoid system

Talk about being on the cutting edge of science here, folks.  Now more than ever, scientists are furiously researching the activity of our body’s own endocannabinoid system (ECS) as a major factor in some very important areas of brain and Central Nervous System functioning.  Now, research by Z Hadju et al published just yesterday shows that Maca root aka Lepidium meyenii or Lepidium peruvianum (yes that amazing Peruvian super food you may have heard me talk about just a little bit) contains compounds which may have important effects on various protein targets in the ECS system.  These compounds, called N-alkylamides (NAAs), have an effect that is described as cannabomimetic.

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This is fascinating not just because it gives one more exciting insight (from a thoroughly reductionist standpoint, mind you) of how dynamic plants are.  It is especially timely because it parallels a re-visitation our society and our scientists are having with cannabinoids.  New pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and brain therapies are being developed around these stunning new developments and the potential for tapping into our body’s own regulation mechanisms.  Which is, clearly, what plant medicines do best because of their own internal regulatory mechanisms and unique things like secondary metabolites.

In an article in the NY TImes, celebrity food author and philosopher Michael Pollan talks about the cannabanoid network “A brain chemical that sharpens the senses, narrows your mental focus, allows you to forget everything extraneous to the task at hand (including physical discomfort and the passage of time) and makes you hungry would seem to be the perfect pharmacological tool for Man…” While this is extremely relevant to research on compounds such as CBD extracted from industrial hemp (and therefore legal in all 50 states) it may apply to many botanicals in different ways, as well as to our body’s own intrinsic production of compounds such as anandamide (named for the Vedic word ananda, meaning bliss).

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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!

Red Maca : Physical Vitality and Hormonal Balance from a Natural Whole Food

People think I’m down on drugs.  It is true, I have been critical of the medical industry, and of ‘big pharma’ hijacking science. But I know there are some pharmaceutical drugs which are important and life-saving; I would never dispute that.

The contrast for me is between the mediocre results most folks get from their pharmaceuticals, say antibiotics, corticosteroids or hormone replacement, without any diet or lifestyle changes.  Conversely, using whole foods as therapeutic agents, we see more general vitality being restored, rather than the body being forced into a limited chemical pathway.  Nowhere is this contrast between isolated chemical and dynamic whole food agent more striking to me than with Maca.

Maca Root, scientific name Lepidium meyenii, has been used in the Andes mountains for thousands of years.  It is a staple food for villagers, as well a reputed medicinal tonic and dynamic endocrine system balancer.  It is a member of the Brassica vegetable family, also shared by Kale, Broccoli, Cabbage, etc.

You may have heard of Maca, or even tried it in smoothies or other preparations.  Perhaps you are one of its devotees, as I am, who starts your morning off with healthy doses of it on a daily basis.  It is really excellent when combined with Raw Cacao… the pungent high notes of the Red Maca combine very nicely with the bitter finish of the raw Cacao (or even regular Cocoa powder).

Researchers at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima Peru did research and concluded “Maca is a plant with great potential as an adaptogen and appears to be promising as a nutraceutical in the prevention of several diseases.” When those same researchers tested a variety of Maca, called Red Maca, they found that it was extremely effective for reducing prostate size in animals with an enlarged prostate.

Surprisingly, though, fewer of us in the States are as familiar with Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii), which is known in its native Peru to be among the highest grade of Maca available. If you are interested in ordering certified organic Red Maca from Peru please consider the Food Movement, a company that donates 11% of its sales to hunger relief around the world.

Dating back to the ancient Incans, Maca has been known to increase sexual libido. Published scientific research has demonstrated that of all of the ecotypes of Maca are spermatogenic, meaning that they increase semen quality in males.

Another study done at the Department of Psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital found that Maca root did have a beneficial effect on libido.  The list of published research goes on and on, here, folks.

A study in Australia at Victoria University found that “Preliminary findings show that Lepidium meyenii (Maca)[3 .5 grams per day] reduces psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and lowers measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women independent of estrogenic and androgenic activity.”

What all of the effects are suggestive of, from a naturopathic point-of-view, is that Maca promotes hormonal balance.  Unlike drugs, or even many nutriceuticals, which can push the body in a specific direction and therefore have only a limited effect.  Maca’s position as a whole food adaptogen gives it a really amazing profile of being very safe to take, yet very effective in correcting hormonal imbalances.

Foods which promote balance in the endocrine system, rather than synthetic hormone replacement therap are inherently safer. Furthermore, because all of the hormones in our body act in a feedback loop, hormone therapy can have the opposite ffect that is desired therapeutically, long term.  If we want to achieve balance in the endocrine system, we would do well to consider a therapeutic food like Red Maca.

Because adaptogenic whole superfoods are nourishing, therefore naturally supporting the body’s own processes, the results of consuming them can be tonifying to the entire body. By giving it the building blocks it needs to reach its own homeostasis, adaptogenic effects do more to benefit more different systems.   Increased energy, vitality, better hormone balance in our bodies, antioxidant protection… these are the kind of ‘side effects’ I think we can all get behind!