Last week in my post titled Stress S*cks – I talked about the benefits of maca and gave you a drink recipe. Many of you asked for more information around Maca so I’ve done some research that I hope you feel is beneficial in making your own nutritional choices.
Maca is a Peruvian root that is used both in cooking and medicine. Its fans cite benefits such as increased energy and libido. While it can help you feel more energetic, you need to consider the possible side effects of taking this herb. As with any herb, always check with your health care provider before adding maca root to your diet.
What Is Maca Root?
Maca root is an herbal supplement that comes from the Peruvian maca plant. It has been hailed in Peru for years as a ‘superfood’ that can help improve health and vitality.
The latest in a long line of superfoods making their way to North America and Europe from other continents, maca is believed to be an adaptogen, or an herb that helps the body resist stress, trauma, and fatigue. It is believed to enhance immunity and increase energy. Maca may also elevate energy levels, improve immune function and provide vital nutrients to malnourished bodies.
There are many other promoted benefits of maca root, including hormone balancing, healing skin conditions, preventing migraines and many more. Please remember that these benefits are very personal to each individual.
Maca Root Side Effects
If you believe the press, maca root is all benefits with no side effects but we all know better. Before trying maca root yourself, consider the following caveats, side effects and cautions and then choose for yourself.
High in Iodine
Maca root is extremely high in iodine. While some iodine is necessary for thyroid function, too much can worsen the symptoms of thyroid disease. It also has a chemical in it called Glucosinolate, which may lead to the growth of goiters. Those with thyroid disorders should proceed with extreme caution and check with their endocrinologist before consuming maca root. I experienced this firsthand. I was taking maca powder daily prior to getting married. On the day after our wedding – yep, the very next day, I woke with an enlarged thyroid. Enlarged enough so that I had to have it drained. I believe it was caused by stress and daily doses of maca powder. I have since found that, for me, once or twice a week gives me maximum benefits. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much.
Like any herb, there may be those who are allergic to maca root. If you have plant based allergies you may want to check with your allergist before consuming maca.
Some studies show maca is to increase the production of testosterone in the body for both men and women. While men may benefit from this, too much testosterone can cause problematic hormonal changes in women including:
- Growth of facial hair
- Deepening of voice
- Changes in body shape
- Male pattern baldness
- Insulin resistance
- Breast and uterine cancers
There may also be mood swings, anxiety and excessive anger in both sexes; most likely attributable to the increased testosterone. It is interesting to note that the very prestigious New York University’s Langone Medical Center reports that there does not appear to be any increase in testosterone levels for people taking maca. Again, you know your own body – you be the judge.
Because maca increases hormonal activity, it can cause adolescent type breakouts and acne.
Altered Hormone Levels
Changes in hormone levels can also lead to menstrual problems, decreased sex drive and weight gain or even hot flashes.
One of the side effects of maca can be nausea and stomach upset.
Increased Heart Rate
The root is a stimulant, and can caused increased heart rate. If you have a history of heart disease or disorder, check with your cardiac care physician before taking maca root. Again, my own personal journey with maca. Some days I can actually feel the stimulant and some days, a warm maca drink actually calms me.
Some people taking maca root have reported increased incidence of heart burn.
Some people taking maca root report headaches that are increased in frequency and severity and some say maca helps curb migraine headaches.
The stimulant properties of maca root may make it difficult to sleep.
Take Maca Root Cautiously
There are no known drug interactions with maca and, with the exception of the increased incidence of goiter, there are no scientifically based negative side effects, either. Every person handles substances differently, however, so be cautious when taking maca or any herb. Don’t ignore any symptoms that you may have.
Always check with your health care provider before taking any herb, but especially before adding maca root to your health care regimen. If you do decide to take maca root, it is best to slowly build up your dosage to the recommended amount to reduce incidents of side effects. If you do experience any of the above side effects or any other changes you should stop taking maca root immediately and talk with your personal health care provider.
I hope this helps and doesn’t confuse more. Best advice I can offer; know your body and listen to it. If you start incorporating maca into your diet and experience any adverse side effects, stop taking it.