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What do you think of when you hear the term “Super Foods”? I think of foods with lots of antioxidants like pomegranates and blueberries. I recently attended a lecture by raw foodie David Wolfe and learned about lots of interesting superfoods like chlorella and spirulina, but I was most interested in the tuber vegetable called “maca” that he spoke about and how it can help balance hormones and give you energy and vitality. As a woman with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and a health coach, I always want to know more about anything natural that helps with hormonal balance.
Maca lepidium peruvianum, is a turnip-like adaptogenic root belonging to the mustard family. Adaptogens are an extremely rare class of herb that modulates the body’s response by supporting it in dealing with physiological, biochemical, and psychological stressors. (1) It is found exclusively in the central Peruvian Andes at 12-14,000 feet under harsh natural growing and weather conditions. There are 13 different phenotypes within the species Lepidium peruvianum (maca that exhibit different colors, have different analytical profiles and even in some cases elicit different physiological effects on the body.(2) The maca root contains natural substances, which are believed to stimulate the pituitary and hypothalamus and adrenal glands to support and balance hormones. (3)
The active ingredients in maca are not phyto-estrogens, nor are they hormone like substances such as those found in wild yam. Maca does not introduce any hormones into your body. Instead, maca contains naturally occurring alkaloids.
Dr. Gloria Chacon, a biologist from Peru, states that the alkaloids in maca act on the hypothalamus-pituitary axis, which explains why the effects in humans are not limited to sex hormones, but also act on the adrenals, giving a feeling of greater energy and vitality, and on the pancreas and thyroid as well. Maca is also described as having powerful energizing affects. It sounds like a great supplement for balancing hormones doesn't it?
However, I found that not all maca is created equal. Maca is a tuber and is difficult to digest raw. For that reason, the native Peruvians traditionally cooked maca the same way we would cook a potato. However, boiling point temperatures can often destroy key active ingredients. There are a lot of raw maca powder products out on the market but many people have a hard time digesting this form of maca and have stomach pains and digestion issues. Also, as I mentioned there are 13 different types of maca.
Scientists have shown that different types different types of maca are not just different colors but some have different active ingredients and have different effects on the body. So how do you know which phenotype is the best for women during their reproductive years?
After reviewing all the published clinical studies on maca, I realized that while there is a lot of anecdotal evidence, there has actually been a relatively limited number of human studies done on maca and women. Also nearly all of the studies have been focused on post menopausal women and the treatment of menopausal symptoms. What’s more, in all of those studies while they had reduced menopausal symptoms, none had actually been able to show any statistically significant effect on hormone levels except one group of clinical trials on a product called Maca-GO (commercially known as Femmenessence).(4)
Further investigation into Femmenessence lead me to some leading experts in woman’s health who had written about it, such as Oprah’s woman’s health expert and best selling author of Woman’s Bodies Woman’s Wisdom Dr Christiane Northrup MD OBGYN .
So I contacted Natural Health International ,the makers of Femmenessence, to learn more about their product. I spoke with NHI's CEO James Frame about PCOS and Femmenessence. (For the complete Q&A with James Frame of Natural Health Interna...)
James Frame mentioned that patients who used Femmenessence MacaHarmony™ as part of a lifestyle protocol over 4-6 months have seen a reduction in symptoms such as hirsutism, acne and irregular menstrual cycles. In some more extreme cases he has observed patients who have not menstruated in 1-3 years, start to menstruate within 2-6 weeks. In instances where progesterone is not being produced, improved in 4-12 weeks. I also found it interesting when he mentioned that individuals who fit within the clinical spectrum of impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), metabolic syndrome (Syndrome X) or have Type 2 Diabetes, have shown improvement in blood glucose regulation after the use of Femmenessence for 8-16 weeks. He explained that it also helps with mood regulation by improving serotonin levels.
I have been taking Femmenessence maca since June 2011. I can attest that it is a powerful cycle regulator. My cycles have been 28 days apart for the last 5 months which is a major feat for someone with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. If you have issues with your cycles like I did - maca may be just what you need to get in the flow.
1 Winston D, et al. Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press 2007
2 Gonzales GF, et al. Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) reduced prostate size in rats. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 2005, 3(5) 14
3 Meissner H.O., Mrozikiewicz P.M., Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska T. et al. Hormone-balancing effect of pre-gelatinised organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon):
4 Meissner H.O., Kapczy_ski W., M_cisz A. et al. Use of Gelatinised Maca (Lepidium peruvianum) in Early--Postmenopausal Women - a Pilot Study. I. J. B. S., 2005; 1: 33
Amy Medling, CHC, is the founder of PCOSDiva.com, an online resource dedicated to help women understand and manage the symptoms associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. She studied holistic nutrition at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and is a Certified Health Coach. Diagnosed with PCOS 10 years ago and has since moved from a “why me?” self-pity state to a place of empowerment, that ultimately led her to becoming what she calls, a PCOS Diva. She turned her energy to researching alternative holistic treatments and therapies for PCOS. She came up with a plan that uses whole food, natural remedies, supplements, exercise, self-care and stress reduction to relieve and control PCOS symptoms. All of which she shares with her current clients to help them discover their own PCOS Diva.