Benefits of Maca Root

Maca is a plant that some populations in Peru have used for thousands of years as a food and medicine (1Trusted Source).

maca roots
Maca Roots

In the last few decades, maca has grown in popularity around the world as a natural remedy for certain health issues, including infertility and low sex drive.

This article explains what maca root is, highlights potential benefits, and answers whether it’s safe to add to your diet.

What exactly is maca?

The maca plant, also known as Peruvian ginseng, is scientifically known as Lepidium meyenii.

Maca is related to broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale as a cruciferous vegetable.

Maca is indigenous to the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains in Peru.

Maca has been cultivated by Andean people for over 2,000 years. It is one of the few edible plants in the Peruvian Andes that can survive the harsh weather conditions above 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) (2Trusted Source).

Maca was traditionally consumed by the Andean people as a fermented beverage or porridge. In addition, the Andean people used maca as a natural remedy to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory conditions and rheumatic disease (1Trusted Source).

In recent years, the demand for maca products has increased, likely due to claims that the plant can increase libido and fertility.

People have begun to mass-produce this plant in other parts of the world, including China’s mountainous Yunnan province, as demand for maca has increased globally (1Trusted Source).

The most commonly used part of the maca plant, the root, contains fibre, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Other bioactive compounds, such as macamides, macaridine, alkaloids, and glucosinolates, are believed to be responsible for maca’s medicinal properties (2Trusted Source).

People assert that maca supports health in a variety of ways, but research is limited and results of studies on its effects have been inconsistent. More research is required to determine the effectiveness of maca.

1. Increasing libido

The most well-known benefit of maca root is its potential to increase libido. There is some scientific evidence to support this claim.

For example, an older study from 2002Trusted Source found that men who took 1.5 or 3 grams (g) of maca per day experienced increased libido compared to those who received a placebo.

2010 reviewTrusted Source of studies on maca and sexual functioning found some evidence to suggest maca could improve libido, but the authors cautioned that more research is required.

2015 studyTrusted Source found that maca root may help reduce sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women who were taking an antidepressant.

2. May improve certain aspects of fertility in males

Taking maca supplements may help improve certain aspects of fertility in people with sperm.

For example, studies have shown that taking maca may help improve sperm concentration, or the number of sperm per milliliter of semen. Sperm concentration is closely linked to male fertility (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source7Trusted Source).

A 2020 study assessed the effects of maca in 69 men diagnosed with mild low sperm count or reduced sperm motility. Sperm motility is the ability of sperm to swim properly.

Taking 2 grams of maca per day for 12 weeks significantly improved semen concentration compared with a placebo treatment. However, there was no significant difference in sperm motility between the treatment and placebo groups (6Trusted Source).

While these results are promising, research is limited at this time. Well-designed studies are needed to investigate the effects of maca supplements on semen quality and other aspects of male fertility.

3. Boosting energy and endurance

Some athletes and bodybuilders use maca root as a supplement to increase energy and performance. Some evidence exists to support this.

pilot study in 2009 found that using maca extract for 14 days improved performance for male cyclists in a 40-kilometer time trial. However, the results were not significantly different from the improvement seen in those taking a placebo.

However, the same study found that maca extract improved libido in the participants who used it. However, the sample size of this study was very small, so more research is needed to confirm the results.

4. May help relieve symptoms of menopause

Menopause happens naturally in people who menstruate. It’s the time of life when menstrual periods stop permanently (8Trusted Source).

The natural decline in estrogen that occurs during this time can cause a range of symptoms, some of which people may find unpleasant. These include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, sleep problems, and irritability.

Some studies suggest that maca may benefit people who are going through menopause by helping alleviate some symptoms, including hot flashes and interrupted sleep (9Trusted Source10Trusted Source).

A 2011 review that included four high quality studies found some evidence that maca treatment has favorable effects on menopause symptoms.

However, the researchers noted that there’s not enough evidence to determine the safety or effectiveness of maca for treating menopause symptoms (11Trusted Source).

5. Improving mood

Maca contains flavonoids, which are thought to improve mood and reduce anxiety. A study in 14 postmenopausal women found that maca may reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

Also, a 2015 studyTrusted Source found that maca could reduce symptoms of depression in Chinese postmenopausal women.

Other potential health benefits

Human research investigating the potential health benefits of maca is limited.

However, initial findings from animal studies suggest maca may affect health in the following ways:

  • May help preserve cognitive function. Rodent studies have demonstrated that maca helps improve cognitive function and motor coordination and may help slow age-related cognitive decline (15Trusted Source).
  • May benefit benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Findings from animal studies suggest that maca may help reduce inflammatory proteins and inhibit BPH or enlargement of the prostate (16Trusted Source).
  • May benefit skin health. Maca has been shown to speed up wound healing, and an older study found that it protected against UV damage when applied to the skin of animals (17Trusted Source18Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that there’s currently no evidence that these potential benefits apply to humans, so research in humans would be needed to investigate them.

How to Take It

To get the most out of your maca, don’t bake with it or add it to hot foods or drinks — it loses its nutritional punch. Work it into raw foods instead, like no-bake energy treats or smoothies, or put it on top of cooked foods, like oatmeal.

Caution

If you’re on blood thinners, maca may not be right for you. It has so much vitamin K — which helps your blood form clots — that it may counteract your medication. Ditto that for men with elevated blood PSA (prostate specific antigens), who should stay away from maca. The plant’s extracts might act like estrogen, so avoid it if you have hormone-sensitive conditions like breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers or endometriosis.

Takeaway

Maca has a range of potential health benefits, particularly for sexual health. However, the evidence behind these health benefits is weak, as many studies used small sample sizes or animal models.

Researchers need to carry out more large-scale studies in humans to determine if maca is effective. Although there are few health risks associated with taking maca, most people can try maca without experiencing any adverse side effects.

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