Maca root is a product that has picked up steam in the supplement world since the 1990’s. With Viagra going at over $34 a pill and limited reputable generic options, it did not take long for ED sufferers to hone in on a cheaper form of salvation.
Along the way, maca root has become a favorite for many based on the perception it aids with libido. But that is not all people use maca root for.
In the following article, we will be examining the history of this unique plant along with where some of the claims come from, and whether it is worth a try for what ails you. Let’s get started!
Where Is Maca Root Grown?
While maca root can be cultivated in a variety of locations, it performs well in a diverse set of conditions, and it is usually found in Peru, where it demonstrates the capability of growing well above sea level.
It is an indisputably resilient plant with the ability to grow in conditions that range from extremely cold to cool (14-55 degrees Fahrenheit).
Growers also will plant maca (also known as Lepidium meyenii) alongside potatoes. The reason for this: it is apparently a pest-resistent plant that can protect potato crops in the process when grown in close proximity.
One of the earliest claims of maca root’s effectiveness for human beings — and it is an odd one that continues to show up frequently in the supplement world — is that legendary Incan warriors got jacked up on consumption of the crop before going into battle.
Afterward, writes G Chacón de Popovici in a 1997 article, “the women had to be protected from the Inca warriors, as reportedly they became ambitiously virile from eating such quantities of maca” (translated).
You do not have to be a detective to read between those lines, though we would probably ditch that on any product packaging this side of the #MeToo era.
With those bits of explainer and trivia out of the way, let us now move onto the specific benefits that maca root is said to provide.
1. Increased Libido
It should be acknowledged upfront that maca root is not a product that has been heavily tested in the United States. Despite being grown for centuries, it did not make a splash in the supplement market until the 1990s.
That said, there also is huge demand for it, so while this and most of the claims found herein cannot be corroborated outright, there is significant anecdotal evidence in the customer satisfaction ratings that you will see on many websites and more discerning publications such as WebMD.
WebMD itself is not so sure about the validity of claims that it definitively enhances libido, but it does acknowledge the following.
“Maca is an herb with plenty of anecdotal information about it’s usefulness (for libido enhancement) passed down from generation to generation,” the site notes, “But scientific evidence on its effectiveness is limited.”
It also points out some control studies that found success.
The Prostate Dot Net website goes a little further, sharing the following:
One of the more recent studies comes from Italy, where investigators in the department of urology at Morgagni-Pierantoni Hospital conducted a double-blind trial. Fifty men who had mild erectile dysfunction were enrolled: half were given 2,400 mg maca root daily and the other half received placebo.
After 12 weeks, men in the maca-treatment group experienced a more significant increase in the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-5) than men in the placebo group. The scientists concluded that maca supplements provide a small but significant effect on sexual health and well-being in men who have mild erectile dysfunction.
2. Higher Sperm Count
Piggybacking onto the increased libido claim, maca root is said to increase the overall sperm count for men, thus being an option worth consideration for couples hoping to get pregnant.
Beyond meeting the physical need, however, it also may improve the mental well-being of men who are depressed or self-conscious about their low sperm counts.
And aside from quantity of the sperm, there are also claims it enhances sperm quality. (See this study from 2015.)
3. Nutritional Efficiency
While there is some debate as to the “safety” of maca root, it is a pretty solid crop when looking solely at the nutritional efficiency numbers.
Healthline reports that one ounce, or just 28 grams of maca root powder, contains 91 calories, 20 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of fat, and over 133 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C.
Additionally, that same ounce contains the following RDIs in other beneficial areas such as:
- Copper – 85 percent: Has been linked to health benefits like improving arthritis symptoms, ensuring proper growth, regulating melanin production, supporting skin care, acting as a brain stimulant, and preventing premature aging.
- Iron – 23 percent: Hemoglobin formation support, improved muscle function, greater brain function, restless leg treatment, body temperature regulation.
- Potassium – 16 percent: Cramp prevention, reducing the effects of muscle disorders, strengthening bones, regulating blood pressure, improving muscle function, boosting metabolism.
- Vitamin B6 – 15 percent: Support for brain function, healthy blood vessels, mood stabilization, anemia treatment, eye health, Rheumatoid arthritis, premenstrual syndrome, high blood pressure.
- Manganese – 10 percent: Assistance with bones/osteoporosis prevention, antioxidant and enzyme function, cognition, diabetes, lung/respiratory health, weight loss.
4. Relief of Menopause
Menopause is the moment in a woman’s life when she ceases to menstruate. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 50 years old, and it can come with a host of physical and psychological symptoms.
