Maca For Balancing Hormones

  • Jess Herbert Masters of Cognitive Neuroscience - MSc, University College London, UK
  • Miranda Platt BSc Applied Medical Sciences, MSc Global Health and Development

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Maca root, typically consumed in the form of a powder, has been used as a health aid for many years throughout history by ancient Peruvian natives, as the maca plant originates from the Andes in Peru.1 When supplemented, the plant is primarily known to perform as a hormone-balancing aid. Balancing out hormones is vital for good health, as they control many of our internal processes, such as mood, appetite, the sleep-wake cycle, sexual function, and many more. 

Overall, there is currently a distinct lack of medical remedies to treat hormonal imbalances adequately, and so many find themselves turning to alternative therapies such as herbal remedies. Maca root is one of these and is frequently prescribed by alternative medicine and naturopathic practitioners to those suffering from a whole range of hormone-related issues. 

While there is compelling evidence that maca can benefit those experiencing issues with menopause symptoms,2 PCOS3 and thyroid dysfunctions,2 it is intended to be used as a support rather than a treatment designed to cure these conditions. It is also rich in nutrients and makes a great addition to any diet. Read on if you are interested in exploring Maca’s nutritional profile as well as its health-boosting properties.

Understanding hormonal imbalance

Hormones are chemical components that send messages between different bodily systems and are responsible for many of our daily functions. They are delivered via the bloodstream and ensure optimal functionality of everything from our sleep to our stress responses. When these messenger chemicals become imbalanced and stop working correctly, many negative symptoms can result. These can range from anything to weight gain, acne, dry skin and skin conditions such as eczema, insomnia, and changes in libido.4

Typically, the causes behind hormonal imbalance lie in a combination of lifestyle factors like diet, activity and stress levels and our susceptibility to these types of issues. It can also simply be connected to a person’s age, as is the case with menopause, although these symptoms can also be helped with a positive and balanced lifestyle approach.

While hormone imbalances can occur in any person, the types of hormone imbalances we will discuss most commonly occur in those assigned female at birth (AFAB). Some common hormonal disorders include:

PCOS

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is a relatively common disorder among those AFAB, affecting approximately 1 in 10 of those AFAB in the UK. It is characterised by the presence of three main symptoms: cysts on the ovaries, persistent lack of periods (also called anovulation), and high levels of androgen hormones, which can cause symptoms such as excess hair and infertility. PCOS is a chronic and long-term condition and can damage health, with links shown between the disorder and obesity, insulin resistance and long-term fertility issues.5 The symptoms of PCOS also can result in physical changes in appearance, reducing sufferers’ self-image and confidence levels.6 

Menopause

Menopause is the process of ceasing menstruation (more commonly known as periods) in AFAB individuals. Many hormonal changes occur during menopause, including fluctuating levels of sex hormones such as progesterone, estrogens and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH),7 all of which orchestrate a smoothly functioning menstrual cycle.


Symptoms of menopause vary in intensity between individuals, but here are some common ones:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Joint aches
  • Headaches 
  • Sexual problems caused by vaginal dryness 
  • Varying psychological symptoms (such as mood swings, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, difficulty coping and forgetfulness)

These symptoms are varied and can last for anything from 2 to 15 years, and can usually be managed and reduced with lifestyle and diet adaptations. 

Thyroid disorders

What does the thyroid hormone do?

The thyroid hormone plays a crucial role in the body’s ability to use energy for everyday functions like your heartbeat, digestive functions, brain development, and muscle function. But in those who have hypothyroidism, the thyroid doesn’t produce enough, or the hormone doesn’t act appropriately in target tissues. When this occurs, organs throughout the entire body slow down, leading to a whole host of far-ranging symptoms that negatively impact quality of life and can become severe over time if left untreated.

Some symptoms of thyroid dysregulation are: 

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin and dry, thinning hair
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slowed speech
  • Depression
  • Forgetfulness
  • Weight gain
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fertility problems and heavy or irregular periods.

What is maca?

Where does it originate?

The maca root (scientific name Lepidium meyenii) is a cruciferous vegetable and is a relative of broccoli, kale, and cauliflower. It grows in the Andean mountains at altitudes of 13,000 feet or higher, and so maca thrives in extreme conditions that few other organisms can. It’s thought that this resilience contributes to the potent health and adaptive properties of the plant.

