According to goop, every single morning when Gwenyth Paltrow wakes (even when she's "detoxing"), she drinks a very specific smoothie concoction containing almond milk, almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla mushroom protein powder, and a bunch of difficult-to-pronounce supplements, including a teaspoon of maca powder.
Not to be confused with similarly-named matcha, maca is a root plant that's native to the Andes Mountains and tastes like butterscotch. Maca root has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and nowadays, people like GP add ground maca powder to smoothies and drinks because they believe it can boost their mood or increase energy. The question is: Does this stuff really work?
From a nutritional point of view, maca is rich in vitamin C, iron, copper, and manganese, an essential nutrient that helps with the formation of bone and amino acid metabolism, says Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Los Angeles and spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "I think it's worth trying in a number of specific cases; for women who suffer from low iron levels and fatigue it may be quite helpful," Davis says. Many of Davis' clients add maca to their morning smoothies in lieu of caffeine, for example.
Some people are into maca because it's been touted as an adaptogen, or an herbal compound that's supposed to "adapt" to your body's stress hormones, and therefore, improve your energy and "vitality." But, the studies to date on these claims are pretty limited, so it's tough to say for sure how it — or any adaptogen, for that matter — works, Davis says.
In addition to providing an energy boost, some studies suggest that maca can be used to help treat hormone-related issues in women, such as anemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, menstrual problems, menopause, fertility, and even sexual desire, according to MedlinePlus. Exactly how that works is not known, but some studies point back to the "adaptogenic" or balancing effect that maca has on estrogen, Davis says. "So the short answer is that we don't know for sure, but based on limited evidence it seems promising," she says.
To be clear, maca powder definitely can't replace modern medicine when it comes to treating hormonal conditions, but you may find that a teaspoon of maca powder helps keep you alert throughout the day. With any supplement, it's wise to be a little bit wary of the benefits and aware of the side effects. Maca does seem quite safe, but some people report anecdotal side effects like jitteriness, insomnia, digestive issues, and acne, Davis says. For that reason, it's important to always talk to your doctor and dietitian (if you have one), about all the supplements you're taking, she says.
And as with most trendy wellness products that you may see spamming your Instagram feed, remember that maca is not a miracle — even if gurus like GP swear by it.