The Benefits of Maca Root

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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 for Maca

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.

The Benefits of Maca

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

Sexual Function and Libido

For 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.

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.


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.


Maca may help to improve mood in depression, according to a study published in Climacteric in 2015. For the study, women who were postmenopausal took maca for six weeks. The 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.

Side Effects and Safety

Little is known about the safety and side effects of the short-term or long-term use of maca.

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.

In a case report, a woman taking a maca extract was found to have elevated total testosterone levels. If you have a hormone-sensitive condition, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer, you shouldn't take maca.

Maca is cruciferous vegetable. 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.

The Takeaway

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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