Maca is a uniquely safe root vegetable from Peru, the use of which dates back three thousand years before the birth of Christ.
But only in the last few centuries, has it’s attributes been recognized by the wider world, and this potent extract made its way into North America and Europe.
An adaptogen by definition, maca is accredited with being a super-food that helps avert many modern ailments. But there are certain side effects to be cautious of, particularly if you have allergies to certain plants, or if your body is susceptible to hormone changes.
You should also know when to take maca, and more importantly, when NOT to take it.
Maca grows in the most inhospitable, mountainous peaks of the Andes. It is virtually the only plant that can survive, even thrive in this extremely harsh climate.
It resembles a cross between a large radish and a turnip, and has been used as a staple food for centuries by the local inhabitants.
In the 16th Century, maca was cultivated and used to barter for essential supplies by the Chinchayochas Indians, who exchanged and gifted with the first Spanish explorers.
Common sense dictates that if anything that has been used for this long had any adverse effects, it would be well documented and written in the archives of many libraries.
Fortunately, because of the advancements in science and technology, we actually do know of the side effects of maca! And they are no more serious than those of other herbs or vegetables that one might using on a daily basis.
Do Not Take Maca if You Have Thyroid Problems
Maca root is high in iodine, at 50ug per average serving. Extreme high doses of iodine have adverse affects on the thyroid gland, and can cause hypothyroidism (1).
Paradoxically, iodine deficiency can also trigger thyroid problems, and even cause a goiter (also because of maca’s concentrated glucosinolate amounts).
So, if you do have, or have previously had concerns relating to your thyroid, you may want to avoid taking maca (or at least consult your primary health care professional first). If you are deficient in iodine, maca would probably benefit your health, but if you have a sensitive thyroid, it could cause you problems.
Do You Have Plant Allergies?
If you are allergic to some plants, the chances are you will probably be allergic to maca.
Check with a nutritionist, or a herb expert if there is one in your region.
Maca May Cause Insomnia in Some People
Maca is a natural stimulant. So, another possible side effect of excessive use of maca is insomnia.
The simplest way to deal with this is not to consume more than the recommended amounts, better still, to start with smaller than recommended amounts (2).
Also, do not consume maca late in the day – it’s a stimulant, and unless you’re working long night shifts, there is no need to take any kind of stimulant late in the day. You could find yourself lying in bed counting sheep, hopping over a fence, but with no resultant sleeping!
So, always take it in the morning, or latest, in early afternoon.
Maca Might Cause Hot Flashes and Increased Heart Rate in Some People
Ok, so you already know that maca is a stimulant. Take just enough and you will reap the rewards of an energy boost and improved endurance, but take too much and you could find yourself sweating profusely, your heart racing and having hot flashes.
You could even become a little paranoid or having feelings of anxiety.
If this happens, don’t panic, the effects will wear off, but it does mean that you have taken too much! Next time, you will know better.
Maca Could Upset Your Gut
Maca is approximately 8% fiber. You need fiber for a healthy gut and normal bowel movements. If you ingest too much maca in one go, you increase the rate which your body digests food.
The result could mean you get gas, even diarrhea. Remember, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so drink plenty of water if it affects you this way.
Maca Could Cause Acne
Maca does not produce any new hormones in the body, but works by improving the efficiency of the hormones your body already produces. When efficiency is enhanced it leads to the individual feeling better.
With increased hormonal activity, it is possible that some people may develop some acne as they did during adolescence. Oddly enough, maca can be used as treatment for hormonal acne.
If you do get acne when using maca, it is direct proof that the herb is doing what it is known for. To correct this, reduce the amount you are taking, or stop all together, then add in a little more over a couple of weeks.
This should allow the body to get used to the hormone balancing effects of maca.
Testosterone Increase Can Lead to Complications
There are numerous reports of maca increasing testosterone production in both men and women. This is not usually an issue for men, but in women it might produce some undesirable results (3).
- Deep voice
- Excessive facial hair
- Increased muscle mass
An increase in testosterone caused by maca could also lead to anxiety attacks and mood swings, it could even cause unwarranted bursts in anger, again, in women as well as men.
However, it should be noted at this point, that maca normally has positive effects on mood, stress levels and anxiety.
It will also usually help to relieve symptoms of depression. But, someone who is highly sensitive to testosterone increases, may be susceptible to these side effects.
So, if you ARE sensitive to testosterone, take care when introducing maca into your diet. Smaller doses are recommended in this case.
Initial Maca Dosing and Cycling for Reduced Possibility of Side Effects
Whether you are sensitive to hormonal changes or not, you should be cautious when taking maca for the first time. Introduce it slowly into your diet to avoid possible complications.
I say ‘possible’, because there is probably only a slim chance of observing any side effects.
That being said, to cut down on any possibility of side effects, frequent cycling of maca is recommended. A commonly accepted cycle lasts two weeks of using the herb, followed by three to four days of not taking it.
Finally when starting on a regiment of maca use, it is important not to combine its use with any other enhancement. This way, if you notice any problems, you will know the cause right away.
Maca and Pregnancy
Women who are pregnant, or who are breast feeding should refrain from taking maca.
Although there is much more research needed on maca and women in the gestation period, stimulants of any nature should be avoided at this vital time for a baby.
Maca V’s the Side Effects of Other Medicines
With all the health benefits maca has to offer, the potential side effects discussed are not life threatening, and are fairly minor (compared to drug treatments for similar disorders).
Supporters of this alternative therapy use it to protect and combat the effects of many health conditions and diseases – PMS and menopause, sexual dysfunction, promote mental clarity, enhance fertility, increase stamina and athletic performance, and many other ailments.
The majority of prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs used to treat the same issues, come with their own set of side effects (that you will not be made aware of).
The positive of using maca is that its minor side effects are only possible, and can be averted by using sensible amounts of the herb, and then by cycling.
Important Guidelines to Start Taking Maca
As maca is probably new to you, and you don’t really know how it will affect you, here are a few guidelines you might like to adhere to.
- Take the minimum recommended dose, less if possible. You can always take more next time.
- Once you find the right dose, start cycling usage – 2 weeks on, 4 days off.
- Never take maca late in the afternoon, evening or night time – unless you want to be awake all night!
- If you notice you’re getting acne, stop taking maca and re-start with a smaller dose.
- If you notice you’re getting gas and upset stomach, you’ve taken too much.
- Although maca can improve the chances of getting pregnant, if you are already with baby – do not take maca (or consult your doctor first).