What is Maca and Where Does it Come From?
Maca, botanical name Lepidium meyenii is a member of the brassica family cultivated in the Andean area of South America. Other well known cruciferous vegetables belonging to the same family include cauliflower, broccoli, mustard and collard greens.
It is primarily cultivated in Peru, at a height of 4000 to 4500 meters above sea level.
In order to grow and develop it requires cold, winds and significant amount of sunlight, with growth rates being faster at lower temperatures.
The root can be approximately 6 centimeters wide and roughly five centimeters in length and resembles a turnip in shape.
It is grown in three main color varieties made up of pale yellowish, red and black. Maca is a super-food composed of nutritionally high levels of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and all essential amino acids (1).
The use of maca dates back to roughly 3800 B.C. when the ancient Incas used it as a food and medicine for a host of ailments primary among them sexual function.
It acts as a tonic for the overall biochemical functions of the body, the main one among these being the endocrine system, which includes all the glands and their hormones.
Hormones control things like fertility, sexual function, nervous system physiology, energy levels, and digestion.
Hormonal regulation accounts for every physiological attribute that allows us to enjoy a variety of sensations.
The increased interest in the root worldwide over the last decade is due to its ability to tackle and offer relief from a number of modern day ailments.
The increasing claims about its benefits have led the scientific community to research the root.
While a lot more research needs to be done to fully understand the mechanisms of how the vegetable works, from the studies conducted so far, it appears that maca is a promising nutraceutical in the prevention of a number of diseases.
Scientific research shows maca has a positive effect on mood, sexual behavior, memory, osteoporosis, metabolism and hypertension. The active doctrine behind each outcome is still not clear, but the unusual compounds macamides found in maca seem to have a major role.
These compounds are unique to maca, as they have not been found in any other plant species to date.
It is a common understanding that this lipid fraction might be responsible for some of the root’s beneficial effects.
What is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?
High blood pressure is a major ailment afflicting the world’s population.
Most people with hypertension (its other name), experience an increase in the pressure of the blood against the arteries, over many years.
Almost nobody knows they have high blood pressure, as it has no symptoms (2).
There are ‘warning’ signs, but these can also mean something else entirely.
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Short of breath
- Foggy vision
While approximately ninety to ninety five percent of hypertension has no underlying medical cause, the remaining 5 to 10% of cases, known as secondary hypertension, are caused by other medical conditions that affect the kidneys, arteries, the endocrine system or the heart.
Even a Moderately Increased Blood Pressure is Linked to Shorter Lifespan
High blood pressure puts a significant amount of stress on the heart, which if left untreated, can lead to heart disease, a stroke or aneurysms.
A moderately increased blood pressure is linked with a reduction in longevity, so you can see the importance of tackling this problem now, instead of a few years down the line.
Conventional Treatment for High Blood Pressure
Treating this condition involves taking one or more of the following medicines, as well as making a positive change in lifestyle, to one that is less stressful.
- Renin inhibitors
- Angiotensin inhibitors/blockers
- Beta blockers
- Calcium blockers
There is a fundamental problem with these drugs – they could end up causing more harm than good, a long time in the future.
Obviously, its best to catch this disease in its early stages. But if you don’t know what symptoms you are looking for, how can you possibly know if your blood pressure is rising?
Hence the reason to be proactive, not re-active – to a disease that cannot as yet, be cured.
Living a healthy lifestyle, ie eating naturally found foods (not processed or packages food items), not smoking and not drinking alcohol, plus, exercising regularly every day, is the key to protecting yourself against hypertension.
Treating High Blood Pressure with Maca
Since it is a lifelong condition, many people prefer to use alternative therapies to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Maca root should be your first choice.
One of the most obvious benefits of maca is to reduce stress. Being a potent adaptogen, as we’ve discussed previously, its natural components have the ability to bring balance to the entire body.
Maca is thought to supply the body with the raw materials it needs to synthesize serotonin, a neurotransmitter, or hormone, that helps the body to relax and can even make you feel happy.
In fact, its ‘nickname’ is the ‘happy hormone’.
When you feel happy and more relaxed, you feel less stress or anxiety, so your blood pressure becomes regulated.
As an adaptogen, it might also decrease the levels of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ of the body.
It is this hormone (cortisol) which is associated with weight gain and obesity.
When the body is stressed, the brain fires off cortisol, which in turn does its best to protect the body from further stress. To protect the main organs of the body, it sends out ‘fat gain’ signals.
And guess what is associated with being overweight or obese?
You guessed it .. high blood pressure.
Studies on Maca and Hypertension
In a randomized clinical trial it was found that use of maca for 12 weeks reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Maca inhibited the blood pressure linked angiotensin I-converting enzyme in vitro. In populations that consume maca as a food source on a regular basis, it was found that their systolic blood pressure was lower than those not using maca.
Maca houses elevated quantities of potassium.
Potassium is a vital component in reducing the risk of hypertension, and because it is a metabolite it might also be beneficial for patients with high blood pressure.
Typically in Peru, maca root is consumed by first cooking it. They roast the root or boil it, and then mash them just like potatoes.
One benefit of cooking the root first is that it becomes easier to digest compared to eating it raw.
If raw maca upsets the stomach, then a supplement in the form of a capsule or liquid may be used.