Two of the most common are hot flashes and night sweats, which is when a woman feels a fever-like heat throughout her body as a result of menopause.
According to the National University of Natural Medicine, recent research has shown that use of maca root can significantly reduce hot flashes and night sweats in both severity and quantity of occurrence.
5. Improved Mood
As previously mentioned, maca root has properties that go well beyond the basic macronutrients of calories, carbs, protein, and fiber. One of the items in particular from the list above includes vitamin B6, which has been known to stabilize and even improve one’s mood.
The Maca Team points to two studies in particular that seem to confirm a connection between maca root and mood benefits. You can check out the summations here.
6. Sports Performance and Energy Levels
Consider it no surprise the health and fitness community has latched on to maca root for use as a metabolism enhancer. All the building blocks are in place.
It has proteins and amino acids for tearing down, building up, and restoring muscle groups. It also features vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, which can aid with all the elements that you need for a good workout:
- Strong bone structure
- Immune support
A maca root capsule or a scoop of powder in your favorite smoothie can go a long way in helping you establish a gym routine. And with more exercise comes more energy — exactly what athletes need to work on their craft and improve.
A 2009 study at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne reportedly confirmed this by comparing two groups — a maca root and a placebo group — over a two-week period.
At the beginning and end of the cycle, the athletes performed a 40-kilometer cycling course and the maca root group improved their times significantly while the placebo group did not.
7. Skin Care
Maca root is widely popular in the health and beauty industry because it has demonstrated several positive skin care traits. It also has some science to back up the claims with one 2011 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology noting the UV protection elements in an experiment on rats.
While the rat-to-human comparison is not a particularly flattering one, we do share commonalities between the species that makes product testing a valuable endeavor.
It has certainly been enough for the industry to go on, as companies have incorporated maca root into many of the most popular products, and it has earned the plant the nickname of “nature’s sunscreen.”
8. Enhanced Learning and Memory
We have already covered maca root’s mood stabilizing properties, but it has been linked to helping the brain in other ways as well, particularly with cognitive function.
The “responsible” nutrient for this is manganese, which is available through the plant in a respectable supply (10 percent per ounce).
The low grade of manganese found in maca root is actually a good thing as chronic overexposure can lead to cognitive deficits. However, as this study from 2003 shows, a shortage of manganese can create problems related to mood, depression, and loss of cognitive function.
The amounts contained in your typical serving of maca root gives you a fraction of what you need throughout the day, so the risk of overexposure is extremely rare while your brain receives access to a share of what it requires.
9. Reduced Prostate Size
Maca root is sometimes linked to the possible reduction in size of the prostate in males, leading some to believe that it could have as-yet-unverified benefits in fighting prostate cancer or preventing it’s development from ever occurring.
Where this comes from is the plant’s link to the Brassicacae family of vegetation (cabbage).
According to the National Cancer Institute, cruciferous vegetables are of interest to scientists because they “contain a group of substances known as glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals” that, during the chewing and digestion process, “are broken down to form biologically active compounds such as indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates.”
It is Indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane that “have been most frequently examined for their anticancer effects,” the NCI adds, noting that the two “have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice, including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach.”
10. Support for Anemia
Maca root also serves as a favorite supplement for individuals suffering the effects of anemia. Anemia is often referred to as “tired” or “weak” blood. The effect of anemia can make one feel tired and listless, and it can grow more severe in cases of sickle-cell anemia.
The condition is characterized by low hemoglobin and an inability for the blood to properly clot. This can lead to heavy loss of blood over a cut, and it can prove life-threatening in some cases.
The reason many supplement buyers dealing with the condition will gravitate towards maca root is that it has two properties we have already mentioned that show effectiveness when dealing with the condition — namely, potassium and iron.
As you may recall from earlier, the typical one-ounce dose of maca root contains 16 percent of the RDI for potassium. That is more than a medium banana, which contains only 12 percent.
Combine four ounces and three bananas into a meal replacement smoothie, and you are good to go for the entire day.
Additionally, iron — found prominently in red meat — features hemoglobin-supporting properties.
11. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
For much of the same reason it’s a preferred supplement when dealing with anemia, maca root also is a favorite among those suffering the effects of CFS, or chronic fatigue syndrome.
CFS, according to the Mayo Clinic, is “a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition.” Also, “The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity, but doesn’t improve with rest.”
Potassium is known to help with these low energy effects as will copper and manganese. The fact that maca root contains liberal supplies of all three makes it a natural supplement worth the experimentation.
The manganese and potassium found in this plant also feature bone strengthening properties that are appealing to individuals who have either been diagnosed with osteoporosis, or who are concerned about getting it because of a genetic connection to the “brittle bone” condition.
