Maca root is the root of a plant native to Peru. Scientifically known as Lepidium meyenii, it’s also sometimes known as ‘Peruvian ginseng.’ Maca is actually a cruciferous vegetable – think broccoli, cabbage, kale, or cauliflower, and grows at very high altitudes (above 13,000 feet!) in the Andes mountains.
The root is the edible part of the plant and has been used for generations in both Peruvian cuisine and traditional medicines. Lately, it’s increased in popularity, with claims of improved energy, increased fertility and enhanced sex drive.
What are the Benefits of Maca Root?
Maca root has numerous benefits that has helped popularize it in areas outside of Peru, especially in the form of powdered capsules, as a supplement. These include:
- Very Nutritious – Like other cruciferous veggies, maca root has packed with vitamins and minerals. A 1 ounce capsule of maca root powder contains:
— Vitamin C – 133% of RDI
— Vitamin B6 – 15% of RDI
— Copper – 85% of RDI
— Iron – 23% of RDI
— Potassium – 16% of RDI
— Manganese – 10% of RDI
— Protein – 4 grams
- Increased Libido – A 2010 scientific review of 4 randomized clinical studies found that after 6 weeks of taking maca root, both male and female participants reported increased levels of desire.
- Increased Male Fertility – A review of 5 studies showed maca improved the semen quality of participants – both those who were healthy and those who were infertile. One study of 9 healthy men found that after consuming maca root for 4 months, participants noted a marked increase in both sperm count and motility.
- Relieve Menopause Symptoms – As estrogen declines in aging women, menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, irritability, and sleep issues can occur. Maca root has been shown to not only help alleviate some of these symptoms, but also studies indicate maca can help protect bone health, possibly preventing osteoporosis in menopausal women.
- Mood Improvement – Research has shown a positive correlation between maca and mood enhancement. It’s believed that the flavonoids in maca are responsible for this reduction in both depression and anxiety.
- Improved Physical Performance and Energy – Athletes and bodybuilders use maca to:
— Increase endurance,
— Increase strength,
— Increase muscle mass, and
— Boost energy.
- UV Protection – When maca extract was applied to the skin, like a salve, research found that it helped protect the skin from UV radiation, protecting the skin from sunburn and damage. Of course, this protection does not occur when maca is eaten.
- Memory & Learning Improvement – Like ginseng, maca root has been shown to improve memory and learning. This is particularly true for the black variety of maca root.
- Reduced Prostate Size – Enlarged prostate is a common issue men experience as they age. It can cause several issues, including challenges with urination. Red maca, with its high levels of glucosinolates, has been shown to help reduce the size of the prostate. This is also associated with reducing the risk of prostate cancer.
What are the Side Effects of Maca Root?
Although maca root is generally safe, it’s always important to talk to your physician to make sure you don’t have any conditions that may make it riskier to take or any current medications you are on could interact poorly. Because of the goitrogens in maca, people with thyroid issues shouldn’t take maca, as these can interfere with the normal functioning of your thyroid. Additionally, pregnant or breastfeeding women should also talk with their doctor, as the maca could be passed to the fetus or nursing child.