A friend of mine asked me: “Is it good to take maca? ..the vendor at the healthy food store said it has a lot of benefits”. Even though I practice in South America, I just said the truth: “I don´t know!” and started to look for some evidence. If you -just like me- didn´t know about maca, here you have the facts:
- Maca is a root that grows in Perú. Its biological name is Lepidium meyenii and it´s a small turnip-like root that has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Peruvian Andes by the Incas. Now, maca powder is promoted globally by natural products companies as a superfood. There are different types of maca, being yellow, black, and red the most common kinds. Some maca has been imported to China, but it´s believed that Chinese maca is of lower quality. Maca powder contains carbohydrates (65-75%), proteins (9-13%), lipids (0.6-0.9%) and fiber (4-8%, mainly cellulose and lignin). It is high in copper (10 grams of powder equals to 30% of DV) and good source of vitamins C and B6, iron, calcium, potassium and manganese. It also contains trace elements, plant sterols and glucosinolates (compounds believed to have anticancer properties). The main bioactive substance is said to be an alkaloid known as macaridine.
- It is promoted as a revitalizing and believed to give a burst of energy, sort of a Latin American ginseng. The most applauded attributes (yet, to be confirmed) of this ancestral root are:
- Increases endurance, libido and fertility and improves general hormone balance
- Alleviates depression and improves cognitive function
- Strengthens the immune system and delays aging of the skin tissue and other organs of the body
- It can be taken as a supplement or as a food ingredient: maca products come in a variety of presentations like maca root powder, gelatinized maca, capsules and liquid extracts. Many online companies sell organic and responsible sourced, high quality maca. A pouch with 8 oz of maca powder costs about $10-15. You can also find in health food stores maca powder mixed with other products like organic cocoa. What about dosage? The daily recommendation is 1 to 3 teaspoons of maca powder. It can be added to juices, yogurt, smoothies, soups, salads and baked goods. It has a nutty and earthy taste.
- There is some evidence but we need more: a recent doble blind randomized controlled trial evaluated the effects of maca on fertility in healthy adult men. They found that sperm concentration and motility showed rising trends compared to placebo even though levels of hormones did not change significantly after 12 weeks of trial. But, it was a pilot study with a small sample (20 subjets). A similar trial concludes that maca root may alleviate antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women. The mechanism by which maca exerts its aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties is unclear, but might be related to an androgenic mechanism that does not affect hormone levels. A recent narrative review, from Peruvian scientists, suggest that each type of maca has different biological effects, as black maca is more effective in terms of production of sperm, memory, glucose control and physical endurance, while red maca has beneficial effects on benign prostatic hyperplasia and osteoporosis. However, more rigorous clinical studies are needed to confirm maca´s role in metabolism, their benefits and its potential toxicity.
- Melnikovova I, Fait T, Kolarova M, Fernandez EC, Milella L. Effect of Lepidium meyenii Walp. on Semen Parameters and Serum Hormone Levels in Healthy Adult Men: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM. 2015;2015:324369. doi:10.1155/2015/324369. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4569766/
- Dording CM, Schettler PJ, Dalton ED, et al. A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2015;2015:949036. doi:10.1155/2015/949036. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4411442/?report=reader
- Gonzales GF, Villaorduña L, Gasco M, Rubio J, Gonzales C. [Maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp), a review of its biological properties]. Rev Peru Med Exp Salud Publica. 2014;31(1):100-10. [Article in Spanish]