The maca plant, also called Peruvian ginseng, is native to the Andes Mountains of Peru. In Peru, maca has been cultivated for thousands of years, but since the 1990s, the rest of the world has developed an interest in this energy-boosting superfood.
Scientifically classified Lepidium meyenii, maca’s botanical moniker has recently been subject to dispute. It’s also classified as Lepidium peruvianum, but writing in the International Journal of Biomedical Science in 2015, researchers say that identifying these two classifications as “synonymous” is misleading. According to their research, the two maca isotypes are unique in taxonomy, looks, phytochemical profiles, and DNA sequences, and Lepidium peruvianum is the more accurate label. We shall see if maca cultivators and distributors follow suit with the label change, but for now, let’s focus on maca’s incredible medicinal properties.
Maca is part of the cruciferous family just like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. Maca root, which is the edible part of the plant, looks like radishes or turnips and has a delightful butterscotch aroma. Usually consumed as a powder in smoothies, maca is also available in capsules as a supplement. It’s become a sought-after ingredient because it’s a great source of carbohydrates and amino acids, fatty acids, as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including collagen-building vitamin C and red-blood-cell-generating copper and iron. Maca is a veritable energy shot and a terrific start to the day!
Health Benefits of Maca
Maca is packed with antioxidants, enhances cognitive function, promotes sexual health in women and men, and builds muscle and bone strength. While the research is preliminary and primarily conducted on animals, the potential of maca to help augment well-being is super promising. So let’s explore these maca health benefits highlights!
Maca extract is loaded with antioxidant polysaccharides, which can help to eliminate harmful free radicals and prevent damage to healthy cells. An animal study showed that administering maca to rats as part of a high-sucrose diet for 2 weeks promoted antioxidant status, lowered cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the liver, and reduced blood sugar. Additional research has revealed that maca’s antioxidant effects could also lower oxidative stress and support neurobiological activity.
Mind and Mood
Maca can have a positive impact on brain function and mood.
A team of researchers analyzed the effect of maca on postmenopausal women. Patients received 3.3 grams a day of maca or a placebo, and the results showed that decreases in diastolic blood pressure and depression were apparent in the women given maca. Other studies on postmenopausal women demonstrated that maca may improve mood and reduce anxiety.
A team of scientists analyzed the effect of a black variety of maca on mice and concluded that maca may improve learning and memory. Another team gave maca to middle-aged mice for 5 weeks and found that maca enhanced cognitive function and motor coordination. While conclusions of maca’s effects on humans cannot be extrapolated from animal studies, they are suggestive of an ameliorative effect that may make maca consumption a worthwhile dietary pursuit!
Women’s Sexuality and Menopause
Several studies suggest that maca root may be able to improve sexual dysfunction and increase libido in women. One study analyzed the effects of maca on women suffering from depression induced by antidepressants. Patients were given maca root or a placebo for 12 weeks. Results indicate that maca root may alleviate antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction.
In another study, researchers gave different doses of maca to depressed women taking SSRIs (selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and discovered that maca root may help alleviate SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction and benefit libido.
Menopause is a natural decline in reproductive hormones and the ceasing of menstruation. This can sometimes be a difficult transition for women because it may involve psychological symptoms such as irritability and anxiety, as well as changes in sex drive. A team of researchers analyzed the effects of maca on postmenopausal women. The patients received 3.5 grams a day of maca for 6 weeks, then a placebo for another 6 weeks. Scientists concluded that maca may reduce menopausal symptoms, both psychological and sexual.
Bone density can also decrease after menopause, and additional studies conducted on rats suggest that maca root may help to protect bone health. Findings reveal that maca may help in the prevention of estrogen-deficient bone loss by balancing hormone levels.
Maca also contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and phosphorus, which are needed for bone mineral density. Thanks to its high mineral content, maca can help promote bone health, and it may even help prevent osteoporosis.
