Medically reviewed by Jamie Johnson, RDN
Maca root comes from the maca plant. Also known as Peruvian ginseng and its scientific name Lepidium meyenii, maca is commonly grown in the mountains of Peru. Comparable to radish, maca and its root has long been used by Peruvians for its nutritional and medicinal properties.
More recently, maca root has gained popularity as a health supplement. Some research suggests that the plant may help improve sexual function along with cognitive and mental well-being. However, more evidence is needed to understand the full health benefits of maca roots, as well as the safest and most effective ways to consume it as a dietary supplement.
Like many plant-based food sources, maca root is loaded with beneficial nutrients, including amino acids, iron, calcium, copper, zinc, and potassium. Some research has suggested that consuming maca root may have some health benefits.
It can promote fertility
It is possible that maca root may improve fertility in adult men.
One study suggests that taking maca root could improve sperm concentration, or the number of sperm cells in each milliliter of semen. Another review of studies found evidence to suggest that maca root may improve overall sperm quality, including sperm mobility, or the ability of sperm to move towards an egg.
However, current evidence is based on small studies, so more research is needed to determine how maca may affect fertility.
It can improve libido
One of the most popular uses of maca root is to improve libido, or the desire to have sex.
A review of previous studies determined that high doses of maca root powder can improve sexual function in people taking antidepressants, which can interfere with libido.
The review found that more research is needed to understand maca root’s full effect on libido.
It can manage the symptoms of menopause
Menopause, when a person’s menstrual cycle stops and estrogen levels begin to decline, can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Many of these symptoms, such as hot flashes, are due to a drop in estrogen in the body.
There is some evidence that maca extracts can mimic estrogen activity and can affect female hormone levels. Some research has examined this property of maca for its use in the treatment of menopausal symptoms.
A review of studies, however, notes that there isn’t enough evidence to figure out whether maca root is an effective way to reduce menopausal symptoms.
May enhance cognitive function
Some animal studies suggest that maca root may help with cognitive function or the brain’s ability to think, learn and remember.
For example, one study found that maca root was effective in slowing cognitive decline in aged mice.
Since these effects have only been seen in animals, more research in humans is needed to determine how maca affects cognition and brain health.
It can protect the skin from cell damage
Research shows that maca has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, which are molecules that can cause damage to cells. These molecules can be formed from exposure to things like pollution, smoke, and UV rays from the sun.
Thanks to its antioxidant properties, maca may be able to counteract the damage to skin cells caused by free radicals.
How to take maca root
In traditional Peruvian culture, maca root is dried, boiled and consumed as a drink. You can also find maca powder, which you can add to food or drinks. Some maca supplements come in gelcap form, with the powder inside.
There is currently no established dosage for maca root. Taking maca in doses of 3 grams (g) or less per day for up to four months is generally considered safe.
Taking larger doses of maca in the short term may be safe, but more research is needed.
If you want to take maca root powder to help with a specific symptom, talk to a healthcare professional. They can help you determine the best dose for you.
Is maca root safe?
Maca root is generally considered safe when consumed in food and when taken as recommended in supplement form.
However, people with certain medical conditions should use caution before taking maca root. Maca extracts have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body, meaning the supplement may not be safe for people with hormone-sensitive conditions, including:
People with thyroid problems should speak to a healthcare professional before taking maca root. Maca contains goitregens, substances that could interfere with the production of thyroid hormones.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to a doctor before taking maca. There isn’t enough research to know whether taking a maca supplement is safe either way.
Potential drug interactions
Some medications and supplements interact negatively. It is not known whether maca root interacts with other medications. To ensure safety, talk to your doctor about your medications before consuming maca root.
What to look for in a maca supplement
The supplements are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (USDA). When buying a maca root supplement, check if the product has been tested by a third party.
Some organizations that offer third-party testing are consumerLab.com, NSF International, and US Pharmacopeia. They will make sure the product has everything it says it does on the diet label and nothing more.
Can you take too much maca root?
Maca root is generally considered safe when eaten as a food or taken as a supplement. However, there is still not enough research to understand the limit of how much maca is safe and effective to take.
Side effects of maca root
Maca root typically has no negative side effects. In clinical studies, maca root has been described as safe and generally well tolerated by those who have ingested the plant.
While uncommon, some side effects might include mild gastrointestinal symptoms or headache.
A quick review
Maca root comes from the maca plant, native to the mountains of Peru. Maca root is available as a supplement in powder or capsule form and is believed to aid fertility, sex drive, and postmenopausal symptoms, among other things. However, more research is needed to understand how maca can help with specific conditions or symptoms.
Maca root is generally considered safe and causes minimal side effects. However, it may not be safe for people with certain hormone-related conditions. Talk to your doctor to determine if taking maca root is safe for you.
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Read the original article in Salute.
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