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Are There Health Benefits to Using Maca Powder?

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on September 22, 2020

Sometimes called Peruvian ginseng, maca root has been used for centuries to improve sexual function and boost energy. Today, you can buy maca in powder form and add it to a smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal. The health benefits of maca powder are hard to prove, but researchers say it is usually safe to use. 

The maca plant grows in harsh conditions in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The root of the maca plant looks much like a turnip. Most maca roots are yellow, but there are also red and black varieties.

Nutrition Information

Manufacturers of maca powder use different amounts as serving sizes. Go by the manufacturer's recommendation, or ask your doctor how much to use. One tablespoon contains:

  • Calories: 30
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 4 grams

The vitamins and minerals in maca powder can vary according to the variety of root used to make the powder. Also, manufacturing methods can affect the content. Most maca powder will contain:

Potential Health Benefits of Maca Powder

Evidence for the health benefits of Peruvian maca is still inconclusive. Also, increased demand for maca has led to its cultivation in other countries. The maca grown in locations other than Peru could have different properties. Consumers should consider these issues when deciding whether to use maca powder. 

Maca powder has these potential health benefits:  

Healthy Libido

Maca root has been used traditionally as an aphrodisiac. However, studies show limited evidence that maca powder has any effect on libido or sexual function. Most substances considered to be natural aphrodisiacs have not proven effective in clinical trials. Maca powder could be an exception to the rule, but better quality studies are needed to draw real conclusions.

Improved Erectile Function

In one study, maca extract improved mild erectile dysfunction. The study relied on self-reporting, and both the placebo group and the group using maca showed some improvement. The results with maca were better than those with placebo. Erectile dysfunction can have several causes. More research is needed to determine which ones could improve with the use of maca powder.

Increased Fertility

While a few studies have shown that maca powder improves semen quality, the research is not strong enough to draw firm conclusions. However, male fertility is a complex subject. In addition to having a normal sperm count, a man must produce sperm that are normally shaped and fast-moving. Semen analysis is a complicated process requiring multiple samples. More research could show exactly how maca powder impacts male fertility.

Energy and Stamina

Another claim about maca powder is that it increases energy and stamina. Animal studies support this claim. Some researchers believe that unique substances appearing in the maca plant boost vitality. They have named these substances macamides.  

Potential Risks of Maca Powder

Researchers have found few health risks associated with maca powder. Although some herbal supplements can cause liver damage, maca has not been linked to any reports of liver injury.

Still, those considering maca powder should know about these potential health risks:

Hidden Ingredients

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.

Medication Interactions

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. 

Show 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."

Annals of Medicine: "Herbal medications and other dietary supplements: A clinical review for physicians caring for older people."

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review."

Consumer Reports: "How to Choose Supplements Wisely."

FDA: "Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction Treatments Sold Online."

Journal of Ethnopharmacology: "Is the hype around the reproductive health claims of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) justified?"

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

Maturitas: "The use of maca (Lepidium meyenii) to improve semen quality: A systematic review."

Mayo Clinic: "Do natural aphrodisiacs actually work?"

Pharmaceutical Biology: "Effect of macamides on endurance capacity and anti-fatigue property in prolonged swimming mice."

Toxicology Reviews: "Toxicological aspects of the South American herbs cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) and Maca (Lepidium meyenii): a critical synopsis."

USDA Food Data: "Organic maca."

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

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