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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.