Maca Root - Healthy Benefits
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is an herbaceous plant that belongs to the cruciferous family. Maca is related to kale, cauliflower, mustard, and broccoli. The Maca plant grows in the Peruvian Andes, where it has been cultivated for over 2000 years at an altitude of 3,500 to 4,500 meters 1 2. Maca thrives under extreme conditions such as intense cold, extremely intense sunlight, and strong winds in that region 3. Maca is also cultivated in the Yunnan province of China.
In Peru, maca is a locally grown staple food 4. Residents and natives of Peru use the starchy root for increased energy, healthy bones, improved mood, balanced hormone levels, thyroid function, PMS, menopause, enhanced fertility, as well as for boosting sexual desire and reducing anxiety 5 6. Maca is believed to have revitalizing and invigorating benefits on older individuals 7.
The root is mainly used, which can come in various colors such as white, yellow, red, and black.
For fresh maca roots, we could not find complete nutritional information. The nutritional values for dried maca roots (not the powder) can be found here. The dried root contains high amounts of potassium at 2g per 100g. Potassium is involved in nerve transmission and muscle excitability. Additionally, the root has high levels of carbohydrates (59g) and protein (10g). The fat content is very low at approximately 2g.
What is gelatinized maca?
Gelatinized maca is also available in the market. This term does not refer to gelatin (animal proteins) but to the process of starch gelatinization. In this process, maca powder is heated in water, and the indigestible starch is removed under pressure. 8 9. When it comes to gelatinized maca powder, it is more concentrated and easier to digest. Additionally, it is more soluble.
Maca contains numerous plant compounds, such as macamides (0.0016 to 0.0123% by dry weight), alkaloids, steroids, glucosinolates, isothiocyanates 10 11 12. It is believed that these compounds are the key bioactive compounds that also affect sexual functions.
Scientific studies conducted on healthy men showed that starting from the eighth week of using Maca, there was a significant improvement in sexual desire 13. The men took 1.5 or 3 g of Maca per day. The aphrodisiac benefit increased by 40% from the eighth week and by 42.2% from the twelfth week. Maca also led to an increase in sexual desire in trained male cyclists 14.
According to a summary of studies from 2010 involving 131 subjects, Maca improves sexual desire after a minimum of six weeks of use 15. However, the evaluated studies were small and limited, making it difficult to draw clear conclusions.
Therefore, dosages of 3 g per day of Maca also significantly increase libido (sexual desire) 16.
Maca Increases Male Fertility
Several small studies provide evidence that Maca increases male fertility, both in terms of quantity and especially in the quality of sperm 17. In one study, 20 subjects aged 20 to 40 consumed 1.75 g of Maca per day for 12 weeks 18. After 12 weeks, there were only minor changes in hormone levels. The use of Maca (1.5 g and 3 g for 12 weeks) did not increase testosterone levels 19 20 21. Studies suggest that Maca contains a compound that bears similarities to the testosterone molecule 22. This could result in androgenic benefits of Maca.
According to another study, Maca powder increases sperm count and motility 23. The nine subjects, aged 24-44 years, consumed Maca in tablet form (1.5 or 3 g) for a period of four months. Sperm count increased by 35%, total count by 84%, and motility by 109% after 16 weeks. The increase in sperm count was not dependent on the dosage of Maca.
In another study, only an improvement in sperm mobility (10%) and normal morphology (12%) was observed in subjects with infertility who took Maca for 12 weeks. 24
In men with mild erectile dysfunction, Maca powder (2.4 g per day) led to a significant improvement in general well-being and sexual performance. 25
Maca during Menopause
Maca can help alleviate symptoms that occur during menopause (especially vasomotor symptoms affecting blood vessels). 28 29 30. However, larger studies are still needed to make a definitive assessment. Symptoms include hot flashes and sleep disturbances. Menopause is said to occur when menstruation ceases.
In addition, Maca (3.5 g per day) also improves psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression in women after menopause 31. Further study results also show an improvement in depression 32. Furthermore, a reduction in diastolic blood pressure was also achieved with the use of 3.3 g of Maca per day over 6 and 12 weeks. Other study results indicate a lower systolic blood pressure 33.
Maca for good mood and increased energy
The 12-week consumption of dried maca extract led to an improvement in mood, energy, and overall health condition 34 35. Maca also contains GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which could be responsible for the positive mood 36 37.
Improving Endurance Performance
By the way, in trained cyclists, Maca also led to an improvement in physical performance (better times over 40 km; 1.84% faster) 38. The subjects supplemented their diet with 2 g of Maca extract (equivalent to 10 g) for 14 days. Further studies are needed to determine if Maca improves endurance performance in general.
Maca could reduce the risk of prostate cancer
Maca contains higher levels of mustard oil glycosides (glucosinolates) 39 40 41. The highest levels of glucosinolates are found in red maca 42. According to initial studies, glucosinolates reduce the risk of prostate cancer 43.
According to scientific studies, Maca appears to have no side effects or toxic effects. 48 49 50 51. Consumption of 1 gram of Maca roots per kilogram of body weight is considered safe 52. Peruvians consume dried Maca tubers in quantities of over 20 grams per day, and no negative effects on health have been observed so far 53. Likewise, no toxic effects have been observed after consuming cooked Maca roots 54. However, according to Peruvian residents, fresh roots should be cooked before consumption 55. The scientists came across subjective experiences with Maca in different forums:
altered menstrual cycle, painful intestinal cramps, severe gastritis, increased blood pressure, bad mood, mood swings, elevated heart rate, insomnia, depression, anxiety, worsened symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, acne 56.
Only in one study, maca (0.6 g of maca over 90 days) led to a moderate increase in aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels in the serum and an increase in diastolic blood pressure in patients with metabolic syndrome. 57. AST is an indicator of liver damage. The effects of maca powder on AST levels and blood pressure should be considered at high dosages. 58.
According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, "there are not sufficient studies for a health assessment of maca roots and maca preparations." 59.
Traditionally, Maca is dried after harvest to preserve it for years 60. Before consumption, the dried Maca roots are boiled in water and often consumed as juice.
Fresh Maca roots are not available for purchase. They are usually cooked and baked. The root has a pleasant nutty and slightly earthy flavor.
For use as a dietary supplement, washed and sliced Maca roots are dried in an oven at 60 degrees and ground into powder 61 62. The root is available in powder form, capsules, and liquid extract. The exact recommended dosages have not been thoroughly investigated. However, most studies use 1.5 to 3.5 grams of Maca powder. Maca powder is primarily added to smoothies. It can also be used as an ingredient in baking, smoothies, or energy bars.