Maca root is known for its ability to enhance fertility and as an aphrodisiac. It also improves energy, mood, and blood pressure, among other health issues.
What is Maca?
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a cruciferous vegetable native to the Andes mountains of Peru. It looks like a radish or turnip is consumed both as a dietary staple and as a medicinal herb. The main edible part of maca is the root, which grows underground.
Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca has been used by traditional cultures living in Peru for thousands of years as an aphrodisiac and to combat living in the harsh mountainous climate. Inca warriors consumed maca for strength in battle .
There are 13 maca variations, named for the color of their roots. In some cases, different colors of maca can produce different biological effects .
The most commonly studied colors are yellow, black, and red.
A 7 g (1 tablespoon) serving of maca root powder contains 20 calories, 4 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, and 0 g fat.
Maca contains 20 different fatty acids (including linolenic, palmitic, and oleic acids), and 19 amino acids.
Red and black maca have high levels of choline .
The main active compound in maca is the alkaloid macaridine. It has not been found in any other plant .
Maca also contains macamides, which are are fatty acids unique to maca.
Glucosinolates are active components of maca and contribute a bitter flavor. Fresh maca has 10 times the glucosinolates of other cruciferous vegetables. Red maca has the most glucosinolates, followed by black and yellow [6, 7].
Maca also contains polyphenols .
Maca also contains a compound (MTCA), which inhibits monoamine oxidase (MAO – an enzyme that breaks down certain transmitters), which has the ability to mutate DNA .
Mechanisms of Action
- Maca contains macamides, which are fatty acids that affect the endocannabinoid system .
- Macamides increase anandamide levels by blocking fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that breaks down anandamide .
- Anandamide acts on the cannabinoid CB1 receptor to produce feelings of happiness.
- Black maca reduces hemoglobin levels in individuals living at high altitude .
- Elevated hemoglobin levels at high altitude are associated with chronic mountain sickness .
- Maca neutralizes free radicals and protects against oxidative stress [13, 14].
- Maca increases total white blood cell levels (in fish) .
- Maca increased IGF-1 levels in human cartilage, which may be responsible for Maca’s benefit to bone health .
- Maca decreases angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) activity, which lowers the availability of angiotensin, a hormone that raises blood pressure .
Health Benefits of Maca
1) Maca Increases Sex Drive
Taking maca for 12 weeks increased sexual desire in a study (DB-RCT) of 57 healthy men .
In a study of 20 men and women, taking maca for 12 weeks improved antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction and increased sex drive in a study of 20 men and women. These effects were strongest with 3 g of daily supplementation .
In a study of 8 men, maca extract taken for 2 weeks increased sex drive .
2) Maca Improves Sexual Function
Maca extract taken for 12 weeks increased erectile function and sexual well-being in a study (DB-RCT) of 50 men with mild erectile dysfunction .
In a study (DB-RCT) of 14 healthy postmenopausal women, 6 weeks of maca supplementation reduced sexual dysfunction .
Black maca increased sperm count, volume, and quality in a study of 9 healthy men .
3) Maca Decreases Anxiety and Depression
In rats, maca reduced depression-like behaviors .
In a study (DB-RCT) of 197 people, 12 weeks of maca supplementation improved mood .
4) Maca Lowers Blood Pressure
Maca consumption was associated with low blood pressure in an observational study of 50 people 
In a study (DB-RCT) of 29 postmenopausal women, 6 weeks of maca supplementation lowered blood pressure .
5) Maca Increases Energy Levels
Red and black maca increased perceived energy levels in a study (DB-RCT) of 197 adults .
6) Maca Improves Quality of Life
Red and black maca increased health-related quality of life in a study (DB-RCT) of 197 adults .
Maca consumption was associated with high health-related quality of life in a study of 50 adults living at high altitude .
7) Maca Improves Osteoarthritis Symptoms
8) Maca Improves Bone Density
In a pilot study (DB-RCT) of 12 menopausal women, maca increased bone density over 4 months .
9) Maca Reduces Menopausal Symptoms
Maca reduced menopausal symptoms (irritability and discomfort from hot flashes and night sweating) in a study of 124 postmenopausal women .
10) Maca Reduces Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Black maca decreased markers of oxidative stress in mice .
11) Maca Balances Female Sex Hormones
12) Maca Reduces Blood Sugar Levels
13) Maca Increases Exercise Performance
In a pilot study (DB-RCT) of 8 endurance cyclists, 2 g of maca taken for 2 weeks improved cycling performance .
14) Maca Reduces Chronic Mountain Sickness
Chronic mountain sickness is a lack of adaptation to high altitude .
Maca consumption was associated with reduced prevalence of chronic mountain sickness in a study of adults .
Red maca lowered chronic mountain sickness symptoms in a study (DB-RCT) of 197 adults .
15) Maca May Improve Cognitive Function
Maca improved learning in mice, with black maca showing the strongest effects .
16) Maca May Shrink an Enlarged Prostate
17) Maca May Protect Skin from UV Exposure
Red, black, and yellow maca applied to the skin of rats prevented the development of sunburn cells and other signs of UV damage. Maca also showed substantial antioxidant effects .
The majority of the research above has been performed by one lab in Peru, so use caution when interpreting the results.
Maca Side Effects
Residents of the Andes Mountains in Peru consume up to 100 g of maca per day without side effects .
However, natives advise consuming only dehydrated or boiled maca root because raw maca may cause health issues .
In clinical studies, maca is well-tolerated up to 3 g/day .
Maca contains a compound that can mutate DNA (MTCA) .
Given this danger, maca has been warned against by certain food safety agencies. However, this is disputed by researchers who claim that MTCA is inactivated when it is boiled .
Sources and Dosage
Maca can be supplemented as a powder, pill, capsule, flour, liquor, and extract. It is most commonly sold as a powder or capsule (which contains the powder).
Maca powder is widely available in two forms: dehydrated (often marketed as “raw” or “dried”) maca powder or gelatinized maca powder.
Raw maca powder retains most of its nutrients but may be difficult to digest because of its fiber content.
Gelatinized maca powder is boiled and pressurized to remove the fiber and make it easier to digest. However, some nutrients may be lost in this process.
In most studies, the standard dose of maca is 1.5-3 g/day dehydrated or gelatinized powder taken as a capsule.
Maca root powder has an earthy or nutty taste. Red maca is the sweetest and mild. Yellow maca is the most bitter, and black maca is in between.
Maca does not have any reported drug interactions .
Individual Experiences with Maca
“Great for libido. Need to rest for 2-3 weeks sometimes, before taking it again so you can feel its effects.”
“This product works very well. I take 1-3 capsules a day and I have noticed increased semen and stronger ejaculation!”
“I read many good things about this herb and I was interested in it’s anxiolytic, energizing and aphrodisiac effects, unfortunately, I failed to observe any real effects after going through the entire bottle. People report it being energizing, I found it rather mellowed me down on some occasions, had this been a consistent effect I could have at least appreciated it for that.”
“I bought this product because I thought it would balance my hormone system a little bit, because my cycle is very long (I have POS), but actually it made things worse. I’ve been taking it for 3 cycles, before this, my cycle was long but regular, after this it became irregular and even longer!! So after two cycles, I was waiting again for my periods for about 40 days and I decided to stop taking it, and guess what, my period came the next day!”