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Can Taking Maca Root Benefit Thyroid Health?

Over the years I’ve had numerous patients ask me about the potential benefits of maca, also known as Lepidium meyenii.  Of course there are many beneficial herbs that people can take, such as ashwagandha, eleuthero, rhodiola, etc.  However, this doesn’t mean that everyone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition should take all of these herbs.  And to be honest, while I’ll be discussing some of the benefits of maca root in this blog post, I can’t say that I commonly use this herb in my practice, although over this past year I have been recommending it more frequently to my patients.

Maca is an Andean plant that belongs to the brassica family. Some of the more common uses is to help improve sexual function and fertility (1) (2).  It seems that maca can be beneficial for both men and women.  For example, one small study showed that maca improved sperm production and sperm motility (3).  Another study showed that maca lowers measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women independent of estrogenic and androgenic activity (4).  These were both very small studies, and there are other small studies which show that maca can be effective in men and perimenopausal women.

More About Maca

There are actually a lot of studies on maca, although without question, larger trials need to be conducted.  But most of the studies I came across showed that maca has some great benefits.  Differences have been shown between the effects of the black, yellow and red maca varieties, as black maca shows the best results on spermatogenesis, memory and fatigue, while red maca is the variety that reverses benign prostatic hyperplasia and experimentally induced osteoporosis (5). In addition, maca reduces the glucose levels, and its consumption is related to the lowering of blood pressure and an improved health score (5). For those who are concerned about whether taking maca is safe on a long term basis, studies have demonstrated that short and long term consumption don’t show in vivo and in vitro toxicity.

Experimental scientific evidence showed that maca has nutritional, energizer, and fertility-enhancer properties, and it acts on sexual dysfunctions, osteoporosis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, memory and learning, and protects skin against ultraviolet radiation (6). A few different trials have shown that maca can help to reduce the symptoms of depression (7) (8), and can also improve diastolic blood pressure (8).  One study showed that maca can even affect the cytokines, as consumption of maca was associated with low serum IL-6 levels (9).

How Does Maca Work?

Initially it was thought that Maca root worked via phytoestrogens, but it looks like the mechanism of action is through numerous alkaloids, and not its plant hormones (10).  However, other components also can play a role such as sterols (campesterol, stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol), as well as polyunsaturated acids and their amides, called “macaenes” and “macamides”, as well as aromatic glucosinolates (10).  Although the exact mechanism of how maca root works still isn’t known, maca apparently affects the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (11).  And of course the hypothalamus and pituitary gland affect the output of the adrenal hormones, thyroid hormones, as well as hormones secreted by the ovaries and testes.

Can Maca Benefit People With Thyroid and Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions?

As I already mentioned in this post, maca seems to affect the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.  These of course both play a role in thyroid health, as the hypothalamus releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to release TSH, which stimulates the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormone.  In this matter it is possible that taking maca root can affect thyroid health, and perhaps even help to increase the output of thyroid hormone in some people with hypothyroid conditions.  However, maca doesn’t seem to directly affect the thyroid gland, and so if someone with hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease were to take maca it shouldn’t increase the output of thyroid hormone.  With that being said, every now then I’ll receive an email from someone with hyperthyroidism who took an adaptogenic herb such as maca or eleuthero and claimed it increased the hyperthyroid symptoms.  Although this isn’t something my patients commonly experience when taking adaptogenic herbs, if this does happen to you then obviously I would discontinue taking the herb.

Maca does have a very small amount of iodine, and so those who are trying to completely avoid iodine might want to avoid taking maca.  With that being said, taking a few grams of maca doesn’t seem to cause problems in most people with autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  But of course everyone is different, and so if you take maca and feel as if it’s worsening your condition then obviously I would advise you to stop taking it.  As I briefly mentioned earlier, maca is part of the brassica family, which also includes broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.  Many people with hypothyroid conditions avoid these foods due to their goitrogenic properties, although taking maca is unlikely to inhibit thyroid hormone production in most people.

Many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions have problems with the adrenals and sex hormones (i.e. estrogen, progesterone, testosterone).  And since maca affects the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, it not only can affect thyroid health, but since the pituitary gland also secretes hormones such as FSH, LH, and ACTH, maca can also potentially affect the output of these hormones as well.

