By Dr Jyoti Mistry, BSC ND
The plant Lepidium meyenii, more commonly known as Maca, has been primarily cultivated in the highlands of the Peruvian Andes. It has been used nutritionally and therapeutically for centuries amongst the Peruvian people. While it is lesser known in North America, it’s popularity is increasing due its wide spectrum of uses. Traditionally, Maca has been used to enhance energy and stamina, improve memory and has been used as an immunostimulant. However, Maca is most well known for enhancing sexual health, fertility and sex drive! Read on to find out more about this stimulating root vegetable!
Maca is a root vegetable that is distantly related to the common garden cress and to radishes. It has an odor that resembles butterscotch. As a food, Maca can be baked, roasted, prepared as a soup and traditionally has been used for making fermented drinks. As a nutrient support, Maca is commonly available in powder form and as a supplement (capsules). Dried maca root contains 59% carbohydrates, 10.2% protein, 8.5% fiber and 2.2% lipids. It also contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, calcium, copper and amino acids4.
Studies have shown that Maca has favourable effects on energy and mood and may help to decrease anxiety2. It’s ability to enhance energy production and stamina, often led to its use in athletics. Since Maca is high in antioxidants and nutrients, it has often been used for anemia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Maca may also be beneficial in supporting brain health and memory. A study involving in vitro and in vivo models, demonstrated that an extract from Maca showed significant neuroprotective effects5.
Maca is well known for its actions in supporting sexual and reproductive health.
In post-menopausal women, Maca may be beneficial in helping women deal with the typical symptoms of menopause. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial, Maca was given to early post-menopausal women and it was shown that Maca helped to balance hormone levels and relieve the symptoms of menopausal discomfort (i.e specifically hot flashes and night sweats) 3. In males, some studies have shown that Maca helps to improve sperm production, sperm motility and semen volume2. Although, serum levels of testosterone, estradiol, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and prolactin were not affected2. Hence, the exact mechanism of action of Maca is still unclear.
It is important to note that much of the research on Maca regarding sexual enhancement has been conducted in animal studies. More studies are warranted to assess whether these effects translate to humans. However, one interesting study has shown that Maca root may alleviate anti-depressant induced sexual dysfunction in women1. As many anti-depressant medications have a side effect of low libido, Maca may provide a solution to enhance quality of life.
Maca is a safe and well-tolerated food and botanical supplement. In human studies and in toxicology studies in animal models, no adverse events were reported4. However, since Maca extracts may have estrogenic effects, it is recommended that women with hormone sensitive conditions, such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis and uterine fibroids should avoid Maca4. Maca should also be avoided by anyone with a potential allergy to Maca.
Maca is a root vegetable that is mainly used for its nutritional and health benefits. Try it in food or supplement form to support you in achieving your health goals. For further information, book an appointment with a naturopathic doctor at Port Moody Health for more strategies in achieving optimal health.
To your best health,
1. Dording, C., Schettler, P., Dalton, E., Parkin, S., Walker, R., Fehling, K., Fava, M. and Mischoulon, D. (2015). A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015, pp.1-9.
2. Gonzales, G., Gonzales, C. and Gonzales-Castañeda, C. (2009). Lepidium meyenii(Maca): A Plant from the Highlands of Peru – from Tradition to Science. Forschende Komplementärmedizin / Research in Complementary Medicine, 16(6), pp.373-380.
3. Meissner, H. O., Mscisz, A., Reich-Bilinska, H., Mrozikiewicz, P., Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska, T., Kedzia, B., … Barchia, I. (2006). Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (III) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study. International Journal of Biomedical Science : IJBS, 2(4), 375–394.
4. Natural Medicines. (March 2016). Maca [Monograph] Retrieved from: https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=555
5. Pino-Figueroa, A., Nguyen, D. and Maher, T. (2010). Neuroprotective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca). Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1199(1), pp.77-85.