What Is 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 an herbal medicine, it has been used to improve sexual function, fertility, and health.
Health Benefits of Maca
Several animal studies have shown that maca increases libido and improves sexual performance. A few human studies have shown similar results, but more research is needed. Studies of other benefits of maca have been similarly inconclusive.
The health benefits that may result from using maca root and maca powder include:
Maca powder 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 improvements in 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 sperm shape and ability to move. Results showed that maca may improve semen quality. But the evidence is inconclusive and the issue needs more 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 Risks of Maca
Health authorities rate maca root and maca powder 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. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use maca as there is not enough 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 FDA has found 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.
Herbal remedies for erectile dysfunction can be laced with other ingredients, according to the FDA. Some manufacturers add sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, to their products. Sildenafil can cause serious side effects and should be used under a doctor's supervision. The FDA does not test all supplements. Consumers should look for products tested by a third-party agency. Some stores stock only supplements that are third-party tested.
Many people use herbal medicines, often without telling their doctors. This practice can be dangerous, as plant-based supplements like maca powder can interact with other drugs. Herb-drug interactions are rarer than once thought. Still, the risk is real – especially for older adults who are likely to take multiple medications.
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, so 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
- 2 grams of fiber