What Is Maca Root?

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is the root of a vegetable native to the Andes region of Peru. Maca root is also 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 sometimes used to boost energy and libido (sexual drive).

Typically added to smoothies, juice, and shakes, the ground root powder can also be used as an ingredient in 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 called "chicha de maca."

This article discusses the potential uses of maca root. It also covers the risk factors and side effects of taking this supplement.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. Choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF, when possible.

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active Ingredient(s): Glucosinates
  • Alternate Name(s): Ayak Chichira, Ayuk Willku, Ginseng Andin, Ginseng Péruvien, Lepidium meyenii, Lepidium peruvianum, Maca Maca, Maca Péruvien, Maino, Maka, Peruvian Ginseng, Peruvian Maca
  • Legal Status: Not regulated by the FDA.
  • Suggested Dose: No suggested recommended dose.
  • Safety Considerations: Not recommended during pregnancy, lactation, or for children. If taking a hormone replacement, please talk with your healthcare provider.

Purported Uses of Maca Root

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent a disease.

Research on the potential health benefits is limited. While maca root has been studied in lab and animal studies for certain health conditions, there is NOT enough evidence to 100% support its use for any of these conditions due to a lack of human clinical research and small sample sizes. More research is needed.

Here is a look at findings from available human research.

Sexual Function and Libido

Maca root supplementation has been reported to improve sexual function and libido. However, evidence is weak on the matter and reports are mostly subjective.

In a randomized, double-blind clinical trial, 50 males who were affected by mild erectile dysfunction (ED) were assigned to either the treatment group (with maca) or the placebo (an inactive pill) group. Those in the treatment group took 2.4 grams (g) of maca for 12 weeks.

After 12 weeks, both groups had reduced ED. However, the treatment group given the maca showed a higher increase in erectile function than the placebo group. Still, the effects were minor overall.

In another report, researchers analyzed four previous clinical trials. Some of the studies found that maca had positive effects on improving sexual function in men and women. However, the number of trials, the number of participants, and the quality of the studies were too limited to draw firm conclusions.

Overall, evidence of maca root's ability to boost sexual function and libido is sparse. There is also not enough data to determine the appropriate dosage needed.

Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women

Maca root has also been studied for its use in alleviating antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women.

Maca may alleviate antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women, according to a study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Certain antidepressants cause side effects like low libido, vaginal dryness, and difficulty reaching orgasm.

A double-blinded, placebo-controlled study included 45 women taking antidepressant medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These individuals took either maca root (3 grams per day) or a placebo.

At the end of the 12-week study, those taking maca had lower rates of sexual dysfunction. Researchers encouraged more extensive studies and less subjective forms (e.g., fewer self-reported results).

It is important to remember that these findings were subjective and based on individual experiences. Talk to your healthcare provider about potential ways to mitigate these antidepressant-related side effects.

Sperm Concentration and Motility in Men

A small double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine evaluated the effects of maca on semen quality and hormone levels in 20 men. The men were given maca (1.75 grams per day) or a placebo.

After the 12-week study period, sperm concentration and motility (how well sperm move) seemed to improve slightly, although there were no changes in hormone levels.

Another double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial included 69 people with mildly low sperm count and poor sperm motility. The participants were divided into two groups: One took 2 grams per day of maca, and the other took a placebo.

After 12 weeks, the results showed no significant differences in semen volume, motility, or the size and shape of sperm between the two groups. The maca group did experience a significant improvement in sperm concentration.

Overall, it is advised to consult a healthcare provider if you are concerned about semen quality and fertility.

What Are the Side Effects of Maca Root?

Consuming a supplement like maca root may have potential side effects. These side effects may be mild or severe. Little is known about the safety and risks of short-term or long-term use of maca.

Side effects of maca root are generally uncommon and mild and may include gastrointestinal symptoms or headaches.

There have been subjective (based on personal feelings) reports of altered menstrual cycles, moodiness, cramps, gastritis, and insomnia.

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 higher levels of luteinizing hormone, progesterone, and testosterone.

Because maca extracts may act like estrogen, do not take maca without consulting your healthcare provider if you have a health condition that may be worsened by this. This may include:

  • Breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids

Precautions

As with many other supplements, maca hasn't been tested for safety in children or people who are pregnant or lactating. Due to this lack of information, it should not be used in these groups.

Talk to your healthcare provider before taking maca root if you are on any hormone treatments.

Maca soft gels

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage: How Much Maca Root Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your needs.

There is insufficient evidence to determine a standard or appropriate dose of maca root.

Studies investigating maca root have used varying amounts. However, research participants are generally under medical supervision. More research is needed on an appropriate dosage for specific health needs and populations.

Adults often use maca root in doses of 1.5 to 3.5 grams daily by mouth for six to 16 weeks. This may differ depending on the preparation used (e.g., capsules, liquid, powder). Talk to your healthcare provider about the most appropriate dosage for you.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Maca Root?

As a rule of thumb, never take more maca root than the manufacturer's recommended dosage. This is true for any of its forms.

Stop taking maca root and call your healthcare provider immediately if you start to have side effects.

Interactions

It is essential to carefully read a supplement's ingredient list and nutrition facts panel to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

Maca may interfere with testosterone immunoassays (a way of measuring testosterone), so that you do not get the right results. Note that this was in one case report.

Please talk with your healthcare provider before taking maca root, especially if you have scheduled tests or are taking hormone replacement therapy.

How to Store Maca Root

Store maca root according to manufacturer's directions. Discard as indicated on the package.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • I am taking hormone treatment medication. Can I take maca root?

    If you are taking hormone treatments, you should talk with your healthcare provider before taking maca root.

  • What does maca root taste like?

    Maca root has a nutty and earthy flavor and smells like butterscotch.

  • Is it OK to take maca root when I am pregnant?

    No, taking maca root when pregnant is not recommended, as there is not enough research on its safety at this time. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are considering supplementation.

Sources of Maca Root & What to Look For

Maca is sold in several different forms, including as a powder, in capsules, as gelatin, and as a tincture. It can be found in health food stores. It is also sometimes added to foods. Its nutty, earthy flavor pairs well with cinnamon.

Food Sources of Maca Root

Maca is typically consumed as a food. Before consuming it, Peruvians naturally dry maca and boil it in water so that it becomes a soft product. It is then often consumed as a juice or prepared as a vegetable dish.

The ground root powder can also be used as an ingredient in coffee, chocolate, or oils or added to smoothies, juices, or shakes.

Maca Root Supplements

As a supplement, maca root is available in different preparations, such as tablets, capsules, liquid, and powder.

There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of maca in any form. In addition, the FDA does not strictly regulate all dietary supplements on the market. Therefore, it is important to be cautious when purchasing products. Choose a product tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF.

Summary

Maca root is a vegetable native to the Andes region of Peru. It can be prepared as a food additive or taken in supplement form through tablets, capsules, or liquid.

Reports have suggested that maca root improves sexual function, libido, and sperm quality. However, the evidence is limited and largely subjective. More large-scale clinical trials are needed to confirm these health claims.

If you are concerned about sexual function, libido, or fertility, talk to your healthcare provider first about your options for addressing these issues.

Little is known about the short- and long-term side effects of taking maca root, so you should consult your healthcare provider before trying the supplement. Children, pregnant or lactating individuals, and those with hormone-sensitive conditions should be cautious.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Alena Clark, PhD
Alena Clark, PhD, is a registered dietitian and experienced nutrition and health educator

Originally written by
Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process