Adaptogenic properties

Maca is an adaptogen known for its ability to help the body regulate its processes and adapt better to stress. These adaptogenic properties have been found to alleviate hormonal symptoms by balancing out the hormone functions within the body.2, 8 

How does Maca influence the endocrine system?

At the heart of maca’s functionality is its impact on the endocrine system, the body’s network of hormone-producing glands. The root substance is believed to stimulate the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, as well as the pineal gland and the pancreas, often known as the body’s “master glands”, as they control other glands in the body. This stimulation thereby improves the functioning of all the endocrine glands.9 It helps regulate the production and release of hormones, from sex hormones like estrogen, testosterone and progesterone to stress hormones like cortisol. When these hormones are balanced, people often experience improved energy, mood, metabolism function, and sexual health.

Hormone-balancing benefits of maca

It alleviates menopause symptoms

As we have explored, menopause can bring a host of unwelcome symptoms due to fluctuating hormone levels. Maca, through its adaptogenic nature, has shown potential in alleviating these symptoms. In one study, early postmenopausal women who consumed maca regularly experienced a significant reduction in discomfort associated with menopause, particularly in the severity and frequency of hot flashes.8,9 The Maca the women consumed in this study was a gelatinised Maca root powder (Maca-GO), which is thought to be the most effectively absorbed form of the supplement.

It may treat PCOS

While there are not a large number of studies yet directly linking PCOS and Maca root intake, physicians have been reportedly advising those with PCOS to take it as a remedy alongside other dietary and lifestyle interventions.12 

Maca is thought to have the ability to increase fertility as it has been found to create a surge in luteinising hormone as well as a decrease in FSH, both of which are associated with an increased chance of pregnancy.13

It reduces PMS

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a hormonal challenge that many women face around certain times in their menstrual cycle, with symptoms ranging from mood swings and bloating to debilitating cramps. With its rich nutritional profile, including essential minerals and fatty acids, some studies have found that maca can support the body’s natural hormone production, potentially easing the severity of PMS symptoms.9

It acts as a regulator of hormonal processes

In a study on rats, physiological responses to large doses of organic pre-gelatinised maca powder were measured for an extended period of 90 days. They found that the Maca acted as a regulator of hormonal processes in adult females, increasing progesterone and steadying estrogen levels.11 They also report a reduction in blood cortisol levels, a hormone linked with stress.11

FAQs: 

What issues should I be aware of? 

  • The potential for overstimulation

While maca has been shown to have beneficial energising properties, some people may find they get a little jittery or overstimulated at first or if they take too much. If this occurs, consider reducing your dosage or taking it slightly earlier in the day.

  • The impact on the thyroid

While Maca can be helpful in treating the effects of hypothyroidism due to being rich in natural iodine, it can also make hyperthyroid issues worse. The supplement can interfere with the normal functioning of this important gland, especially in those with any kind of thyroid condition. Always practice caution and consult with a healthcare professional if you are unsure whether it is safe to take this supplement.

  • Drug interactions

Taking Maca may interfere with certain medications and reduce their efficacy, such as those for liver disease or high blood pressure. It is advised to check with your doctor if you are taking any medication like this before beginning a supplementation programme. 

How should I take Maca?

  • Ease into it: If you’re new to maca, it’s advisable to start slowly and begin with a smaller dosage than you think you may need. Typically, starting with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (or 1,500 to 3,000 mg) of the powder daily is recommended, and then increasing the dose as your body acclimatises to the effects.
  • It is safe to take Maca at any time, but due to its energising properties, it is recommended to take it earlier in the day to get the most benefits of its energy-boosting effects.
  • You can add Maca in the form of powder to your foods, such as yoghurt or smoothies, or it can be taken in capsule form. 

How should I choose Maca to purchase?

When choosing a Maca supplement, try to look for the least processed option that has been sourced from the specific native area of the Andes region of Peru. This is likely to be of superior quality than others on the market. Also, although no comparative studies have specifically determined the best form of Maca to take, many of the experiments referenced here have used an organic gelatinised form of the plant. This form appears to result in the highest benefit and is the most nutrient-dense.