As for what dosage of maca to take, this will vary from person to person.  Most of the studies have used anywhere from 2 grams to 10 grams per day of maca.  If you decide to take maca it probably would be best to start with a smaller dose and then gradually increase it if necessary.  This is especially true if you’re taking maca to help with hot flashes, as if the dose is too high then it might actually increase the number of hot flashes in some women.  Plus, while some notice an improvement in their symptoms in as little as three or four days, in some people it can take a week or longer before noticing a positive change.

In summary, the use of maca root is growing in popularity, as some of its benefits include helping to improve sexual function and fertility, reducing glucose levels, lowering blood pressure, reducing hot flashes, and in decreasing depression.  Maca apparently affects the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, and thus can not only potentially affect thyroid health, but can also affect the output of adrenal hormones, as well as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.  Most people who take maca should begin with a small dosage and gradually increase it if necessary.


 

23 Comments

  1. Carla says:

    What about Dulse?

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Carla,

      Are you asking if dulse can benefit thyroid health? I assume you’re bringing this up due to its iodine content, and while this can benefit some people with thyroid conditions, some people also don’t do well with iodine. However, there are some people who don’t do well with iodine supplements but do fine when eating iodine-rich foods. Of course this is a completely different topic, and so to answer your question, some people with thyroid conditions can benefit from taking dulse, although not everyone.

  2. Pya says:

    Hi… I have read a great deal about Vitex (Chasteberry) and HypoThyroid as well. Can both Maca and Vitex can be together?

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Pya,

      I have given both chaste tree and maca at the same time. Especially if someone has HPA axis dysregulation and has a progesterone deficiency.

  3. Patricia says:

    Dear Dr. Eric,
    I have a few questions about Maca root. I have recently stopped BHRT (gradually, with knowledge of my Naturopathic doctor) since I was not feeling better after a year. I did additional research on Maca, which I have used a bit in the past. Recently I found numerous posts from women who reported pretty serious stomach issues after using the RAW Maca root. Some had ongoing problems, and a few health authorities explained it must be a bacterial contaminant in the product, and that raw Maca is never used in its countries of origin. I really need some endocrine support, and was so disappointed to read this. Can you please let me know what form of Maca you recommend, and whether such effects are a problems with your patients? Is there a brand that you find of high quality? Sure hope this gets cleared up. Thank you,
    Patricia

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Patricia,

      When I recommend maca I usually recommend the veggie caps from Gaia Herbs. Very rarely do my patients react negatively to maca, although of course there are always exceptions. But the same can be true with other herbs as well, as most people do fine with other adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha and rhodiola, although every now and then someone will have a negative reaction. But I can’t say it’s common for my patients to experience digestive symptoms when taking maca.

  4. Megan says:

    Hi Dr
    I am 45 and being ttc for over a year now – it is my 3rd, had no problems with my first 2 – been to fertility Dr who basically said my choices are either donor eggs or adoption due to my age, both my husband and I are not happy with either. A friend of mine told me about Maca and vitex to conceive naturally for people over 40, so along with pre preg vitamins, omega 3 and folic, I’m taking this cocktail daily. So Q1: I have been on Maca for 6 months now, and don’t know if it’s my age or something I’m taking (like the maca) is causing my hair to thin, a lot. Your article mentions the effects of maca on the thyroid, although I have had my thyroid tested (blood tests) and it comes back normal. Do you think it could be the maca causing the hair loss ? And Q2: In your opinion; what are my chances to conceive naturally at my age. FYI, my husband was also tested and all is good there (he’s 9 years my junior)

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Megan,

      Although I suppose it’s possible that the maca is causing the hair loss, I can’t say this is something I commonly see with those who take this herb. As for your second question, I have known many women in their mid-forties who have had a successful natural pregnancy, and so while it can more challenging and does come with greater risks, it of course is still possible for you to conceive and have a successful pregnancy. I’m actually working on an article on fertility which should be released in early 2015. Also, I would make sure you take natural folate, and not folic acid.

  5. Vijae says:

    Hi,
    I’m suffering from hypothyroid, and I was suggested to take maca and ashwagandha to combat the issue. I have not used any herbal medicine before, and I’m not sure whether it is OK to take both adaptogens at the same time or to take them in alternating fashion (in alternating months). Can you please provide any suggestions? And, are these two really helpful for hypothyroid? Thanks!

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Vijae,

      Most people are able to take both ashwagandha and maca at the same time. Just keep in mind that taking these herbs alone probably won’t do much for your hypothyroid condition, as you need to determine what is causing your condition, and then address it.

