author: Dr. Kevin Curran

published: 6-15-2015

What is Maca?

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a biennial plant from the mustard family that grows at high elevations in the Andes Mountains of Peru. This radish-like plant produces a thick root that was eaten as a vegetable by the Incas, the native people of Peru. The Inca men used maca to boost stamina and sexual vitality. The scientific community now has additional information suggesting the value of maca for women in regards to menopause issues and the female sex drive.

In this article, we first describe the biology behind the maca effect. At the end of this article, we discuss factors to consider when choosing your maca supplement.

The Inca were the first people to discover the benefits of maca for vitality and sex drive.

Inca warriors ate large amounts of maca before heading into battle as a means to invigorate their strength and stamina. Maca was eventually traded as currency among the Inca and and subsequently by their conquerors, the Spanish empire. As testament to the health benefit of the maca root, the Spanish accepted maca as a legitimate form of payment for their imposed imperial tax on the Inca people.

Following in the Inca’s footsteps, people around the world currently use maca for stamina and its broad health benefits.

maca for women

The thick radish-like maca root (left) is ground into a fine powder for human consumption (right).

Benefits of Maca

Maca is widely discussed as a remedy for fertility, mood, energy levels, sexual performance, erectile dysfunction, prostate cancer and other health issues. The breadth of these claims has earned maca the nickname, Peruvian ginseng, as maca is heralded by many as a cure-all on par with the famous Chinese elixir. These wide claims are due in part from historical usage but also from modern day anecdotal evidence from physicians and enthusiasts…but which of these claims are supported by positive clinical results?

Fortunately, broad interest in maca has spurred a handful of quality investigations. More work needs to be performed, however, there are certain results which are worth mentioning.

Maca for women

Viagra was a pharmaceutical blockbuster. A tiny blue pill could increase blood flow to the male appendage, thereby alleviating erectile dysfunction. Pfizer made a fortune and men were off to the races. But…wait a second, what about the ladies? Where is the tiny blue pill that resolves women’s sexual issues? That pill never materialized. Perhaps this is why there is so much interest in the claims that taking maca can increase female sex drive, sexual satisfaction and also alleviate certain menopausal issues.

To explore the benefits of maca for women, Brooks et al. performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical experiment with menopausal women (Brooks 2008). These women took 3.5 grams of maca daily for 12 weeks while their menopausal symptoms were measured using the Greene Climacteric Scale. This test measures the psychological effects of menopause (anxiety, depression, lost interest in sex) and the physiological effects of menopause (vasomotor, somatic ext.).

This preliminary study determined that women who consumed 3.5 grams of maca daily showed significant improvement in the psychological conditions associated with menopause. Anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction were all lowered in women treated with maca.

A similar clinical trial, authored by Dording et al., also explored the benefits of maca for women, however this trial measured sex drive in the context of SSRIs (Dording, 2008). SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are the most common type of anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication in use today (Prozac, Zoloft ext.). SSRIs have proven to be effective at treating depression and anxiety, although, many people report diminished sex drive as a side effect. Dording designed an experiment that tested whether maca could help alleviate SSRI induced sexual dysfunction. For this experiment, the Arizona Sexual Experience Scale (ASEX) and the Massachusetts General Hospital Sexual Function Questionnaire (MGH-SFQ) were used to measure sexual dysfunction (sexual satisfaction, sex drive, ext.). The women treated with 3 grams of maca daily showed significant improvement on the ASEX and MGH-SFQ tests, however, women who consumed only 1.5 grams of maca daily showed no improvement. The authors concluded that maca may alleviate SSRI induced sexual dysfunction and that proper dosage (amount consumed) is important.

Both of these reports suggest the benefit of maca for women in regards to sex drive and sexual satisfaction.

Additionally, both conclusions suggest 3-4 grams of daily maca is the effective dosage. However, it should be noted that these health claims between maca and women would be further supported from repeat trials with large population sizes.

Maca for men

Historically, maca has been most prominently touted for its ability to boost male sexual performance.

Men throughout the world now use maca as a means to address fertility issues, sex drive and erectile dysfunction. So, has any science been performed to either substantiate or refute these claims?

Initial research into the benefits of maca for men first began with rats. Male rats fed with maca demonstrate enhanced sexual behavior and an increase in sperm production (Cicero, 2001; Gonzales, 2001; Zheng, 2000). This rodent data looked interesting and warranted further exploration. Currently, a handful of human clinical trials have been performed with male test subjects. Certain reports have yielded promising results, albeit with moderately sized test groups.

Zenico et al. carried out a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to investigate maca’s aphrodisiac properties (Zenico, 2009). 50 Caucasian men affected by mild erectile dysfunction were given 2.4 grams of maca daily for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, the men were assessed with two metrics: the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-5) and the Satisfaction Profile (SAT-P). Men treated with maca showed a more significant increase in both of these tests as compared to the placebo control group. The authors conclude that treatment with maca yields a small but significant effect on the sexual well-being in adults suffering from mild erectile dysfunction.

Another report explored the claim that maca enhances male sex drive, or libido. Gonzales et al. performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on men between the ages of 21-56. Beginning at 8 weeks of treatment, an improvement in male sex drive was observed. The authors conclude that maca does impart an effect on male libido (Gonzales, 2002).

How does maca work?

As biologists, we always want to know the ingredients from a plant that are responsible for a human physiological effect. Unfortunately, in the case of maca, this information remains elusive.

We do know that maca is very rich in alkamides and sterols. These are classes of plant secondary molecules that often produce human physiological effects. Interestingly, a group of analytical chemists led by Dr. Qun Zheng, have isolated two new groups of molecules from maca, macamides and macaenes (Zheng, 2000). Dr. Zheng and colleagues tested the effect of these isolated molecules on mice. The chemists found that isolated macamides and macaenes were sufficient to induce high levels of mouse sexual activity (copulation, stamina ext…).

To our knowledge, these results have not yet been repeated with human trials. In conclusion, we don’t quite know how maca works, but there are some interesting candidate molecules.

Factors to consider when reviewing maca supplements

Maca appears to be a safe herbal supplement. The Inca ate maca root as a daily vegetable for hundreds of years with no physical issue. In the clinical trials mentioned, there were no detrimental side effects reported. WebMD currently has no problematic drug interference listed.

Maca root can be purchased as either a raw powder or a capsule. Both are good options, it is a matter of preference. The powder is preferred if you wish to add maca to smoothies, chocolate milk, coffee, soups, ext. The benefit to the capsule is the convenience. Taking a capsule also allows you to be very precise with daily dosage (grams/day).

You should also consider whether you prefer raw maca or gelatinized maca. Raw maca has not been heated in the manufacturing process. The potential issue with raw maca is that some people (5% of users) do report mild gas or indigestion, due to the high starch content. Gelatinized maca has been heated to high temperatures so as to remove all the starch. This high heat may lower some beneficial enzyme levels in the maca, however if your stomach is sensitive to starch, then go with gelatinized maca.

People report health benefits from both the raw and gelatinized forms.

Lastly, it is important to verify that your maca comes from Peru. Certain brands of maca now originate from China. Peruvian maca is of higher quality and purchasing maca from Peru is more ethical, for various reasons.

All maca brands reviewed below source their maca from Peru.

Remember to bookmark this article! We will continually update this page to report new clinical studies about the benefits of maca.

Maca reviews:

Viva Labs Maca Powder, Organic and Gelatinized

Viva Labs offers a quality gelatinized powder form of maca. Maca powder has a uniquely nutty and earthy flavor. Mix a teaspoon of maca into your favorite foods or drinks. Maca mixes well with smoothies and some people are very fond of maca powder in coffee or chocolate milk.

We like Viva Labs maca powder because they manufacture in FDA approved, GMP certified facilities and subject each supplement to numerous quality tests to confirm purity, quality and potency.

Viva Labs maca powder is organic, non-GMO and sourced directly from Peruvian farmers in accordance with fair trade practices.

Maca and Hemp powder from Onnit.

This is a powerful combination of plant powders from Onnit.

Hemp FORCE Active (maca and hemp powder) is one of their more popular products. It’s considered an optimal, plant-based fuel source for your body. The combination of hemp powder and maca powder delivers lots of protein for your muscles and plenty of micro-nutrients. This plant-based protein supplement can be added to shakes, smoothies, coffee or thrown on top of salads and soups.

Onnit has developed a strong following in the past 5 years. They’re based in Austin, Texas and are very much loved and respected from the health fitness community. If you listen to the Joe Rogan podcast, then you have likely heard Joe speak well of Onnit.

Healthworks Maca Powder Organic Peruvian , Raw

If you prefer to take your maca as a raw powder, we recommend Healthworks.

Healthworks has been providing raw and nutrient dense superfoods for 15 years. They also take great efforts to keep their prices fair. Healthworks sources their organic maca powder from Peru. They keep their powder in the raw form for optimal bio-availability.

Healthworks maca powder also mixes into all types of food or drink.

Gaia Herbs Maca Root, 60 Capsules

If you prefer gelatinized maca in a capsule, we recommend Gaia Herbs.

Gaia is based in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Gaia performs DNA bar-coding and phytochemical analyses for of their supplements. These tests ensure you receive an active version of the correct plant.

The maca root sourced by Gaia is certified organic. Gaia packages 1 gram of maca in liquid phyto-capsules. These plant derived capsules are easy to swallow and digest.

NOW Foods Maca Capsules, Raw

For raw maca in a capsule, we prefer the NOW brand.

NOW Foods is a large, respected company in the health industry. Elwood Richard founded the company in Illinois in 1968 and the Richards family remains in control of the business today. NOW has a reputation for selling reliable supplements and taking considerable steps to be an environmentally responsible company. They also perform product testing on all supplements to ensure potency.

In each capsule, NOW packages 500 mg. of Peruvian maca.

Thanks for visiting the EthnoHerbalist.

My name is Dr. Kevin Curran. I’m a plant scientist and a college professor. My research reviews the health benefits of medicinal plants. Plants fascinate me and I’m happy to be sharing their story with you.

maca for women

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Citations

Brooks, Nicole A., et al. “Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca female) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content.”Menopause 15.6 (2008): 1157-1162.

Cicero, Arrigo FG, E. Bandieri, and R. Arletti. “Lepidium meyenii Walp. improves sexual behaviour in male rats independently from its action on spontaneous locomotor activity.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 75.2 (2001): 225-229.

Dording, Christina M., et al. “A Double‐Blind, Randomized, Pilot Dose‐Finding Study of Maca Root (L. Meyenii) for the Management of SSRI‐Induced Sexual Dysfunction.” CNS neuroscience & therapeutics 14.3 (2008): 182-191.

Gonzales GF, Ruiz A, Gonzales C, Villegas L, Crdova A. “Effect of Lepidium meyenii, Maca for women, a Peruvian maca reviews plant on spermatogenesis of male rats”. Asian J Androl (2001): 3:231-3.

Gonzales, GF, et al. “Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men.” Viva labs maca powder. Andrologia 34.6 (2002): 367-372.

Zenico, T., et al. “Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (healthworks maca powder) extract on well‐being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double‐blind clinical trial.” Maca reviews. Andrologia 41.2 (2009): 95-99.

Zheng, Bo Lin, et al. “Effect of a lipidic extract from Lepidium meyenii on sexual behavior in mice and rats.” Urology 55.4 (2000): 598-602.