The Health Benefits of Maca Root

maca
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Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is the root of a vegetable native to the Andes region of Peru. Known as "Peruvian ginseng" (even though it doesn't belong to the same botanical family as ginseng), maca is consumed as a food and is said to boost energy and libido.

Typically added to smoothies, juice, and shakes, the ground root powder can also be used as an ingredient in such foods as coffee, chocolate, or oils. In Peru, whole maca root is often added to soup and oatmeal, roasted and consumed as a vegetable, or made into a fermented beverage known as "maca chica."

Uses

Proponents claim that maca may benefit conditions such as erectile dysfunction, low libido, depression, hair loss, and hot flashes and other symptoms associated with menopause.

As a cruciferous vegetable (like cabbage, broccoli, arugula, Brussels sprouts, and kale), maca contains glucosinolates, plant compounds that are being studied for their role in cancer prevention.

In Peruvian folk medicine, maca is sometimes used to raise energy levels.

Health Benefits

Few scientific studies have examined the effectiveness of maca. Here's a look at several findings from the available research:

Sexual Function and Libido

In a report published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers analyzed four previously published clinical trials on the use of maca for improving sexual function.

While two studies found that maca may have positive effects on sexual dysfunction, the researchers concluded that the total number of trials, the total sample size, and the average quality of the studies were too limited to draw firm conclusions. They also noted that there is insufficient knowledge of the risks of maca intake.

An earlier study found maca may improve libido in men. Researchers gave subjects either 1,500 mg or 3,000 mg of maca or placebo for 12 weeks and found both doses of maca increased sexual desire better than placebo, and did not increase testosterone or estrogen levels.

Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction

Maca may alleviate antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women, according to a 2015 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

For the study, women who were taking classes of antidepressant medications known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) took either maca root or a placebo. Remission rates of sexual dysfunction at the end of the 12-week study were higher for those taking maca.

Fertility

In a small study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2015, semen quality and hormone levels were assessed after the intake of maca or a placebo.

After the 12-week study period, there were no significant changes in sperm concentration, motility, and hormone levels, however, sperm concentration and motility showed rising trends.

Depression

Maca may help to improve mood in depression, according to a study published in Climacteric in 2015.

For the study, postmenopausal women were given maca for six weeks and researchers found significant decreases in depression and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading) compared to those taking a placebo.

There were no differences in hormone levels (estradiol, FSH, TSH, and SHBG), glucose, lipids, and serum cytokines.

Possible Side Effects

Little is known about the safety and side effects of the short-term or long-term use of maca. Since it is a natural food, it is generally believed to be safe in large doses.

Maca's effect on hormone levels is poorly understood. For instance, some studies have found no effect on sex hormones, while animal studies have reported elevated levels of luteinizing hormone, progesterone, and testosterone.

If you have a hormone-sensitive condition, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer, you shouldn't take maca without consulting your doctor.

Excessive or regular intake of raw maca may interfere with thyroid function.

As with other supplements, maca hasn't been tested for safety in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or those who are taking medications.

Dosage and Preparation 

Maca is sold as a powder, in capsules, as gelatin, and as a tincture. It is also sometimes added to foods—it's nutty, earthy flavor pairs well with cinnamon, as in Jem Cinnamon Maca Almond Butter.

There is no standard recommended daily allowance for maca root. Alternative medicine practitioners recommend starting with 3 grams (1 Tbs. powder) and working your way up to 9 grams a day.

What to Look For 

The maca plant is native to the Andes mountain range. For the best quality product, look for organic maca grown in Peru.

When selecting a brand of supplements, look for products that have been certified by Consumer Labs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International.

Other Questions 

Can maca root help with chronic fatigue syndrome?

While some alternative health proponents claim maca root can treat patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, there is no clinical evidence to support this. However, it is used in Peruvian medicine to boost energy and anecdotal evidence suggests its nutrient-rich profile may help with general fatigue.

Is maca a stimulant?

While maca is believed to boost energy, it is not a stimulant and does not have the same side effects as short-acting stimulants, such as ephedra, that provide a quick jolt of energy and increase epinephrine and cortisol. Maca does not raise blood pressure and takes two to three weeks to feel its energizing effects.

A Word From Verywell 

While maca is often consumed as a food (and is said to be a superfood tonic), more research is needed to understand the effects and risks. If you're considering using maca, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider first to determine if it's appropriate for you.

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