Maca – Overview, Health Benefits & Side Effects

Maca - Health Benefits
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
30th July 2020

Help your body fight the good fight with our scientifically proven range of nutrients and vitamins. Making healthier easier, every day.

In 30 seconds…

The maca plant is native to central Peru and can be found growing at very high altitudes. It’s often sold as a powder, in capsules, or as a liquid extract. 
Its history dates back to the Incan Empire, and it’s widely used in Peruvian cuisine and medicine. Maca shows promise as a male health supplement.
Its health claims include improved sexual performance, libido, fertility, energy, and stamina. However, research into the effectiveness of maca is still in its infancy, and still ongoing. Many of the published studies have relied upon small sample sizes or animal models, and have been unable to draw firm conclusions.

Thanks to social media and celebrity endorsements, the maca plant has come from relative obscurity to superfood superstardom.

The plant’s root is available in a range of forms and colours (most notably red, yellow, and black), and has been traditionally used to boost libido, enhance fertility, and improve stamina.

But how do those claims stack up? In this article, we’re going to explain what maca is and how to use it, before delving into its potential health benefits and side effects.

What Is Maca?

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) — otherwise known as Peruvian ginseng — is an edible herbaceous plant of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family. This makes it a cruciferous vegetable, and a relation of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale.

Native to South America, maca can be found flourishing in the harsh climates and lofty altitudes of the Andes in central Peru, some 12,500 feet (3,800 metres) above sea level.

The turnip-like root, which grows underground, is the main edible part of the plant. And long before it arrived on the superfood supplement scene, it was widely used in Peruvian cuisine and medicine for centuries.

How to Use Maca

Incorporating maca into your diet is simple. The root is typically dried and sold as a powder, although it can also be purchased in capsules or as a liquid extract.

It can be taken as a supplement, but some people like to mask the taste by mixing it in with their favourite baked goods, porridge, oatmeal, energy drinks, or smoothies. Maca has a distinct flavour — described as mildly nutty and earthy, with a hint of butterscotch.

You’ll find maca for sale in most major supermarkets, in specialist health food shops, and from online retailers.

Testosterone Support

Keep those T levels up

The powerful threesome of Maca, Ginseng & Zinc is there to help you boost testosterone levels and, in turn, virility. Low T can be a libido killer.


Taken Daily
1 Tablet

Potential Health Benefits of Maca

There are a number of potential health benefits to using maca supplements. Yet, before we examine these claims in a little more detail, it’s important to note that research into the efficacy of maca is still in its infancy, and still ongoing.

Many of the studies use small sample sizes, while some have been animal studies and others have been sponsored by companies with a vested interest in producing or selling maca.

One benefit, however, is beyond question. As a food supplement, maca is high in nutritional value and full of vitamins & minerals.

Other maca male health benefits may include:

  • Increased fertility
  • Improved libido and sexual performance
  • Increased energy and improved athletic performance
  • Reduced prostate size

Maca Is Highly Nutritious and Full of Vitamins & Minerals

While some of the claims further down this article are worthy of scrutiny, there’s no getting away from the fact that maca root is highly nutritious. It’s a good source of carbs, it’s low in saturated fat and sodium, and it contains a healthy amount of fibre.

Maca is also rich in amino acids and a great source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, vitamin C, copper, manganese, and iron. But a considerable part of its calorific profile comes from sugars (32.1g per 100g serving), so it should be used sparingly; especially by diabetics.

Maca May Increase Fertility

Sperm quality AND quantity are vital to male fertility. And maca remains a popular choice among men looking for a natural way to improve both the quality and the quantity of their sperm.

A 2016 review of clinical trials by Korean researchers suggested that maca favourably affects sperm mobility and semen quality in both fertile and infertile men. 

However, the total number of trials, the small sample size, and the risk of bias of the included studies prevented the research team from drawing any firm conclusions.

Maca May Improve Libido and Sexual Performance

A reduction in sexual desire is a common issue — and it’s one that a number of natural supplements readily claim to solve. Maca is no different, although its claim is at least backed by some research:

The 2010 study does, however, highlight that the total sample size was too limited to draw firm conclusions and that more rigorous studies are required.

There are also suggestions that black maca can alleviate stress, a common contributor to erectile dysfunction (ED). Yet, beyond a small 2009 study, there’s minimal evidence that maca can directly affect or improve erectile function.

Testosterone Support

Keep those T levels up

The powerful threesome of Maca, Ginseng & Zinc is there to help you boost testosterone levels and, in turn, virility. Low T can be a libido killer.


