Maca is a plant that belongs to the Brassicaceae family. This cruciferous vegetable is a relative of mustard, turnip, broccoli and cauliflower. When we say “maca root,” we are referring to the root of the maca plant, which bears a resemblance to turnips.
Native to Peru, this plant has enjoyed the limelight in the last ten years, owing to its reputation as a supposed energy and libido booster. In its native Peru, the root is added to food, roasted, or turned into a fermented beverage. This versatile plant can be turned into powder, which can then be added to shakes, smoothies, and even coffee.
This vegetable is a great source of vitamins and minerals. A 28-gram serving has:
- 91 calories
- 79.8 mg of vitamin C
- 70 mg of calcium
- 560 mg of potassium
- 2.0 g of dietary fiber
- 4 g of protein
Experimental studies on the biological and pharmacological effects of the maca plant on animals have been conducted since 2000.
In vivo administration on rats, mice, and guinea pigs, among others, suggests medical potential. Maca exhibited some of the following properties during lab tests:
- Increase in sperm count
- Increase in male sexual behavior
- UV protection
- Reversal of osteoporosis
- An increase in the number of offspring
- Improvement of memory and learning
The Many Uses of Maca
Maca in all its different derivatives may address conditions such as erectile dysfunction, depression, problems with libido, and hair loss. This adaptogenic herb may support your body’s hormone production, as well as aid your liver in detoxification.
Traditionally used in Peru to increase energy, endurance, and to improve fertility in both humans and livestock, maca is now being studied for its possible role in cancer prevention, as the plant contains glucosinolates.
When ingested, these glucosinolates are broken down into compounds that may inhibit the development of cancer. Lab tests and studies with animals have identified several ways in which these compounds (indoles and isothiocyanates) may help in preventing cancer:
- These compounds may inactivate carcinogens.
- They protect cells against DNA damage.
- They exhibit anti-viral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of maca’s health benefits:
1. It May Help with Low Libido
There are some studies that support the claim that maca can improve men’s libido. Subjects were given either 1,500 mg or 3,000 mg of maca or a placebo for a period of 12 weeks. After this period, results showed that maca did increase sexual desire better compared to the placebo that was administered.
2. Maca May Reduce Factors for Male Infertility
When it comes to measuring male fertility, we know that both sperm quality and quantity matter a lot. There is some evidence that suggests maca’s ability to increase male fertility.
A paper by Ingrid Melnikovova et.al suggests that maca has fertility-enhancing properties. An older paper published in the Asian Journal of Andrology demonstrates that maca had a positive effect on sperm production and sperm motility after four months of taking oral treatment with maca tablets.
3. It May Relieve Menopausal Symptoms
Hot flashes? Mood swings? Vaginal dryness? Sleep problems? These symptoms of menopause can often be very unpleasant. A review suggests that maca may be able to help alleviate menopausal symptoms. However, although the study had limited parameters, it suggests maca’s therapeutic potential.
4. It Could Help Alleviate the Negative Effects of Stress and Anxiety
Feeling overwhelmed by work? Stressed by certain issues?
Studies suggest that maca may be able to help alleviate anxiety and even depression, which in effect may be able to enhance your mood. A pilot study involving postmenopausal women who were given maca showed a significant decrease in blood pressure and depression.
5. Maca May Help Reduce Blood Pressure
The same study involving postmenopausal women found that maca demonstrated properties of reducing diastolic blood pressure. In the double-blind study, 29 postmenopausal Hong Kong Chinese women were given 3.3 g of maca or placebo per day for 6 weeks each, for a period of 12 weeks.
6. Maca May Have Antioxidant Effects
Being a natural antioxidant, maca may be able to boost the presence of antioxidants such as glutathione in your body. These antioxidants can fight off free radicals, which in effect can inhibit the onset of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, and further cell damage. This superfood possesses properties that protect the cells from oxidative stress. It also has the capacity to scavenge for free radicals in your body.
7. Maca May Help Increase Stamina
Do you easily get tired during workouts? Maca may be able to help you out with that. In one study, performance had an overall improvement when the participants’ diet was supplemented with maca. The results of an animal study also suggest a potential for maca to enhance stamina. Mice that were given the highest dose of maca proved to have longer swimming times without getting tired.
8. It May Reduce Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
In a double-blind clinical trial, men who had mild erectile dysfunction were given maca dry extract or a placebo over a period of 12 weeks.
Although both groups showed significant results after the trial, the group that was given maca showed a more significant increase in their International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-5) score. They also showed a more significant improvement in terms of their physical and social performance-related Satisfaction Profile (SAT-P) score.
9. It May Help Improve Learning and Memory
A study by Guo SS et.al suggests that maca may be able to slow down age-related cognitive decline. It has also long been used by natives in the Peruvian Andes to improve children’s performance in school.
In experimental studies involving three varieties of maca (black, red, and yellow), black maca was found to have a better effect on memory and learning. The researchers added that all varieties of maca possessed antidepressant properties.
How to Use Maca
The standard dosage for maca is 1500 to 3000 mg.
As a food supplement, maca can easily be integrated into your diet. Plus, it’s widely available. Supermarkets, health food stores, and even online retailers sell maca.
You can take it as a supplement or, in powder form, add it to shakes, smoothies, and baked goods. If you want to further supplement the maca, you may opt to include the root in your diet. You may also use maca extract, but note that you should look for extracts that are water- or ethyl-acetate-based.
Whether you go for red, yellow, or black maca, there’s no denying that this humble vegetable may be able to provide you with numerous health benefits and may be able to have effects on fertility, mood, memory, and sexual behavior.
Maca is considered to be generally safe, even when taken in large doses. However, like any other natural food supplement, there is still a need to further study it to better understand its properties, effects, and risks. If you’re thinking of adding maca to your daily diet, you may want to seek the opinion of your trusted medical professional first.