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9 Benefits of Maca Root (and potential side effects)

Maca Root and Bowls of Maca Root PowderThe
maca plant has exploded in popularity in recent years.

It’s actually a plant native to Peru, and is commonly available
in powder form or as a supplement.

Maca root has traditionally been used to
enhance fertility
and sex drive.

It’s also claimed to improve energy and stamina.

What Is Maca?

The maca plant, known scientifically as Lepidium
meyenii
, is sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng.

It mainly grows in the Andes of central Peru, in harsh
conditions and at very high altitudes — above 13,000 feet
(4,000 meters).

Maca is a cruciferous vegetable and therefore related to
broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale.
It has a long history of culinary and medicinal use in Peru
(1).

The main edible part of the plant is the root, which grows
underground. It exists in several colors, ranging from white to
black.

Maca root is generally dried and consumed in powder form, but
it’s also available in capsules and as a liquid extract.

This is what maca root and root powder typically look
like:

Maca Root and Maca Root Powder

The taste of maca root powder, which some people dislike, has
been described as earthy and nutty. Many people add it to their
smoothies, oatmeal and sweet treats.

It’s worth noting that research on maca is still in its early
stages.

Many of the studies are small, done in animals and/or sponsored
by companies that produce or sell maca.



Bottom Line: Maca is a medicinal plant that
mainly grows high up in the mountains of Peru in harsh
conditions.

1. It’s Highly Nutritious

Maca root powder is very nutritious, and is a great source of
several important vitamins and minerals (2).

One ounce (28 grams) of maca root powder contains:

  • Calories: 91
  • Carbs: 20 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Vitamin C: 133% of the RDI
  • Copper: 85% of the RDI
  • Iron: 23% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 16% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 15% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 10% of the RDI

Maca root is a good source of carbs and protein, is low in fat
and contains a fair amount of fiber.
It’s also high in some essential vitamins and minerals, such as
vitamin C, copper and iron.

Furthermore, it contains various plant compounds, including
glucosinolates and polyphenols (1, 3, 4).

Bottom Line: Maca root powder is high in
protein and carbs and rich in a number of nutrients,
including vitamin C, copper and iron. It also contains many
bioactive plant compounds.

2. It Increases Libido in Men and Women

Maca Root Powder and a Wooden Scoop

Reduced sexual desire is a common problem among adults.

Consequently, interest in herbs and plants that naturally boost
libido is great.

Maca has been heavily marketed as being effective at improving
sexual desire, and this claim is backed by research (5).

A review from 2010 that included four randomized clinical
studies with a total of 131 participants found evidence that
maca improves sexual desire after at least six weeks of
ingestion (6).

Bottom Line: Maca increases sex drive in
both men and women.

3. It May Increase Fertility in Men

When it comes to male fertility, sperm quality and quantity is
very important.

There is some evidence that maca root increases men’s fertility
(7, 8).

A recent review summarized the findings of five small studies.
It showed that maca improved semen quality in both infertile
and healthy men (9).

One of the studies reviewed included nine healthy men. After
consuming maca for four months, researchers detected an
increase in the volume, count and motility of sperm (8).

Bottom Line: Maca can increase sperm
production and improve sperm quality, thereby enhancing
fertility in men.

4. It May Help Relieve Symptoms of Menopause

Maca Powder in a Glass Bowl

Menopause is defined as the time in a woman’s life when her
menstrual periods stop permanently.

The natural decline in estrogen that occurs during this time
can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms.

These include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, sleep
problems and irritability.

One review of four studies in menopausal women found that maca
helped alleviate
menopausal symptoms
, including hot flashes and interrupted
sleep (10).

Additionally, animal studies suggest that maca can help protect
bone health. Women have a higher risk of osteoporosis after
menopause (11, 12, 13).

Bottom Line: Maca can improve symptoms of
menopause, including hot flashes and disrupted sleep at
night.

5. Maca Can Improve Your Mood

Several studies have shown that maca can enhance your mood.

It’s been associated with
reduced anxiety
and symptoms of depression, particularly in
menopausal women (14, 15, 16).

Maca contains plant compounds called flavonoids, which have been suggested to be at
least partly responsible for these psychological benefits
(15).

