What is Maca Root?
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a cruciferous root vegetable, so think along the lines of radishes and broccoli. It's found in Peru and is sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng (although it's not technically in the ginseng family). It can be consumed as a powder, tea, capsules, or tinctures. The powder form is the most commonly used and it is added to things like soups, smoothies, juices, and oatmeal.
It’s an adaptogenic herb
Adaptogenic herbs are herbs that help the body manage stress. These herbs stimulate the bodys stress response by balancing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, aka the HPA axis. The HPA axis is responsible for your body’s response to stress.
In times of stress our cortisol rises. This rise in cortisol is your natural “fight or flight” response, and as it rises it brings your blood pressure and heart rate up with it. An occasional rise in cortisol is fine, but if it is chronically elevated it can lead to other problems including:
High blood pressure
Anxiety or depression
Bloating or GI discomfort
Adaptogenic herbs like maca help prevent cortisol levels from rising at times when they shouldn’t. Studies have shown that after consistently takng maca for at least six weeks, your body begins to have a healthier response to stress. Your cortisol no longer spikes in response to stress, your dopamine levels begin to increase, and you are better equipped to handle the day to day stresses that we all experience.
Other well known adaptogenic herbs include
Benefits of Maca
Maca has aphrodisiac properties, supporting increased blood flow to the pelvis in both men and women. This can lead to better arousal and increased sexual desire. Maca has also been shown to increase testosterone levels in men along with increasing cervical mucous in women. Increased cervical mucous can help support pregnancy by making it easier for semen to travel into the fallopian tube during ovuation.
Increased sperm count and motility
Maca intake may improve fertility outcomes in men.
Studies have shown that daily Maca intake may increase sperm count and sperm motility. Both of these parameters are important when it comes to male fertility. Sperm motility is related to how well the sperm is able to "swim" to the egg it needs to fertilize.
Alleviates symptoms of menopause
Maca has been shown to be helpful in alleviating hot flashes associated with menopause. It’s also helpful in regulating cortisol because of it’s adaptogenic properties. Your adrenals are responsible for producing cortisol, DHEA, and other hormones. By supporting the adrenal glands, you are less likely to experience the drastic shifts in mood that accompany hormone fluctations.
Maca has also been shown to decrease symptoms of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women. This is in part due to the decrease in anxiety and depression associated with daily Maca intake.
Based on the improvement in symptoms of depression and anxiety and the reduction in elevated cortisol that Maca can cause, it indicates that daily Maca intake would also improve energy levels.
However, there’s not a lot of conclusive research yet on the effects of Maca in relation to energy levels.
May be neuroprotective
A study published in 2016 showed that maca extract improved cognitive function, motor coordination, and endurance in adult mice. These are all things that commonly decline in humans as we age. If we can protect our brains from these symptoms before we start experiencing them, we may be able to prevent diseases of aging such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. However, these findings have not been confirmed yet with human trials.
Who shouldn’t take Maca?
Maca tends to be a very well tolerated herb with few side effects. Keep in mind that it can cause GI upset. It can also be stimulating. Take it earlier in the day to avoid it having an effect on your sleep. You should start out at a lower dose of Mac and then slowly increase it to avoid GI symptoms. Maca has not been tested for safety in pregnancy or lactating women so talk to your doctor before taking it.
How do you take Maca
Maca can be dosed at up to 3 grams a day. It needs to be taken daily for at least six weeks to know if it is effective for you.
Maca is a gentle herb that is often most effective when combined with other herbs and treatments. Talk to your doctor to see what else you can do, in combination with Maca, to get the health results you are looking for.
Brooks NA, Wilcox G, Walker KZ, Ashton JF, Cox MB, Stojanovska L. Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content. Menopause. 2008 Nov-Dec;15(6):1157-62. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3181732953. PMID: 18784609.
Gonzales GF, Córdova A, Vega K, Chung A, Villena A, Góñez C, Castillo S. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. Andrologia. 2002
Dording CM, Fisher L, Papakostas G, Farabaugh A, Sonawalla S, Fava M, Mischoulon D. A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. meyenii) for the management of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2008
Guo, S. S., Gao, X. F., Gu, Y. R., Wan, Z. X., Lu, A. M., Qin, Z. H., & Luo, L. (2016). Preservation of Cognitive Function by Lepidium meyenii (Maca) Is Associated with Improvement of Mitochondrial Activity and Upregulation of Autophagy-Related Proteins in Middle-Aged Mouse Cortex. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine