author: Dr. Kevin Curran
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 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.
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.
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The health claims and statements regarding any health supplements mentioned on this page have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This page contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Read more…
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.
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.