Maca is a plant that some populations in Peru have used for thousands of years as a food and medicine. In the last few decades, maca has grown in popularity around the world as a natural remedy for certain health issues, including infertility and low sex drive. This article explains what maca root is, highlights 4 potential benefits, and answers whether it’s safe to add to your diet.
What is maca?
The maca plant, known scientifically as Lepidium meyenii, is sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng. Maca is a cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale.
Maca is native to the high plateaus of the Peruvian Andes mountain range.
In fact, Andean people have cultivated maca for more than 2,000 years. It’s one of the few edible plants that can survive the harsh weather conditions above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) in the Peruvian Andes.
Traditionally, the Andean people used maca as a food, consuming it in a fermented drink or porridge. Additionally, the Andean people used maca as a natural medicine to treat various health conditions, such as respiratory conditions and rheumatic disease. The demand for maca products has grown in recent years, likely because of claims that the plant can promote libido and fertility.
Because of the rise in worldwide demand for maca, people have begun to mass-produce this plant in other parts of the world, including the mountainous Yunnan province in China. Maca root, the part of the plant most commonly used, contains fiber, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It also contains other bioactive compounds, including macamides, macaridine, alkaloids, and glucosinolates, which are thought to be responsible for maca’s medicinal benefits.
Even though people claim maca supports health in many ways, research is currently limited and study findings on its effects have been mixed. More research is needed on maca’s effectiveness.
Here are some potential benefits of maca.
May increase libido
Some evidence suggests that taking concentrated maca supplements may benefit those with low libido, or low sexual desire.
A 2015 study in 45 women who were experiencing antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction found that taking 3,000 mg of maca root per day for 12 weeks significantly improved sexual function and libido compared with a placebo.
A 2010 review that included four high quality studies with a total of 131 participants found evidence that taking maca improved sexual desire after at least 6 weeks.
May improve certain aspects of fertility in males
Taking maca supplements may help improve certain aspects of fertility in people with sperm. For example, studies have shown that taking maca may help improve sperm concentration, or the number of sperm per milliliter of semen. Sperm concentration is closely linked to male fertility.
A 2020 study assessed the effects of maca in 69 men diagnosed with mild low sperm count or reduced sperm motility. Sperm motility is the ability of sperm to swim properly.
Taking 2 grams of maca per day for 12 weeks significantly improved semen concentration compared with a placebo treatment. However, there was no significant difference in sperm motility between the treatment and placebo groups.
While these results are promising, research is limited at this time. Well-designed studies are needed to investigate the effects of maca supplements on semen quality and other aspects of male fertility.
May help relieve symptoms of menopause
Menopause happens naturally in people who menstruate. It’s the time of life when menstrual periods stop permanently.
The natural decline in estrogen that occurs during this time can cause a range of symptoms, some of which people may find unpleasant. These include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, sleep problems, and irritability.
Some studies suggest that maca may benefit people who are going through menopause by helping alleviate some symptoms, including hot flashes and interrupted sleep. A 2011 review that included four high quality studies found some evidence that maca treatment has favorable effects on menopause symptoms.
May improve mood and energy
Limited evidence suggests that maca may help improve energy levels and enhance mood in some populations.
A 2016 study in 175 people living at either low or high altitudes demonstrated that taking 3 grams of red or black maca per day for 12 weeks improved mood and energy scores compared with a placebo.
What’s more, a 2015 study in 29 postmenopausal Chinese women found that treatment with 3.3 grams of maca per day for 6 weeks reduced symptoms of depression compared with a placebo treatment.
Additionally, older research findings suggest that maca may be helpful for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in postmenopausal women.
Although maca may have a beneficial effect on mood and energy levels, there’s currently not enough evidence to draw firm conclusions.
Some evidence suggests that maca may help improve energy and positively affect mood. However, research is limited at this time.
Other potential health benefits
Human research investigating the potential health benefits of maca is limited.
However, initial findings from animal studies suggest maca may affect health in the following ways:
May help preserve cognitive function. Rodent studies have demonstrated that maca helps improve cognitive function and motor coordination and may help slow age-related cognitive decline (15Trusted Source).
May benefit benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Findings from animal studies suggest that maca may help reduce inflammatory proteins and inhibit BPH or enlargement of the prostate (16Trusted Source).
May benefit skin health. Maca has been shown to speed up wound healing, and an older study found that it protected against UV damage when applied to the skin of animals (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that there’s currently no evidence that these potential benefits apply to humans, so research in humans would be needed to investigate them.
Safety and side effects
Studies show that maca is generally safe and that its use is not associated with adverse side effects.
A 2016 study in 175 people found that taking 3 grams of red or black maca per day for 12 weeks was well tolerated and not associated with serious adverse effects.
Traditional methods people have used to consume maca, such as boiling and then eating or drinking it, have not been linked to adverse effects, either.
Currently, it’s not known whether maca is safe to consume during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should speak with their healthcare team before taking maca.
How to use maca
Maca is available in many forms, including capsules and powders.
You can add maca powder to smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, energy bars, and more. It has a nutty, butterscotch-like taste, so it pairs well with many sweeter flavors. Add maca to any of our Serotonin smoothie, and in our Happy Hormones.
The optimal dose for medicinal use has not been established. However, the dosage of maca root powder used in studies generally ranges from 1.5–3 grams per day. If you want to make sure you choose higher quality maca or get a personalized dosage recommendation, speak with a qualified healthcare professional such as a registered dietitian or physician.
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