Health Benefits of Maca

Sometimes known as Peruvian ginseng, maca comes from the root of a plant that grows in the Andes Mountains. The indigenous people of Peru have used maca as both food and medicine for centuries. 

Maca belongs to the same family of plants as turnips and broccoli. The root contains amino acids, iron, calcium, and several compounds unique to the maca plant. As a herbal medicine, it has been used to improve sexual function, fertility, and health. 

Health Benefits

Several animal studies have shown that maca increases libido and improves sexual performance. A few human studies have shown similar results, however, more research is needed. Studies of other benefits of maca have been similarly inconclusive. 

The health benefits that may result from using maca include:

Erectile Function

Maca is traditionally used to boost sexual performance, but clinical trials showing improvement are scarce. In one study, men taking maca showed more erectile improvement than those who did not.

Healthy Menopause

Studies have shown that maca can reduce discomfort related to hormone levels in women who are postmenopausal. One study showed that this nutrient had an impact on hormone levels as women reported experiencing improvements to their symptoms.

Female Sexuality

Maca may improve sexual functioning in women who are taking antidepressants. More than half of those on two types of antidepressants report sexual dysfunction that affects their quality of life and relationships. In one study, maca improved sexual interest, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction. Women who were postmenopausal showed the most positive results.

Fertility

To analyze male fertility, researchers studied men’s semen count as well as its shape and ability to move. Results showed that maca may improve semen quality. However, the evidence is inconclusive and requires additional research.

Overall Health and Energy

Some maca users say that it increases their energy, stamina, and overall health. In one study of people living in the Andes, researchers compared maca consumers with non-consumers. They analyzed the subjects using a variety of measures, including lab tests and a test of leg strength. Those who used maca scored higher in some measures.

Continued

Health Risks

Health authorities rate maca as generally safe, but some users have reported side effects. These include moodiness, cramping, stomach distress, and insomnia. In addition, some women say that maca affected their menstrual cycles. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use maca as there is insufficient information about its safety.

Hormone-Sensitive Cancers

Since maca seems to affect sex hormones, those with hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid it. These cancers include ovarian, breast, endometrial, and uterine. In addition, those with fibroids in the uterus should not take it.

Tainted Products

Consumers should be especially careful about using supplements that claim to improve sexual performance. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has discovered that some makers of these supplements have put drugs such as Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra in their products at occasionally dangerous amounts.

To avoid using tainted products, buy from a reputable retailer. The FDA also suggests avoiding products that claim to be fast-acting, come in single-use packages, or advertise using spam. Other red flags include package labels you are unable to read or packages that mimic FDA-approved products. Also, beware of any product that claims to be an alternative to FDA-approved drugs.   

Amounts and Dosage

Maca is rated as possibly safe at doses up to 3 grams. The dosage depends upon your age and state of health. Scientists have not determined an appropriate range of doses, therefore, you should consult your doctor before using maca.

Besides buying maca in tablet or capsule form, you can use maca powder in the kitchen. Some people add it to their smoothies, hot cereals, breakfast muffins, or beverages. If you use maca powder, you will get some nutritional value. One tablespoon contains small amounts of some minerals as well as:

  • 1 gram of protein,
  • 6 grams of carbohydrates, and
  • 2 grams of fiber.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 06, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Andrologia: "Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract on well-being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial."

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine:  "A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women." 

Food & Drug Administration: "'All Natural' Alternatives for Erectile Dysfunction: A Risky Proposition."

International Journal of Biomedical Science: "Use of Gelatinized Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum) in Early Postmenopausal Women."

LiverTox, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2019. "Maca."

Maturitas: "Maca (Lepidium meyenii) for treatment of menopausal symptoms: A systematic review."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Maca."

NIH Medline Plus: "Maca."

Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: "Role of maca (Lepidium meyenii) consumption on serum interleukin-6 levels and health status in populations living in the Peruvian Central Andes over 4000 m of altitude."

USDA FoodData Central: "Maca Powder."

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