Photo by Chris Kilham

The Medicine Hunter on Maca
Naturally Savvy
with Andrea Donsky

I have been hearing a lot lately on the benefits of Maca. From hormone regulation to energy and vitality, this herb is becoming increasingly popular so I wanted to learn more. Who better than to interview Chris Kilham, otherwise known as the Medicine Hunter on the subject?

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): What exactly is Maca?

The Medicine Hunter: It is a root in the mustard family that grows only at a very high altitude (15,000 feet) in the Andes between Peru and Bolivia but it is only traded out of Peru. It is a tough environment and Maca is one of only two foods that will grow there, potatoes is the other. The locals cook with it as it tastes slightly sweet and if dried properly it tastes kind of like a graham cracker. When fresh, it smells like horseradish, however, all Maca is only used after it dries as it loses its aroma and it is very pleasant. Maca is high in magnesium and iron, contains protein (13%), and is rich in naturally occurring plant sterols. The plant sterols may be the reason Maca is known to balance hormones as maybe the sterols are performing healthy hormone like functions even if the hormones are not changing. It is also gluten-free.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): Why is it good to take?

The Medicine Hunter: Maca has unusual properties. It provides energy, endurance and stamina and it is extraordinary for boosting sex drive. Maca is considered the single greatest libido-enhancing herb for overall sex drive and reproductive health. It is completely non-toxic. Maca is also widely taken as a fertility aid. We don’t know if it enhances female fertility or increases sperm but it seems to work.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): What research has been done on Maca to prove its efficacy?

The Medicine Hunter: The studies done with Maca with men show it absolutely increases sperm production but doesn’t affect testosterone production. That’s a curious find since the two are always connected/associated with one another. We don’t have complete studies that Maca balances hormones but we have seen it help to reduce or eliminate hot flashes and night sweats for women in peri-menopause. In the case of menopause and peri-menopause, Maca is the #1 thing prescribed by Peruvian doctors to women.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): Can anyone take Maca?

The Medicine Hunter: Maca is one of those things that because it boosts vitality and has zero toxicity (animal studies have shown it to have zero toxicity levels), everyone can take it – kids, pregnant women, and even the elderly. The best way to take it is to eat the powder. You can throw it into the blender with a shake or take it in capsule form.

With respect to pregnancy and lactating women, women can eat it by the pound – it is as safe as rice or lettuce. It may even help with milk production.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): Is there any way we should NOT take Maca?

The Medicine Hunter: Avoid taking a plain Maca root, grinding it up and putting it in a capsule. It will be useless because you won’t get enough. There are companies out there saying that Maca has to be gelatinized and that’s simply not true. There is no credibility to that. Also some companies claim the color of the MACA matters – total nonsense. No evidence to support that either. You also want to buy certified organic Maca. There is no reason not to.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): Then what is the BEST way to take Maca?

The Medicine Hunter: As a powdered Maca root: Take a heaping tablespoon everyday and you will feel the difference. This way you get enough of it. This is not to be confused with Concentrated Maca Extract, which is good too. EuroPharma makes a pure extract that I recommend called 'Andes Organic MacaTM.' There are many people who prefer taking a supplement over a powder and if they do, they need to be sure they are getting a concentrated Maca extract.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): You mentioned before how the locals bake with the Maca grown in their region. Can you give us an idea of how it is used in a recipe?

The Medicine Hunter: Sure. It is great for baking brownies, sponge cake, cookies, pancakes, etc. Just replace ½ the flour with powdered Maca and enjoy.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): Are there any other studies you would like to see done with Maca?

The Medicine Hunter: In all fairness to Chasteberry and other menopausal herbs, I am looking forward to a Maca and menopause study. As far as I can tell it is vastly superior to the other botanicals for menopause.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): Are there any negatives to taking Maca?

The Medicine Hunter: When it comes to medicinal plants like Maca, we often think of them for ‘treating’ or ‘healing’. But if you consume Maca regularly you’ll be more mentally alert, feel better, have more energy, etc. Think of Maca as a food, like fiber. We always have to eat fiber to keep us regular. Same goes for Maca. Its various phytonutrients help to enhance our health so it is great to consume it daily. You can’t eat too much of it. The only negative I have every heard about it is ‘it makes me too horny so I have to stop’. If that isn’t an issue for you, then it is a free ride.

Naturally Savvy Question (Andrea Donsky): [laughing] Thanks for the great information Chris. As always, it was a pleasure interviewing you.

January 2011