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. 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 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 "chica de maca."

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

Dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States, meaning the FDA does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn't mean that they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and to check in about any 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 for all health conditions.
  • Safety Considerations: Not recommended during pregnancy, lactation or childhood. If taking a hormone replacement, please talk with your healthcare provider.

Uses of Maca Root

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or doctor. 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 lack of human clinical research and small sample sizes. More research is needed.

Here is a look at findings from available human research:

May Improve Sexual Function and Libido in Men

A randomized, double-blind clinical trial with 50 men who were affected by mild erectile dysfunction (ED) were randomized into either the treatment group (given 2.4 grams (gm) of maca) or the placebo (an inactive pill) group. After 12 weeks of treatment, both groups had improvement in their symptoms; however, the treatment group given the maca had higher erectile function scores. Researchers encouraged more research on this topic due to the small sample size and limited time period.

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.

In a 2002 study, researchers found that maca may improve libido in men. Subjects were given either 1,500 milligrams (mg) or 3,000 mg of maca or placebo for 12 weeks. They found both doses of maca increased sexual desire better than placebo and did not increase testosterone or estrogen levels.

May Alleviate Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women

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.

In this double-blinded, placebo-controlled study, 45 women who were taking antidepressant medications known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) took either maca root (3.0 gm/day) or a placebo. At the end of the 12-week study, those taking maca had lower rates of sexual dysfunction. Researchers encouraged more studies that had larger sample sizes and less subjective forms (e.g., self-report) of date tracking.

May Improve Sperm Concentration and Motility in Men

In a small double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2015, semen quality and hormone levels were measured after 20 men were given maca (1.75 gm/day) 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.

May Decrease Depression in Women

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

In this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study, 29 postmenopausal women were given maca (3.3 gm/day) for six weeks. Compared to those taking a placebo, researchers found decreases in reported depressive symptoms in the women taking maca.

What Are the Side Effects of Maca Root?

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

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 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

Precautions

As with many other supplements, maca hasn't been tested for safety in children or people who are pregnant or lactating, and because of this lack of information should not be taken. If you are taking any hormone treatments, you should talk with your healthcare provider before taking maca root.

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 is appropriate for your individual needs.

There is not enough evidence to determine a standard or appropriate dose of maca root. Studies investigating maca root have used varying amounts, although research subjects are generally under medical supervision. More research is needed on dosages for specific health needs and populations. Alternative medicine practitioners recommend starting with 3 grams (1 tablespoon of powder) and working your way up to 9 grams per day, but more research is needed.

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! If you experience side effects of any sort, stop taking maca root and call your heatlh care provider.

Interactions

It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss any 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 are having any tests or taking any 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 any hormone treatments, you should talk with your healthcare provider before taking maca root.

  • What does maca root taste like?

    It has a nutty and earthy flavor and smells like butterscotch.

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

    No, it is not recommended to take maca root when pregnant as there is not enough research on the safety at this time.

Sources of Maca Root & What to Look For

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

There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of maca in any form. Dietary supplements like maca root are not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Summary

Maca root is a power often added to food and has been studied to help with sexual dysfunction and depression, yet more studies are still needed to prove these health benefits.

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 especially careful.

12 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.
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  8. 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

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