Taken Daily
1 Tablet

Maca May Increase Energy and Improve Athletic Performance

It’s claimed that maca helps to increase strength and endurance, boost energy, and gain muscle mass. These claims have made maca root powder a popular supplement among the bodybuilding community, and with athletes in general.

But what does the science say?

A small study of eight male cyclists set them the task of completing a 40km time trial, before spending 14 days supplementing with maca extract. After the two weeks were up, they cycled the same route, completing the ride in a quicker time. 

Meanwhile, a number of animals studies involving mice and rats point to maca enhancing endurance performance. 

However, there remains no evidence to suggest that maca increases strength or muscle mass.

Maca May Reduce Prostate Size

An enlarged prostate gland — a common issue faced by men as they age — can cause problems with the passing of urine. This, in turn, can result in painful urination, painful ejaculations, and general abdominal discomfort.

Does maca offer a natural remedy?

While a 2007 animal study suggests that red maca could potentially reduce the size of the prostate,  this has yet to be proven by a corresponding human study. 

What Are the Side Effects of Maca?

Maca is generally safe for consumption and unlikely to cause any serious side effects in moderate doses.

But if you suffer from thyroid problems, you should think twice about adding maca to your daily routine. It contains goitrogens, substances that can interfere with the normal functioning of the thyroid gland.

In Summary

As a food supplement, there’s no denying the nutritional benefits of adding maca to your diet.

However, while it shows promise as a natural male health supplement, studies remain thin on the ground. Those that do exist have relied upon small sample sizes or animal models, and only large-scale human studies will determine if maca is as effective as its marketing suggests.

And while there is some evidence to suggest it can help with ED and libido, this has not yet been proven conclusively. Maca cannot, therefore, be compared with FDA-approved drugs like Sildenafil and Tadalafil.

References

  1. OrganicCrops – All you wanted to know about Peruvian maca: http://organiccrops.net/en/news/190115-all-you-wanted-to-know-about-Peruvian-maca.php

  2. WebMD – All About Maca Root: https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-diet-maca-root

  3. Nutrition Data- Maca Powder Nutrition Facts & Calories: https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/2193874/0

  4. Myeong Soo LeeHye Won LeeSooseong YouKi-Tae Ha(2016). The use of maca (Lepidium meyenii) to improve semen quality: A systematic review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27621241

  5. G F GonzalesA CórdovaK VegaA ChungA VillenaC GóñezS Castillo (2002). Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12472620

  6. Byung-Cheul ShinMyeong Soo LeeEun Jin YangHyun-Suk LimEdzard Ernst (2010). Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20691074

  7. T. Zenico, A. F. G. Cicero, L. Valmorri, M. Mercuriali and E. Bercovich ( 2009). Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract on well‐being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double‐blind clinical trial: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1439-0272.2008.00892.x
  8. Mark StoneAlvin IbarraMarc RollerAndrea ZangaraEmma Stevenson (2009). A pilot investigation into the effect of maca supplementation on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19781622

  9. Shin, S.H. (Chungbuk National University, Cheongju, Republic of Korea) Park, D.S. (Chungbuk National University, Cheongju, Republic of Korea) Jeon, J.H. (Chungbuk National University, Cheongju, Republic of Korea) Joo, S.S. (Chungbuk National University, Cheongju, Republic of Korea) et al. (2008). Gelatinized and Fermented Powders of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) Improve Physical Stamina and Epididymal Sperm Counts in Male Mice: http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=KR2009003407

  10. Eun Hye Choi, Jung Il Kang, Jae Young Cho, Seung Ho Lee, Tae Seok Kim, Ik Hyun Yeo, Hyang Sook Chun (2012). Supplementation of standardized lipid-soluble extract from maca (Lepidium meyenii) increases swimming endurance capacity in rats: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1756464612000436

  11. Gustavo F GonzalesVanessa VasquezDaniella RodriguezCarmen MaldonadoJuliet MormontoyJimmy PortellaMonica PajueloLeón VillegasManuel Gasco (2007). Effect of two different extracts of red maca in male rats with testosterone-induced prostatic hyperplasia: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17334591/

  12. Luis G Valerio JrGustavo F Gonzales (2005). Toxicological aspects of the South American herbs cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) and Maca (Lepidium meyenii) : a critical synopsis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16042502

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Further reading

From our health centre. Experts, information and hot topics. See all Daily Health articles