Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a root plant consumed as a food and for medicinal purposes. Maca is also known as "Peruvian ginseng" (despite the fact that it is not a member of the ginseng family), because it is used as a folk remedy to increase stamina, energy, and sexual function. It is typically taken as a pill or liquid extract or as powdered maca root.
Long used to enhance energy and boost stamina, maca is often touted as an aphrodisiac, adaptogen and a natural means of improving sexual performance and fertility. Although few scientific studies have tested maca's medicinal effects, some research suggests that maca may offer certain health benefits.
Health Benefits of Maca
1) Sexual Function
There is "limited evidence" for maca's effectiveness in improving sexual function in men and women, according to a 2010 report published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The report's authors analyzed four clinical trials, two of which found that maca may have positive effects on sexual dysfunction or sexual desire in healthy menopausal women or healthy adult men. However, the other two trials found that maca failed to produce any positive effects on sexual function.
In a 2008 study from CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, researchers found that maca may help alleviate sexual dysfunction caused by use of selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs, a class of medications used in the treatment of depression). The study involved 20 people with depression, all of whom were experiencing SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. Results revealed that maca may also help improve libido.
Read more about remedies for female sexual dysfunction and erectile dysfunction remedies. Also see my article Natural Aphrodisiacs - 10 Herbal Remedies to Rev You Up.
One small study looked at the effect of 4 months of treatment with maca tablets on semen quality in nine adult men. Treatment with maca resulted in increased semen volume, sperm count, and sperm motility. Serum levels of testosterone and estradiol were not affected.
There are different types of maca, including yellow, black, and red maca. Black maca appears to have the greatest effect on sperm count, followed by yellow maca, which has moderate effects.
For women, acupuncture is an alternative therapy that may help with fertility in women. Read my article on Acupuncture for Fertility.
3) Mood in Menopause
Maca may help ease anxiety and depression in postmenopausal women, according to a 2008 study from the journal Menopause. For the study, 14 postmenopausal women took 3.5 grams of powdered maca for six weeks and then took a matching placebo for another six weeks. Study results showed that maca helped reduce anxiety and depression, as well as improve sexual function. Learn about other Natural Approaches to Menopause.
Although preliminary findings from animal-based studies indicate that maca may help improve endurance, there is currently a lack of scientific support for the claim that maca can help boost energy and fight fatigue.
Maca is also said to aid in the treatment of cancer. To date, there is no evidence that maca can help treat cancer.
Other Common Uses for Maca
Proponents claim that maca can also benefit:
- erectile dysfunction
- promote hair growth
- thyroid conditions
- promote weight loss
Little is known about the safety and side effects of short-term or long-term use of maca. Maca should not be used by people with high blood pressure or by those with hormone-dependent cancers such as breast or prostate cancer. In addition, it's not known whether maca may produce harmful effects when combined with other medicine. The safety of maca during pregnancy isn't known.
How to Use the Root Powder
Maca root powder can be added to smoothies, juice, and shakes. Raw powdered maca root is available for people on a raw food diet. Maca is also available as a nutritional supplement, in liquid, capsule or pill form, or in coffee, chocolate or oil products.
Balick MJ, Lee R. "Maca: from traditional food crop to energy and libido stimulant." Altern Ther Health Med. 2002 Mar-Apr;8(2):96-8.
Brooks NA, Wilcox G, Walker KZ, Ashton JF, Cox MB, Stojanovska L. "Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content." Menopause. 2008 Nov-Dec;15(6):1157-62.
Dording CM, Fisher L, Papakostas G, Farabaugh A, Sonawalla S, Fava M, Mischoulon D. "A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. meyenii) for the management of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction." CNS Neurosci Ther. 2008 Fall;14(3):182-91.
Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Gonzales C, Chung A, Vega K, Villena A. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) improved semen parameters in adult men. Asian Journal of Andology. 3.4 (2001):301-3.
Gonzales GF, Gonzales C, Gonzales-Castañeda C. "Lepidium meyenii (Maca): a plant from the highlands of Peru--from tradition to science." Forsch Komplementmed. 2009 Dec;16(6):373-80.
Shin BC, Lee MS, Yang EJ, Lim HS, Ernst E. "Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 Aug 6;10:44.
Valentova K et al. The in vitro biological activity of Lepidium meyenii extracts. Cell Biology and Toxicology. (2006) 22.2:91-9.