Summary

Maca’s unique adaptogenic properties, as well as its nutritional profile, make it an excellent aid to wellness and long-term health. It has been proven to help with a whole host of hormonal dysregulation issues and can be used to promote general well-being. While it should be taken with caution, considering interactions with other drugs and thyroid issues, the plant is generally safe to supplement. 

References

  • Gonzales GF. Ethnobiology and ethnopharmacology of lepidium meyenii (Maca), a plant from the peruvian highlands. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2023 Oct 6];2012:193496. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184420/
  • Meissner HO, Mscisz A, Reich-Bilinska H, Mrozikiewicz P, Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska T, Kedzia B, et al. Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (Iii) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006 Dec;2(4):375–94.
  • Balkrishna A, Rana M, Mishra S, Srivastava D, Bhardwaj R, Singh S, et al. Incredible combination of lifestyle modification and herbal remedies for polycystic ovarian syndrome management. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine [Internet]. 2023 Jun 20 [cited 2023 Oct 6];2023:e3705508. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2023/3705508/
  • Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 6]. Hormonal imbalance: causes, symptoms & treatment. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22673-hormonal-imbalance
  • Azziz R. PCOS: a diagnostic challenge. Reproductive BioMedicine Online [Internet]. 2004 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Oct 6];8(6):644–8. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1472648310616446
  • Bazarganipour F, Ziaei S, Montazeri A, Foroozanfard F, Kazemnejad A, Faghihzadeh S. Body image satisfaction and self-esteem status among the patients with polycystic ovary syndrome. Iran J Reprod Med [Internet]. 2013 Oct [cited 2023 Oct 6];11(10):829–36. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941334/
  • Burger HG, Dudley EC, Robertson DM, Dennerstein L. Hormonal changes in the menopause transition. Recent Prog Horm Res. 2002;57:257–75.
  • Meissner HO, Kapczynski W, Mscisz A, Lutomski J. Use of gelatinized maca (Lepidium peruvianum) in early postmenopausal women. Int J Biomed Sci [Internet]. 2005 Jun [cited 2023 Oct 7];1(1):33–45. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614576/
  • Meissner HO, Reich-Bilinska H, Mscisz A, Kedzia B. Therapeutic effects of pre-gelatinized maca (Lepidium peruvianum chacon) used as a non-hormonal alternative to hrt in perimenopausal women - clinical pilot study. Int J Biomed Sci [Internet]. 2006 Jun [cited 2023 Oct 7];2(2):143–59. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614596/
  • Meissner HO, Mrozikiewicz P, Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska T, Mscisz A, Kedzia B, Lowicka A, et al. Hormone-balancing effect of pre-gelatinized organic maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (I) biochemical and pharmacodynamic study on maca using clinical laboratory model on ovariectomized rats. Int J Biomed Sci [Internet]. 2006 Sep [cited 2023 Oct 7];2(3):260–72. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614604/
  • Meissner HO, Kedzia B, Mrozikiewicz PM, Mscisz A. Short and long-term physiological responses of male and female rats to two dietary levels of pre-gelatinized maca (Lepidium peruvianum chacon). Int J Biomed Sci. 2006 Feb;2(1):13–28.
  • Djedjibegovic J, Marjanovic A, Kobilica I, Turalic A, Lugusic A, Sober M. Lifestyle management of polycystic ovary syndrome: a single-center study in Bosnia and Herzegovina. AIMS Public Health [Internet]. 2020 Jul 8 [cited 2023 Oct 8];7(3):504–20. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7505790/
  • PRIME PubMed | Lepidium meyenii (Maca) enhances the serum levels of luteinising hormone in female rats [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 8]. Available from: https://www.unboundmedicine.com/medline/citation/24333960/Lepidium_meyenii__Ma

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Jess Herbert

Masters of Cognitive Neuroscience - MSc, University College London, UK

Jess is an accomplished cognitive neuroscientist researcher and medical writer with a strong background in business with several years corporate experience in data-focused roles. She has a Master's degree in cognitive neuroscience from the renowned University College London, where she studied from 2022-2023. During her time there she contributed to research in the speech communication lab and also gained skills in science writing and communications. She continues to develop her skills while pursuing a career in the cognitive sciences and communications.

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