Superfood or Super Scam?

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Can this popular supplement deliver on its promises? Will it really increase your testosterone? Can it lower your estrogen? Can it convert even the worst sexual dud into a sexual stud? In today’s article we’re going to sort fact from fiction regarding this popular herbal supplement. That way you can determine whether it could be right for you. Then you can spend your hard-earned money in smart ways. You don’t have to be duped by false marketing claims.

How many times have you come across an advertisement that makes bold claims for a product? “Doubles testosterone!” “Makes you feel like 20 again!” “Rock solid erections guaranteed!” The truth is that some of the products really do work. But a lot of the time the advertising provides false claims.

One of the most popular herbal supplements in this regard at the moment is something called maca. You may have heard of it. If not, you certainly will sooner or later.

The advertisers make a lot of bold claims about the product. When it comes to sexual benefits, they claim that maca can boost energy. They say it will increase libido. The state that it will increase testosterone. But how much of that is true? Let’s see.

What is Maca?

Before we talk about the benefits (or lack thereof) of maca, let’s first talk about what maca is. Understanding what maca helps to remove some of the mystique. Most advertisers are quick to make it sound as though maca is a magical herb that is entirely unlike anything else. After all, they have to justify the high price they charge. But what is maca?

Maca is a brassica plant, meaning it’s in the cabbage family. It is very closely related to the humble turnip. In fact, here’s a picture of maca so you can judge for yourself.

Looks an awful lot just like a turnip, doesn’t it?

Now, just because maca is closely related to the turnip doesn’t mean that it might not be beneficial. After all, turnips are pretty healthy. And maca may possess some unique properties that are of benefit to humans. However, knowing the close relationship between the two plants may help put things into perspective a bit.

In maca’s native habitat, the highlands of Peru, the roots have been eaten as a food rather than as a supplement. While they may be very nutritious, they are not traditionally used as a so-called “superfood”. In fact, they are a staple in the diet of very poor people. That makes it ironic that in rich countries the roots are sold to wealthy people as a special supplement.

What The Science Says

A fair amount of research has been conducted on maca. Some of the research has been poorly designed, casting doubt on the findings. But a fair amount of well designed research has also been done. A lot is known about maca from a research perspective as a result.

First of all, let’s look at some of the claims that have been proven to be false. Some of the boldest claims are the claims that maca can affect men’s hormones in a positive way. Advertisers claim that maca increases androgens such as testosterone and DHT. They also claim that maca decreases estrogen, the “female hormone” that us men don’t want too much of.

What does the science have to say about those claims? “Hokum” is what science has to say. In non-scientific terms that means that the claims are nonsense. No credible studies have found maca to have any influence on sex hormones. Not even a little bit. Not for anyone.

Now, just because maca doesn’t increase testosterone doesn’t mean that it might not have some sexual benefits. And, in fact, research does show that maca may have a slight effect of increasing libido and possibly even a very mild improvement of erection quality. However, these effects have not been demonstrated consistently and they don’t tend to affect everyone. Of note is the fact that aphrodisiac effects, when they occur, are the result of regular consumption of maca over several weeks. That suggests that the benefits may be due to improved nutrition. And maca is pretty nutritious. So just eating some more fruits and vegetables regularly could have the same effect.

Otherwise, maca may have a positive effect on mental and emotional health, providing a mild boost to mood and a mildly calming effect on anxiety. However, these effects are not consistent and they are poorly studied. And in any case, it may be that simple attention to nutrition may offer the same benefits. Again, just eating some more fruits and vegetables may offer the same benefits.

Just a Turnip?

So far you can see that the benefits of maca are often overstated. But does that mean that maca is nothing more than a turnip with a fancy name?

Well, despite the close relationship between maca and turnips, maca does have some unique properties. When scientists have studied the constituents of maca they have found some substances that are unique to the plant. In particular, some alkaloids and some fats that are found (thus far) only in maca. Might it be that these compounds offer some unique benefits to humans? It might be. But given the study results thus far, it seems unlikely that those benefits are dramatic.

So it seems that maca really is basically just a turnip. It’s a particularly nutritious kind of turnip, but a turnip all the same.

The bottom line is that maca can be an excellent food and may even offer some benefits as a supplement when taken regularly for a few weeks. However, for the money, it just doesn’t live up to the hype.

Raw vs. Cooked

If you wish to consume maca for the nutritional benefits, then there seems to be little harm in doing so. However, there are some cautions to consider.

Being brassicas, maca contain a substance contained in all brassicas called glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are thyroid suppressants because they block uptake of iodine by the thyroid. Over time they can produce hypothyroidism and goiter if consumed in excess.

Although excessive consumption of any brassica (cabbage, broccoli, kale, collards, turnip, and so on) can potentially cause these effects, it seems that raw brassicas are the main concern. Many people eat cooked brassicas regularly without problem. But raw brassicas can be problematic. And that is why the Peruvian people traditionally cook maca in food.

If you decide to supplement with maca then make sure it is not raw. Some companies sell raw maca powder, and that can cause problems. In fact, some people report health problems after only a few weeks of eating raw maca. That’s likely due to the high level of glucosinolates. So don’t make that mistake. If you buy raw maca, then be sure to cook it.

A popular form in which maca is sold is called gelatinized, which means that it has been cooked and the starch has been removed. So if you buy gelatinized maca from a reputable vendor then you can eat it without cooking it since it has already been cooked.

Conclusion

In this article you learned that the popular herbal supplement, maca, is overhyped. While it’s not without some potential for some mild health benefits, most of those benefits are simply the result of nutrition. Most likely you can achieve most of the same benefits simply by following the dietary and lifestyle recommendations found in these articles.

For my money, I’d probably skip the maca and go for a walk in the sunshine. Or eat a nutritious meal. Or make love. Or all three.

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