What Is Maca Root?

Maca Root capsules, powder, tincture, and gelatin

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak 

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is the root of a vegetable native to the Andes region of Peru. It is 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 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."

This article will discuss its claimed health benefits, side effects, dosages, drug interactions, and more.

Uses

Proponents claim that maca may be helpful for the following conditions: 

As a cruciferous vegetable, like cabbage, broccoli, and kale, maca contains glucosinolates. These are plant compounds that are being studied for their role in cancer prevention. In Peruvian folk medicine, maca is sometimes used to raise energy levels.

Potential 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 some of the studies found that maca may have positive effects on issues like low sexual desire and erectile dysfunction, the researchers concluded that the total number of trials, the total number of patients, and the 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 milligrams (mg) or 3,000 mg of maca or placebo (an inactive pill) for 12 weeks. They 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. Certain antidepressants are known to cause problems such as low libido, vaginal dryness, and difficulty reaching orgasm.

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

Fertility

In a small study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2015, semen quality and hormone levels were measured after men were given maca or a placebo.

After the 12-week study period, there were no significant changes in sperm counts, motility (how well sperm move), and hormone levels, though sperm concentration and motility showed some improvement.

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. Compared to those taking a placebo, researchers found significant decreases in depression.

Possible Side Effects

Little is known about the safety and risks of 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 higher levels of luteinizing hormone, progesterone, and testosterone.

Because of these possible hormonal effects, if you have one of the following conditions, you should not take maca without consulting your healthcare provider:

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

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

Maca soft gels

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Preparation

Maca is sold as a powder, in capsules, as gelatin, and as a tincture. It is also sometimes added to foods. Its nutty, earthy flavor pairs well with cinnamon.

There is no standard dosage guideline for maca root. Alternative medicine practitioners recommend starting with 3 grams (1 tablespoon of powder) and working your way up to 9 grams per 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 one of the following:

  • Consumer Labs
  • NSF International
  • The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention

Summary

Maca root is added to food to boost libido and energy. It has also been studied as a remedy for sexual dysfunction, depression, hair loss, hot flashes, and fertility, yet more studies are still needed to prove these health benefits.

Little is known about the short- and long-term side effects of maca, so you should consult your healthcare provider before trying the supplement. Children, pregnant or nursing women, and those with hormone-sensitive conditions should be especially careful.

Frequently Asked 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. Anecdotal evidence also 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. Maca does not have the same side effects as short-acting stimulants, such as ephedra, that provide a quick jolt of energy. Maca does not raise blood pressure, and it takes two to three weeks to feel its energizing effects.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
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.
  1. Ley, BM. Maca! Adaptogen and Hormonal Regulator. Minneapolis, MN: BL Publications; 2003.

  2. National Cancer Institute. Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention. Updated June 7, 2012.

  3. Shin BC, Lee MS, Yang EJ, Lim HS, Ernst E. Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010;10:44. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-44

  4. Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Vega K, et al. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy menAndrologia. 2002;34(6):367-372. doi:10.1046/j.1439-0272.2002.00519.x

  5. Dording CM, Schettler PJ, Dalton ED, et al. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:949036. doi:10.1155/2015/949036

  6. Melnikovova I, Fait T, Kolarova M, Fernandez EC, Milella L. Effect of Lepidium meyenii Walp. on semen parameters and serum hormone levels in healthy adult men: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:324369. doi:10.1155/2015/324369

  7. Stojanovska L, Law C, Lai B, et al. Maca reduces blood pressure and depression, in a pilot study in postmenopausal women. Climacteric. 2015;18(1):69-78. doi:10.3109/13697137.2014.929649

  8. Oshima M, Gu Y, Tsukada S. Effects of Lepidium meyenii Walp and Jatropha macrantha on blood levels of estradiol-17 beta, progesterone, testosterone and the rate of embryo implantation in mice. J Vet Med Sci. 2003;65(10):1145-6. doi:10.1292/jvms.65.1145

  9. Loria, K. How to choose supplements wisely. Consumer Reports. Updated October 30, 2019.