Maca for hormone balance
Maca is often recommended to help boost fertility and balance hormones, but does it? Maybe. Here’s what you need to know about maca for fertility before you try it.
The interview below is one I did with Ann Melin of Women’s Wellness Collaborative, a Certified Clinical Master Herbalist, all about maca and whether or not it’s good to use for increasing fertility. This herb is often talked about in natural health circles as a remedy for infertility, fatigue, and thyroid disorders, but are those claims substantiated? Unfortunately it’s not that simple!
Before you go out and buy maca to try, make sure to watch the video or read through the summary transcription. And if you do decide that maca is right for you (or your husband) I can easily recommend the products from The Maca Team. They carry both the regular powder as well as gelatinized maca, and you can buy it as a powder, in capsules, or as a tincture. Plus, they offer different types of maca based on the issue you’re trying to remedy. I’ve used their products before (they sent me a few of them to review) and I feel they are of good quality (also organic and fair trade). Do be aware however that all of the articles and info on maca on their site is positive…I mean, they are trying to sell the stuff!
Maca for fertility and hormone balance
What exactly is Maca and what does it do in the body?
A lot of what Maca actually does is unknown. There is very little research out there about what the mechanisms of action are. There’s a lot of talk about what people think it does, and there are a lot of anecdotal stories about what it may do. I will talk about some of that, but I want to preface it by saying this is not all necessarily based in sound, peer-reviewed clinical research.
Maca is basically a root vegetable. It grows in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. Its allure comes from that it grows in an intense environment in poor soil with extreme temperatures and weather conditions. There is this idea that this hardy, resilient plant can be used to transfer those same properties into a person when they consume it.
[Ann talks more about this idea in traditional herbalism from 1:58 to 2:42]
People call it a nutrient powerhouse. It does have a decent nutrient profile, but it is not all that different from other vegetables or root vegetables you can consume. There are claims that there is this phytoestrogenic property to Maca that can help to enhance estrogen when it is low. Then there are other constituents of Maca that are thought to reduce estrogens when they are in excess.
There is support that the plant contains these nutrients, but there is no clinical evidence that suggests it is all that impactful, especially on estrogen levels. There is one commonly cited study that shows some enhancement in estrogen levels of postmenopausal women.
Maca is an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogenic herbs regulates how the communication happens from the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland and thereby regulates the pituitary glands messaging to the other endocrine organs. So it balances out what kinds of hormones the body is producing and when.
What are some of the downfalls to taking Maca?
I can almost always tell if someone has been taking Maca when I look at a hormone profile. I’ll see someone who is depleted across the board in estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and melatonin, and then their DHEA hormone is high. When I see that I always ask if they are taking Maca. It happens enough that I see DHEA levels and androgen hormones go up more commonly than I see the more dominant female hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, go up with using Maca.
Some of the primary studies that have been done on the benefits of Maca are really demonstrated to be effective for male fertility, enhancing sperm motility, enhancing male libido, strength, and endurance. It makes sense in a way that you would start seeing androgen hormones really become more pronounced, even in women too.
This is particularly problematic in women who are struggling with infertility as a result of something like PCOS, which has an androgen-dominant component. I know a lot of women who take Maca specifically to try to address issues around PCOS. I would definitely not recommend Maca for women with PCOS.
Additionally there is some information suggesting that Maca could be exacerbating to people with hypothyroidism, which is a pretty significant portion of the population of women who are already dealing with infertility.
There are some constituents of Maca that look like they could reduce estrogen levels and some that look like they could raise estrogen levels. Depending on the person, one of those mechanisms could be more activated than the other. I am always weary of anything that might promote estrogen when someone is more estrogen dominant.
I really think the key is to have the hormones tested to know what you are dealing with. There are also some great herbs that have more targeted action for certain things for when you are trying to create hormone balance throughout the endocrine system.
A lot of these systems go out of balance together, the reproductive hormones, the thyroid hormones, the adrenal hormones. It’s like when one of those systems become imbalanced, the rest of them become imbalanced as well.
It is really hard to try to sort it out on your own. We have so much information available to us through the internet, but it needs to be approached with a certain degree of caution.
[Ann and I go into this more from 12:00 to 14:20]
How do you know if you should take Maca and how do you determine how to take it?
First I would say get your hormones checked and see what they are doing. If there are extremes in your hormone profile, I probably wouldn’t take Maca.
