Long revered as a healing herb, research suggests that this humble root helps reduce the effects of stress and boost mental clarity—and that’s just the beginning. New studies may show that the ingredient can be used to promote hair growth and prevent thinning hair and hair loss. So, is it all hype or can it really help?
The Traditional Take
Cultivated for more than 2,000 years, maca is a root crop that falls into the same plant family as broccoli, watercress and radish. It is mainly associated with South America (where it was once restricted only for royalty), and in Peru it’s a food staple—one that is considered a superfood, as it’s a good source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. “Traditionally, maca has also been used to stimulate libido in men,” says celebrity nutritionist Paula Simpson. “Food grade, as opposed to a supplement form, is more common.”
According to the Natural Standard monograph, in more recent times, commercial maca products have gained popularity in areas outside of South America as dietary supplements, with claims of boosting energy, enhancing fertility and balancing hormones. However, their stance remains that evidence to support these claims is weak.
The Next Superfood?
Today, you can find ground maca powder at specialty health food stores—it can also be found in supplement form—as something you can add to smoothies, cereal or yogurt. (Side note: It’s also high in protein and low in calories.) The companies that sell these products all share the same belief: Maca not only adds vital nutrients to your diet, but it also has the ability to actually reduce stress and increase energy. How? Because maca has adaptogenic properties, it’s believed to help the nervous system deal with stress. Sound far-fetched? Companies claim that there’s no way it could grow in such harsh conditions like those of the Andes if it didn’t possess these properties.
A Hair Must-Have
Only recently, maca has been associated with helping to stimulate hair growth, while protecting it from environmental factors and giving life to lackluster locks, when applied topically. While clinical studies regarding its ability to reverse actual hair loss are still rather mixed, there’s no denying that maca contains a multitude of hair-healthy phytonutrients—companies like Alterna have now incorporated it into products, promoting it as a natural ingredient that can improve volume.
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