The 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).
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.
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.
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:
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.
2. It Increases Libido in Men and Women
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).
3. It May Increase Fertility in Men
When it comes to male fertility, sperm quality and quantity is very important.
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).
4. It May Help Relieve Symptoms of Menopause
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.
5. Maca Can Improve Your Mood
Several studies have shown that maca can enhance your mood.
Maca contains plant compounds called flavonoids, which have been suggested to be at least partly responsible for these psychological benefits (15).
6. It May Boost Sports Performance and Energy
Maca root powder is a popular supplement among bodybuilders and athletes.
It has been claimed to help you gain muscle, increase strength, boost energy and improve exercise performance.
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.
7. When Applied to the Skin, Maca May Help Protect It from the Sun
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).
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.
8. It May Improve Learning and Memory
Maca may improve brain function (25).
In this regard, black maca appears to be more effective than other varieties (29).
9. It May Reduce Prostate Size
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.
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).
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. There is also a very good selection available on Amazon with thousands of interesting reviews.
It is available in powder form, 500-mg capsules or as a liquid extract.
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. 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.