If your hormones are relatively balanced and you are feeling somewhat fatigued, you could try testing Maca and see how you respond. Then I would want to follow-up in a few months and retest the hormone levels to see what that intervention has done. Different herbs act differently on different people.
In terms of dosing, most people take Maca in powdered form. There’s the traditional powdered form with a lot of starches in it and there’s the gelatinized form that has the starches removed. Starches can cause gas and bloating in some people.
You usually see something in the range of 3-9 grams per day as a serving. I usually err on the side of caution and recommend 1-2 grams 1-2 times per day, but probably not later in the day because it can have that energy boosting impact.
The gelatinized form tends to be more readily absorbable, but the process of gelatinizing it also removes a lot of the active constituents.
Tinctures are also great because they will extract all of the phytonutrients and chemicals that are available in a plant. Then you could do 1-2 droppers full 1-2 times per day depending on how it impacts you.
I always recommend that you start at a low dose and work your way up so you can see how you respond. If you are up to 4 droppers full per day and not noticing a benefit, there is probably another herb out there that is better for you.
A lot of women start taking Maca and then they get pregnant. Is Maca safe for pregnancy?
In general there haven’t been many studies that show safety of a lot of herbs or pharmaceuticals in pregnancy because we don’t like to do clinical trials on pregnant women.
If you have gotten pregnant, let’s see what your body can do. The wisdom of a woman’s body during pregnancy is pretty phenomenal with what it will do and the way it will manage its own hormones. That said, Maca is just a root vegetable, so I don’t see where it has much harm as long as you are not taking it in whopping high doses.
I would recommend for a client of mine to stop taking it once she becomes pregnant since we don’t really have any studies on safety.
Is there anything else you wanted to cover on Maca?
I want to drive home the importance of knowing what it is individually that you are dealing with, what your hormone profile looks like, and having a strategy to address it that is really catered for you individually.
Tell me about the coaching you and Bridget Danner are doing together.
Bridget and I just launched our collaborative coaching. We are doing that through Women’s Wellness Collaborative.
The first step would be to do a 30 minute case review with Bridget. It’s an evaluation of whether or not our services are a fit for you.
Currently we have a series of six sessions in the package. I do five of those and Bridget does one. We believe in having a set package up front so we can touch on all of the important things that go into building up your own health and vitality. We look at diet, stress levels, sleep patterns, and exercise routine.
We also do an evaluation of what tests and labs would benefit you most. Most of the time we run a hormone panel.
We work with clients virtually. Bridget is in Portland and I am in Vermont, so we do a lot through video conferencing.
Ann Melin’s hormone balancing tea recipe for you!
Mentioned in the video, this blend is something that Ann recommend’s in cases of overall hormone depletion. Many women have been so stressed out or nutrient deficient for so long that they have just become depleted on multiple levels.
If someone is overall deficient I am ok with using this blend throughout the cycle. If you are actively trying to get pregnant and you know you have ovulated, I would stop taking anything that is going to impact hormone levels at that point and let the body do its thing.
I cases where women don’t have a period at all because they are so depleted, I would keep taking it on an ongoing basis.
[Ann goes into more detail about each of these herbs, including who should not use these herbs from 27:25 to 31:50]
Grab the recipe and printable recipe card by signing up below!
Ann is a Certified Clinical Master Herbalist, Holistic Health Practitioner, Nutritionist Consultant, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner specializing in women’s health issues, particularly as they manifest in common dysfunctions related to hormone, immune, digestion, detoxification, and neurotransmitter systems. She is also a Master of Science candidate in Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in Trauma and Crisis Counseling.
Ann’s passion for natural and holistic health began over 25 years ago when, as a teenager, she bought her first book on the healing properties of plants, attended her first yoga class, and participated in a series of mindfulness meditation classes.
Several years later, Ann suffered through several health challenges of her own. Those struggles deepened her interest in restoring health through the use of an integrated set of natural healing modalities.
Through her own healing process she touched into a core value of wanting to share this work with others by helping to support them through their own personal health journeys.
Ann’s typical clients are women who have struggled with nagging health problems, have seen multiple practitioners, and have been unable to achieve lasting results.
Ann has spent over a decade learning how to achieve health and wellness using natural, non-toxic, and holistic approaches. Her current areas of interest and research are in the field of trauma, chronic stress, and their impact on chronic health problems. She is also intrigued by the ways that interaction with our natural resources can bring about healing on all levels.