Have you considered trying maca for PCOS symptoms? Maca is a cruciferous vegetable from Peru which can be processed into a powder or capsule for easy consumption. In this article, discover the evidence for maca for PCOS and whether it is worth supplementing with.
What is PCOS?
PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a common endocrine condition that affects 1 in 10 people with ovaries in the UK. It is often linked with symptoms like irregular periods, excessive hair growth, fertility issues, insulin resistance and inflammation.
Symptoms vary from person to person and some people may even be asymptomatic. PCOS looks different for everyone which may explain why it takes on average over two years to be diagnosed.
What is maca?
Maca root is a cruciferous vegetable grown in the Andes mountains. It is a staple in Peruvian cooking. It has an earthy, nutty and butterscotch flavour and is in the same family as cauliflower, kale, broccoli and cabbage. The botanical or scientific name for maca is Lepidium meyenii.
The plant is able to grow in harsh conditions and high altitudes. The root grows below ground and can be dried and processed into a powder or the liquid extract can be made into a capsule for supplementary use.
Like ashwagandha, maca is considered an adaptogenic herb. The theory behind adaptogens is that they restore hormonal balance across the body and are commonly used in traditional medicine. Maca is rich in amino acids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and carbohydrates.
Nutritional value of maca
A teaspoon (approximately 5g) of maca powder contains about 16 kcals, 0.5g of protein, 0.04g of fat and 3g of carbohydrates.
Additionally, a teaspoon of maca powder contains 0.9g of fibre and 17.5 mg of calcium.
What are the benefits of maca root for PCOS?
Unfortunately, there are no specific studies investigating the impact of maca on PCOS symptoms as of yet. The evidence that we do have for maca and its benefits on human health are usually from small, short-term studies. The majority of studies on maca are undertaken on animals like rodents or even fish.
We need more high-quality evidence on the impact of maca on humans, but what does the research say so far?
May increase sexual desire (libido)
A study looked at the effect of maca on sexual dysfunction or desire in healthy menopausal people. The study suggested a significant positive effect of maca on sexual desire.
PCOS is associated with reduced sex drive and depression. A 2015 study found that taking 3000mg of maca root per day for three months improved sexual function and libido in people who were experiencing antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction.
Although the evidence appears promising, more research is required to understand whether maca impacts libido.
May improve aspects of fertility
In rodent studies, maca powder significantly improved LH and FSH levels suggesting links to improved fertility. Similarly, maca extract was seen to improve the number of offspring mice produced, likely linked to an effect favouring the survival of embryos in a 2005 study.
>> Read More | PCOS and Fertility: the ultimate guide to conception
May relieve symptoms of the menopause
Menopause occurs in people who menstruate. It is when menstrual periods stop completely. It is often associated with a range of symptoms including hot flushes, vaginal dryess, mood swings and problems with sleep.
A randomised control trial in Hong Kong found that maca supplementation for 12 weeks did not improve estradiol, FSH, TSH, SHBG, glucose, lipid profiles and serum cytokines although, improvements in blood pressure and depression scores were seen in postmenopausal people.
How much maca should I take for PCOS?
As we have no research on maca for PCOS or clear information on toxicity so recommended dosages can’t be clearly distinguished. But, maca is generally considered safe as long as you don’t take more than 3g a day for 4 months.
What are the side effects of maca?
Generally, maca consumption is considered safe and maca is well tolerated. A study in 2016 found that 3g of maca per day for three weeks was not associated with severe side effects. Although, there is some evidence that maca may have some side effects. More research is needed to understand why some people tolerate maca better than others.
Some people believe report feeling jittery after consuming maca. You may need to decrease your dosage if you feel too wired after maca.
Similarly, some people complain of being unable to sleep after consuming maca. Insomnia shouldn’t occur as maca doesn’t contain any caffeine. Try consuming maca before lunchtime if you can or reducing your dosage if your sleep is being compromised.
Anecdotally maca has been seen to cause an upset stomach or excess gas production. This may be because of consuming raw maca which has a higher starch content. Try a different type of maca like gelatinised maca if gut issues are a problem for you.
A study of people with metabolic syndrome who were administered 0.6g per day of maca saw moderately elevated diastolic arterial blood pressure. Although, these results are unique to this study and have not been seen in other reports.
Because of the low amount of evidence on maca generally and for PCOS, we have limited evidence of the side effects of maca. This suggests that caution should be taken if you choose to supplement with maca.
Is maca safe for pregnancy?
It is important to note that there is no information on consuming maca in pregnancy. We also do not have established toxicity rates so speak with your doctor or healthcare professional before trying maca powder. To be safe, we advise not consuming maca if you’re trying to conceive, are pregnant or are breastfeeding.
What type of maca is good for PCOS?
As there is no evidence on the effect of maca on people with PCOS and their symptoms, there is no conclusive “best” type of maca for PCOS.
Instead, if you choose to supplement with maca, after consulting with your healthcare professional, choosing between powder and capsule is down to personal choice.
Many people prefer powdered maca root because it is versatile and easy to mix into recipes, it is more quickly absorbed than capsules and usually is less expensive. Although, if you aren’t a fan of the taste of maca (which is nutty, earthy and sweet) then consuming maca via a capsule may be a better choice.
On the other hand, capsules make it easy to ensure you are getting a standard serving size, they are convenient for consuming on the go and capsules hide the taste of maca. Although, maca capsules are more expensive than their powder alternative and take longer to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
How to make and take maca
Maca can be purchased in different forms including powders and capsules.
There is no optimal or set dosage for maca but studies tend to use 1-3g of maca root powder daily. Speak to a healthcare professional before supplementing.
Where to buy maca
- Four root variety, Yellow, Red, Purple and Black
- Raw - processed at temperatures that never exceed 45 degrees Celsius, as this helps to retain heat sensitive nutrients
- 100% pure maca with nothing added, allergen-free, certified organic by the UK Soil Association, environmentally sustainable practices employed, GMO free, non-irradiated, tested for heavy metals & mycotoxins
- 6000mg of Maca per a tablet serving
- Easy to swallow
- Third-party lab tested
- Non-GMO ingredients, free from artificial colours or flavours and allergens such as gluten and lactose
Key takeaways: maca for PCOS
More evidence is required to understand the impact of maca on symptoms of PCOS. There is some evidence suggesting that maca may improve libido and fertility and reduce menopausal symptoms. If you choose to supplement with maca for PCOS management, speak to a healthcare provider particularly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have existing health concerns.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.