      • mery says:

        Hello Dr.,

        What do you mean here by determining the cause for hypothiroidism? I have CFS and IBS and many symptoms that point to hypothiroidism (jaw pain/tension, sluggish feeling, brainfog, difficulty to lose weight, blurry vision, insomnia, etc.) but I don’t know how to get it diagnosed. people say regular bloodtests might come clean regardless and you say herbs dont go to the root cause? could you please help? thanks, M.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Hi,

    Is it safe to take Maca while taking prescription Thyroid medication. I take 200mcg 1x daily.
    I was reading about the benefits of maca and hormone balancing, depression, hot flashes, low sex drive. All things I get. I would really like to stop taking the prescription and transition to alternative.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Of course everyone is different, but I have had many patients who were on thyroid medication take maca without a problem. However, most people aren’t able to wean off of their thyroid hormone medication just by taking maca.

    • Heidi says:

      I take maca powder and Lugols iodine and have come off my thyroid meds for hypothyroidism (testing 100% normal now) I have lost weight, and after trying to conceive our 2nd for 2 years, my hormones are finally all in normal range! So any day now on the baby. Those with hypothyroidism, I highly suggest the two! I feel much better than I have in the last 2 1/2 years since I started the iodine 4 months ago and the maca a month and a half ago! The synthroid made me miserable. For the first time in years, my husband feels like he has his wife back.

  7. Kathryn says:

    Hi Doctor, I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and currently take 1 x 100mg thyroxine tab daily. Is it safe for me to have a tablespoon of Maca powder in a smoothie daily? I would also like to consider taking Lugols solution as well?

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Kathyrn,

      Of course everyone is different, but in most cases taking maca root is fine for someone who is on thyroid hormone medication. However, I would be cautious about taking Lugol’s without doing any testing for iodine. And then even if you are deficient you always want to take the proper precautions before taking iodine.

  8. aracely says:

    Its so confusing.. So who can benefit from maca¿ people with hypo or hyperthyroid¿¿…. Thank u

  9. aracely says:

    Did u ever experienced uterin bleeding in between periods¿ i have hypothyroidism and im so skinny i dont have the goiter but its hard for me to gain weight

  10. Aracely says:

    How can a plant from the brassica family help with hypothyroidsm,

  11. rosekrim says:

    Hi…I have hyper/graves and I used to take maca in place of prempro..worked really well…I stopped taking it when I found out about hyper/graves…
    Can I continue? my doctor has only put me on beta blockers which don’t help much…I get a lot of pain/anxiety/intense hunger…which I didn’t have tell she scared me into taking the thyroid scan…she said I could be dead in 5 years…I have not been the same since taking this test….I do know when I was taking the meca and at times holy basil I was fine…I am afraid of iodine products..I’ve also gone gluten free/sugar free…
    thanks

  12. Robin says:

    Hi! Have been on .50mcg of Synthroid for years for Hashimoto’s Thyroid. After introducing 100mg. of Maca daily with the Synthroid for a year, my TSH test came back normal for the first time in 3 years. For that 3 year period the doctor wanted to increase the Synthroid dosage but I declined. Started taking Maca for other reasons, not realizing it was good for hypothyroidism. So for 4 or 5 years, have been taking Synthroid (.50mcg) and Maca(100mg) daily with good TSH test results. Recently I decided to try to wean myself off of Synthroid. But after about a week and a half of alternating Synthroid every other day with Maca every day, I can see that Maca alone is not going to get it done. Would you please recommend a good course of action to get myself off of Synthroid? Thank you!

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Robin, although not everyone is able to stop taking thyroid hormone medication, the goal is to address the cause of the thyroid hormone imbalance. In most cases this is caused by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland, and when this is the case it is necessary to detect and then remove the autoimmune trigger. But even if one’s condition isn’t autoimmune in nature it still is necessary to find out what the cause of the problem is, which admittedly can be challenging.

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Get Your Free Guide Entitled
“The 6 Steps On How To Reverse Graves' Disease & Hashimoto's Through Natural Methods”
You will also receive email
updates on any future webinars
on natural thyroid health.
 

"We respect your privacy"
 
Free Webinars on
Natural Thyroid Health


Click Here For More Information

 
 
 
Natural Treatment Methods:
Graves Disease Treatment
Hypothyroidism Treatment
Hyperthyroidism Treatment
Natural Thyroid treatment


Conventional Treatment
Methods:
Radioactive Iodine
Thyroid Hormone