Osteoporosis itself is not a killer, but many people diagnosed with it have lower than usual life expectancies because of the aftereffects.
A person diagnosed takes their life into their own hands simply walking around the house because a fall could result in breaks and other severe injuries.
Getting out in front of the problem is your best bet, but if you’re already living with it, maca root has the right ingredients to provide support.
Living with depression goes beyond simply being in a bad or a sad mood. Depression often takes the form of an emotional numbness, and this can stem from chemical imbalance and sluggish brain activity.
For this reason, many individuals suffering from depression prefer to take maca root for its brain-boosting properties (i.e., copper, vitamin B6, and manganese).
And going back to the sexual virility perk, it should be noted that some antidepressants can cause a negative effect on libido. Research suggests that maca root can make up for this as well.
14. Stomach Cancer
The maca root links to cancers all originate from the same source — its aforementioned connection to the cabbage family, which, NCI notes, has received significant attention over the years for being a possible preventative agent in the fight against cancer.
The belief, or hope, among maca root consumers is that these same connections carry over from one type of cancer to the next.
So, for example, if it’s true the plant has a net positive effect on reducing the size of the prostate in men and lowering prostate cancer risk, the same could be said of its cancer-shrinking ability in other parts of the body.
Hard scientific evidence, at least stateside, has been insufficient to verify this claim. However, the maca root supplement market is growing quickly internationally, particularly in China.
While that’s certainly not an indicator of cancer-fighting success, it’s worth mentioning because other industrialized nations are getting in on it, and that means more scrutiny and more testing in the coming years.
In other words, don’t just pay attention to what the U.S. is doing in verifying some of these claims. Keep your eyes on other nations as well.
Regardless of whether maca root can keep you from getting cancer, many patients use it for help in recovery from cancer treatments.
While there is no cure for AIDS, the medical community has taken long strides forward in being able to stave off the more aggressively deadly components of the disease.
The 1980’s saw the rise of an epidemic that was pretty much a quick death sentence for those who contracted it, but today, people can live for years with a high quality of life by managing their HIV.
Maca root is one supplement that has played — and continues to play — a role in this management.
In much the same way that AIDS was a vicious killer of the 1980s, tuberculosis had large swaths of America living in fear throughout the early 20th Century.
Getting “TB,” as it became known, often meant being shipped off to a sanitarium where you waited out your (few) remaining days in respiratory torture.
Thankfully, we’ve all but eradicated “the consumption,” and the chance of death from getting it has fallen to just 4 percent, according to a 2011 article published in the Lancet.
Nevertheless, research has suggested that if you are unfortunate enough to contract TB, maca root may help improve quality of life while dealing with the disease’s effects.
Where to Find Maca Root
Maca root is available in its native Peru, and as mentioned earlier, China has started to cultivate it as well. The plant comes in a variety of looks and tastes, ranging from yellow, purple, red, gray, and black on the color wheel to sweet, bitter, and bittersweet on the taste buds.
If you can’t get to Peru or China, no fear. Most health food stores throughout the U.S. will have it available in some form, be it capsule, powder, or produce.
Just keep your eyes open, and, when going the veggie route, make sure you don’t pick up a raddish. As you’ve probably noticed already, they do favor one another.
How to Use It
Consumption of maca root is a matter of preference. We prefer mixing the powder with things that we already know are going to taste good. If going the food route, the preference is sweet over bitter.
A capsule is a good option, too, provided you’re a good pill swallower.
As far as dosage, it’s unlikely you could ever OD on maca root. That said, it’s not always a safe option as we’re about to briefly discuss in the next section.
Maca Root Side Effects
Healthline notes that individuals native to Peru believe boiling a maca root before consumption is your best bet. Failure to do so, the site says, may have adverse effects on one’s health. However, there’s about as much evidence for that as some of the more unsubstantiated benefit claims.
Generally, maca root is completely safe. Where you may want to reel in the use is if you have thyroid problems. As the site puts it, maca “contains goitrogens, or substances that may interfere with the normal function of the thyroid gland.”
Additionally, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers always should consult with their doctors before trying it out.
Though maca root has been around for centuries, we haven’t had a lot of time to examine its effects for better or worse. What we do know is that men and women have been eating it for hundreds of years with few side effects.
While there are some claims that may not hold up — and others that could be understated — it has shown promising results in a number of areas, including fertility, brain function, energy levels, and health and beauty uses. If you’re uncertain about trying it, consult with a doctor. Otherwise, give it a go, and let us know what you think in the comments section below.