Men’s Sexual Function and Fertility
Maca also promotes male sexual health and fertility. A team of researchers in Peru analyzed the effects of maca on sexual desire in men. They gave maca or a placebo to a group of men aged 21-56 years. The results showed an improvement in sexual desire with maca after 8 weeks of treatment.
Another study suggests that maca may increase seminal volume and sperm motility. The effects of maca were also analyzed in relation to semen quality. Looking at all clinical trials on the improvement of semen quality parameters in infertile and healthy men, scientists concluded that maca may also promote semen quality. Men between 24 and 44 years old given maca tablets for 4 months experienced increased seminal volume, sperm count per ejaculum, motile sperm count, and sperm motility.
Maca root may also have a beneficial impact on erectile dysfunction (ED). Fifty men with ED took 2.4 grams of maca root daily for 3 months and reported an increase in erectile function and sexual satisfaction. Although it was a small study, it shines a light on the aphrodisiac prowess of this Andean herb.
Scientific evidence suggests maca root may help you gain muscle and elevate physical activity levels. In a study, maca was administered to rats for 30 days. The animals were also subjected to 30 minutes of swimming a day. Results indicated that maca increased the maximum swimming time and recovered blood parameters of energy as well as muscular injuries caused by repeated exercise. And a study made up of male cyclists found that maca improved the time it took them to complete a nearly 25-mile bike ride.
How to Use Maca
Maca can be found in grocery stores, pharmacies, and online. It is usually sold as a powder, a liquid, or capsules. Reading labels is always a good habit. It is essential to buy 100% natural and preferably organic maca, without additional artificial flavors to get all the benefits.
Types of Maca
Maca root can be yellow, black, or red. All colors offer similar benefits, but a specific type might be better for certain health-related issues. Yellow maca is an excellent choice, especially for women, because it boosts energy, fertility, and balances hormones. Black maca and red maca are great options, especially for men. Black maca supports sperm production, memory, and focus. Red maca is the rarest type and is said to be able to reduce prostate size and help increase bone density.
Maca has an earthy, nutty taste that varies slightly depending on the variety. The easiest way to use maca powder is by adding it to smoothies (check out our Creamy Maca Smoothie below!) or to oatmeal—take it in the morning or before you exercise because maca increases energy levels. There are no official guidelines regarding maca doses, so start with about 1 tablespoon daily and slowly increase the dose.
Maca Side Effects
Consuming maca as a high-quality powder or supplement shouldn’t come with any serious side effects as long as you do not have a thyroid condition. Glucosinolate compounds in maca act as goitrogens thought to disrupt thyroid gland function, especially if you already have thyroid issues.
We can also take a safety tip from Peruvian natives who advise boiling maca root before consuming it fresh to side-step any adverse health effects.
And, as with any powerful botanical, pregnant or breastfeeding women should seek counsel from their health care provider to determine the safety of adding maca to their regular health regimen.
Creamy Maca Smoothie
This smoothie is an excellent way to start the day with a boost of energy. Cashews and almonds are both rich in unsaturated fatty acids and offer great health benefits. Many of the ingredients are also packed with antioxidants, and Medjool dates are one of the best natural sweeteners thanks to their unique flavor and health benefits. The cashew cream makes this smoothie extra creamy and delicious.
Ready In: 5 Minutes
- 2 tablespoons maca powder
- 4 tablespoons cashew cream
- 3 cups almond milk
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 Medjool dates pitted
- Add all the ingredients to the blender and mix until it becomes smooth and creamy.
- Taste and adjust flavors. Some people might like it sweeter, others less sweet.
- Maca: loaded with antioxidants, boosts energy and regulates hormones.
- Cashews: rich in unsaturated fatty acids, may help prevent cancer and diabetes.
- Almonds: rich in unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants to promote heart health.
- Cinnamon: high in antioxidants and a powerful anti-inflammatory.
- Vanilla: has antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
- Dates: may lower bad cholesterol and provide constipation relief.