Maca is a wonderful adaptogenic root that may support hormone balance, fertility, and vitality. But not all maca is the same. Did you know there are 13 different phenotypes of maca ranging in color from purple to red, beige/off-white, yellow, and black? (source) These different types of maca have different physiological effects on the body, so it’s important to choose the type that’s best for your needs. Let’s go through the benefits of maca root and how to choose the type that will work for you.
About Maca Root
Maca is an adaptogenic herb cultivated in the central Peruvian Andes. It’s a cruciferous root vegetable—a relative of turnips and radishes. It’s also known as Peruvian ginseng, but it’s not related to Asian or American ginseng, Adaptogens help modulate the body’s stress response by supporting systems that control hormones, stress, anxiety, and fatigue. (read my article on adaptogens here). Maca is rich in iron, potassium, calcium, amino acids, minerals, and iodine.
Maca has been used for centuries in the Andes for nutrition and to enhance fertility in humans and animals. and contains a wide range of active constituents including amino acids, glucosinolates, phytosterols, and alkaloids.
There are many different phenotypes of maca that have different physiological effects on the body (Phenotype: the physical or biochemical characteristics of an organism, as determined by both genetic makeup and environmental influences). (source) That’s why it’s so important to understand which type of maca to use depending on what you want to accomplish.
Types of Maca
Maca roots grow in three basic color groups: black, red/purple, and yellow. Yellow is the most abundant, for daily use and long term balance, while black and red are thought to possess more sacred and medicinal powers. (source) Red nourishes the internal and black the external.
- Yellow maca is the most abundant and widely used form, considered best for daily consumption. Good for general stress and resilience, for hormone balance (including thyroid), boosting energy & vitality, promotes fertility and mental focus. Aside from hormone balance, yellow maca powder benefits those with adrenal fatigue, autoimmunity, and inflammation.
- Black maca is the rarest form of maca, considered more masculine, uplifting, and energizing in nature. Used as a male aphrodisiac in Peru. May increase sperm motility and count.
- Red maca is considered more feminine in nature and is nourishing and nurturing. Contains higher levels of phytonutrients. Best used for more chronic conditions like anxiety, adrenal fatigue, fertility, blood flow, prostate conditions. Red maca has been shown to have positive modulation effects on estrogen and progesterone levels while not increasing testosterone, such as with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). (source) Can improve libido and bone health. Especially effective for menopausal and post menopausal women.
We all possess masculine and feminine energy, so black and red maca aren’t necessarily used in a specific gender only.
The Benefits of Maca Root
Overall, the best benefit to maca is that it helps the body manage stress, as do all adaptogens, by helping to balance the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal). This supports normal cortisol response which prevents stress hormone spikes.
Other main benefits:
- Fertility: maca seems to work best for male fertility. It boosts sperm count and testosterone. Also boosts libido in both men and women. The testosterone boosting effect may help female fertility, but the research there is lacking, and there doesn’t seem to be evidence that maca improves pregnancy rates. (source) So maca may be best for men of partners trying to conceive.
- Increased energy, vitality: one of the main reasons the Peruvians used maca root.
- Helps menopause and peri-menopause symptoms. This I have witnessed firsthand among women in my practice. Maca really does seem to alleviate hot flashes and improve sleep in these women. It may help mitigate the dropping estrogen levels that cause unpleasant menopausal symptoms. May also improve bone density.
How to Choose the Right Maca Root for You
In the U.S., maca is typically ground up and sold as a powder or in a capsule or made into a tincture. It’s easy to add it to smoothies or snacks, like my maca truffles. It can be energizing, so just make sure to take it earlier in the day. I also like the Femenessence maca capsules, which are the ones I most highly recommend.
Quality matters, so make sure to get maca sourced from Peru. It can be difficult to digest, which is why the Peruvians cooked it. Gelatinized Maca powder has been pre-cooked and will be much easier to digest than raw. That said, many don’t have trouble digesting raw maca, so it depends on the person. Generally with thyroid issues I do. not recommend raw maca due to concerns about goitrogens.
To choose the right maca for your goals and health concerns, go by color as noted above. You can also rotate between all three types. Take for at least 3 weeks to see results, though you may notice improvements right away. For women with specific health goals or for women approaching or in menopause, I almost universally recommend Femenessence maca supplements, as they have included the proper maca phenotypes for women in all stages of life. This maca for women is also good.
Macapause maca supports bone health after menopause and also improves sleep, hot flashes, libido, and dryness. Helps combat naturally dropping estrogen levels. A game changer for menopause! Check it out here.
Macalife is great for peri-menopause symptoms that start to crop up in your 30s and 40s. I’ve used this myself and saw a great benefit for sleep and mood swings. Also helps hot flashes that may start creeping in as menopause approaches.
Macaharmony supports hormone balance and regular cycles for women in their 20s and 30s. May help fertility.
For general use, this yellow maca is great for my truffle recipe or to add to smoothies.
Adaptogens are powerful herbs that support stress relief, hormone balance, energy, mood, and overall balance. Maca is one of my favorites, especially for women approaching menopause and for male fertility. For women I typically recommend the Femenessence brands, and men can benefit from black or yellow maca.
For general use, get a yellow maca like this and use it regularly for several months to see improvement (though you may start to see benefits, like increased energy, quickly).
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.
Do you think it’s safe to use the Macalife supplement if one has Hashimoto’s or is hypothyroid?
Jess, I don’t recommend raw maca for those who have hypothyroid, but the gelatinized versions seem fine.