Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Nutritional Supplement of the Millennium

EoR has received a pharmacist provided brochure on Maca, hailed as a "healer at a cellular level". Promoted for low energy, lethargy, sluggishness, fatigue (presumably all of those are different), "brain fade" (whatever that is - maybe the brain stops showing up on MRI scans), "fuzzy thinking" (EoR thought that was something computers did), lapses in concentration, stress, tension, sexual inconsistency (would that be a lack of a clear gender identity?), hot flushes, sleeplessness, heavy/light flow problems (apparently not of the plumbing sort) and mood swings.

Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon) is a root vegetable grown above 4000 metres in the Andes Mountains of Peru for at least 10,000 years. Grown free of chemicals and pesticides, it is still harvested by hand and dehydrated for consumption. It retains its strong restorative powers endowed by nature, rich in nutrients and minerals. Capable of revitalising and balancing the endocrine system, it allows men and women of all ages to embrace life to the full once more. Maca is an adaptogenic plant, which means that it works on the body according to the needs, age and gender of the person taking it. It is reputed to encourage the glands within the body to produce the needed hormones by balancing the pituitary-hypothalamus axis.

Consumers are warned that it can take different times to work (presumably because it works differently for different bodies). You must take enough, you must take it regularly, and the expensive stuff is the better stuff. A marketer's dream product.

If people are not getting results it is generally because they are not taking enough, so you must monitor yourself to see the best results.

At the very end of the brochure is the usual altie disclaimer:

All information given is only to be used as reference material for educational purposes only. In no way do we imply therapeutic claims. The products mentioned must never be represented as an approved treatment for any conditions mentioned and must never be used in lieu of professional advice for any condition.

So, if it doesn't have any effect on any of the conditions mentioned, why were they mentioned?

A search of the Cochrane database shows a few studies of Maca.

Effect of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a root with aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties, on serum reproductive hormone levels in adult healthy men: [...] In conclusion, treatment with Maca does not affect serum reproductive hormone levels.
Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men: [...] In conclusion, treatment with Maca improved sexual desire [but not levels of serum testosterone oroestradiol levels].
Effect of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a root with aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing propeties, on serum reproductive hormone levels in adult healthy men: [...] In conclusion, treatment with Maca does not affect serum reproductive hormone levels.

EoR also found one study on PubMed:

Lepidium peruvianum chacon restores homeostasis impaired by restraint stress: [...] Thus, it did not appear to affect restraint stress-induced immunosuppression.

There is also Red maca (Lepidium meyenii) reduced prostate size in rats which finds

Indeed, the data presented here show that Red Maca reduced ventral prostate size in normal adult rats and also in rats treated with testosterone enanthate. Hence, it is proposed that Red Maca may have important implications under pathological conditions of the prostate.

Despite these less than impressive results (though the prostate finding may be of use if it also carries across to humans), Maca is touted as The Nutritional Supplement of the Millennium.

MACA is recommended as a nutritional supplement due to its contents of minerals, chemical compounds, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, tannins, alkaloids, etc... It has been discovered that MACA favors the calcification process in the bones, stimulates the formation and maturation of the red blood cells, strengthens the immune system, stimulates the reproductive system for both men and women, relieves symptoms caused by PMS, acts as a hormone replacement, and can be utilized as a co-assistant for infirmities of malnutrition, osteoporosis, AIDS, tuberculosis, etc...

While Maca was recently in danger of extinction, this renewed interest in it has not come without its critics. The Peruvian farmers are critical of Big Altie Pharma's taking out patents and appropriating their product.

Argumedo is referring to a US patent held by PureWorld Botanicals, Inc., a New Jersey-based company that specializes in botanical extracts. PureWorld's patent on maca extract is not recognized in Peru, and thus does not currently prevent Peruvian people from growing, using or selling maca extracts. However, if PureWorld chooses to enforce its patent, the company could prevent maca extracts of Peruvian origin from being imported to the United States, or anywhere else the patent is recognized. PureWorld is already seeking patent rights in Australia, the European Patent Office, and at the World Intellectual Property Organization. In addition, the company has a second US patent application pending on maca extract (published April 11, 2002). Another US-based company, Biotics Research Corporation, holds a patent on maca and antler for augmenting testosterone levels.

More information, including references to other studies, can be found at the Health Encyclopedia.

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