Bottom Line: Maca may improve your mental
well-being and mood by reducing depression and anxiety,
especially in menopausal women.

6. It May Boost Sports Performance and Energy

Bowl of Maca Root Powder

Maca root powder is a popular supplement among bodybuilders and
athletes.

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It has been claimed to help you gain muscle, increase strength,
boost energy and improve exercise performance.

Also, some animal studies indicate that it enhances endurance
performance (17, 18, 19).

Moreover, one small study in eight male cyclists found that
they improved the time it took them to complete a nearly
25-mile (40-km) bike ride after 14 days of supplementing with
maca extract (20).

Currently, there is no scientific evidence to confirm any
benefits for muscle mass or strength.

Bottom Line: Supplementing with maca may
improve exercise performance, particularly during endurance
events. However, its effects on muscle mass and strength have
yet to be studied.

7. When Applied to the Skin, Maca May Help Protect It From the
Sun

Scoop of Maca Powder

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun may burn and damage
unprotected, exposed skin.

Over time, UV radiation can cause wrinkles and increase your
risk of skin cancer (21).

There is some evidence that applying maca extract, a
concentrated form of the plant, to your skin may help protect
it from UV radiation (1, 22).

One study found that maca extract applied to the skin of five
rats over a three-week period prevented skin damage from UV
exposure (23).

The protective effect was attributed to the polyphenol
antioxidants and glucosinolates found in maca (24).

Keep in mind that maca extract cannot replace a conventional
sunscreen. Also, it only protects the skin when applied to the
skin, not when eaten.

Bottom Line: When applied to the skin, maca
extract may help protect it from the sun’s UV rays.

8. It May Improve Learning and Memory

Maca may improve brain function (25).

In fact, it has traditionally been used by natives in Peru to
improve children’s performance in school (1, 26).

In animal studies, maca has improved learning and memory in
rodents that have memory impairment (27, 28, 29, 30).

In this regard, black maca appears to be more effective than
other varieties (29).

Bottom Line: Some evidence indicates that
maca, in particular the black variety, can improve learning
and memory.

9. It May Reduce Prostate Size

Bowl of Maca Powder

The prostate is a gland only found in men.

Enlargement of the prostate gland, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is
common in aging men (31).

A larger prostate can cause various problems with passing
urine, as it surrounds the tube through which urine is removed
from the body.

Interestingly, a few studies in rodents suggest that red maca
reduces prostate size (32, 33, 34, 35).

It has been proposed that the effect of red maca on the
prostate is linked to its high amount of glucosinolates. These
substances are also associated with a reduced risk of prostate
cancer (36).

Bottom Line: A large prostate is common
among older men and can cause issues with urination. Animal
studies suggest that red maca can reduce prostate size.

How to Use Maca

Maca is easy to incorporate into your diet.

It can be taken as a supplement or added to smoothies, oatmeal,
baked goods, energy bars and more.

The optimal dose for medicinal use has not been established.
However, the dosage of maca root powder used in studies
generally ranges from 1.5–5 grams per day.

You can find maca in some supermarkets, at health food stores
and from various online retailers. It is available in powder
form, 500-mg capsules or as a liquid extract.

While yellow maca is the most readily available type, darker
types like red and black may possess different biological
properties (32, 37).

Bottom Line: Maca root powder is easy to
incorporate into your diet and is widely available.

Safety and Side Effects

Maca is generally considered safe (38, 39, 40).

However, Peruvian natives believe that consuming fresh maca
root may have adverse health effects and recommend boiling it
first.

Additionally, if you have thyroid problems, you may want to be
careful with maca.

That’s because it contains goitrogens,
substances that may interfere with the normal function of the
thyroid gland. These compounds are more likely to affect you if
you already have impaired thyroid function.

Lastly, pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult with
their doctors before taking maca.

Bottom Line: Maca is considered safe for
most people, although those with thyroid issues need to be
careful.

Take Home Message

Supplementing with maca may provide several health benefits,
such as increased libido and better mood.

However, most of the studies are small and many of them were
done in animals.

Although maca shows a lot of promise, it needs to be studied
more extensively.

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