What is Menopause?
Menopause is a natural phase of aging. Typically it occurs in women between the ages of 45 to 55 years, however on rare occasion it may begin as early as 35 years of age.
Menopause begins when the body slowly starts to decrease the production of estrogen (the female sex hormone), which eventually prevents ovulation.
When the level of estrogen production goes below a certain level, ovulation stops altogether.
Health Problems as a Result of Menopause
As the level of estrogen in the body decreases, other changes start to take place as well.
Some of these changes include a weakening of the blood vessels, the liver not getting appropriate messages to convert bad cholesterol to good cholesterol, loss of bone density (at the rate of one to three percent a year), compromise of serotonin, a neurotransmitter released by the brain that helps to relax and promote sleep (1).
These changes can enhance several health issues associated with menopause, like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, joint pains, memory loss, hot flashes, and mood swings.
The degree to which a woman is affected by these symptoms varies greatly from one female to the next.
For some women, the phase may be fairly mild and uneventful, while for others it may be so severe, it becomes difficult to function.
Since menopause is not a disease, but a passing transition that can last a number of years, being able to manage these symptoms is vital in carrying out daily routine.
Most of these symptoms can be eased with some changes in lifestyle, and taking prescribed, synthetic estrogen.
Conventional medicine uses Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) to deal with the symptoms (2). This essentially means the shortfall in estrogen production is made up by taking synthetic hormones.
When the estrogen levels are brought up to, or are near normal levels, the symptoms disappear.
However, there are many different types of estrogens.
There are the conjugated equine estrogens (CEE), naturally occurring like estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3) and phytoestrogens like those found in soy, flax seed and red clover.
Herbalists prefer to use phytoestrogens as they display a milder estrogen like effect in the human body, almost replicating the estrogen produced by the body itself.
Thus, limiting any side effects or causing any other problems, relating to ‘drug’ grade synthetics (3).
However, they are not the same as the estrogen produced in the body hence, one can hardly call them ‘natural’.
Some of the more common pharmaceutical estrogens, used in treating symptoms of menopause are derived from the urine of a pregnant mare.
Again while they may be natural for a horse, they do not match exactly with human estrogen and at times can cause serious side effects, because they are more potent than those found in the human body.
Long term use of such hormones causes other serious health problems.
Maca Could Help Regulate Female Hormones Post Menopause
Obviously the best way to treat the symptoms of menopause would be for the body to just produce it own hormones.
This is where maca could help.
A doctor form Peru, Dr. Gloria Chaco de Popovici, has been studying maca for a number of decades.
According to her research, maca specifically affects the pituitary gland (4).
If the root is consumed regularly, it aids in maintaining the balance of the endocrine system, which in turn makes the process of transition through the menopause stage, a lot easier.
Some small clinical studies indicate that maca root has positive effects on a number of menopausal symptoms like tenderness of the breast, hot flushes, insomnia, mood swings and vaginal dryness.
Maca is endowed with more than 60 micronutrients. It is high in iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, silica, vitamins A, B, C, D, E, B12, B1, B2, and B3.
It is 40 percent potassium and roughly ten percent calcium, in addition to containing 18 amino acids and 20 fatty acids.
While it does not contain any specific hormones, it possesses all the nutritional building blocks the glands need to construct their own hormones.
With all the micronutrients it houses, it is no wonder that most people start to feel revitalized and energetic only after taking a few doses of the root.
Maca is Not ‘Hormone Rich’
The best part about using maca root is the fact that it does not contain any pre-constructed hormones, because while these might be somewhat similar, they are never exactly the same as those found in the human body.
Maca works in conjunction with the body’s natural process by balancing the hormones, instead of supplementing it with unwanted, synthetic substances.
The alkaloids in maca promote the endocrine glands into normalizing the estrogen and progesterone levels.
When the glands produce healthy quantities of these sex hormones, the typical symptoms of menopause due to the elimination of the body’s imbalance of hormones, are slowly eased and then eliminated altogether.
Maca Reduces Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms in Menopausal Women, But Increases Their Libido
Due to the increased interest in maca recent years, a number of small studies have been conducted to study its effect on menopause.
One such recent study used fourteen post-menopausal women and conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross over trial.
The trial showed that using 3.5 grams of maca per day reduced psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction common in postmenopausal women.
An investigation of seventeen databases by researchers for randomized clinical trials that compared any kind of maca based intercession with placebo to treat menopause symptoms, was conducted to collect evidence for or against the effectiveness of maca.
Four separate studies met the stringent criteria set by the researchers to ensure that the trials held validity.
Each of these studies tested the effects of maca on premenopausal, as well as postmenopausal women.
Each of the trials demonstrated positive effects of maca on symptoms of menopause.
While the trials are small in size, all preliminary studies showed that maca plays a positive role when it comes to easing the symptoms of menopause (5).