Maca powder is made from the root of a plant, Lepidium meyenii, belonging to the cabbage and turnip family. This hardy vegetable grows in the Peruvian Andes and Yunnan province of China at heights of over 4000 metres above sea level. It was eaten as a dietary staple by the Inca, who also credited it with medicinal benefits. Modern research suggests that Maca powder benefits are seen on sex drive, memory, sleep and mood in both men and women. In men, Maca can also improve sperm count and erectile difficulties.
Maca powder benefits
Maca roots come in a range of colours from white to black, of which yellow, black and red Maca are the most researched.
Maca roots contains unique sterols and alkaloids (eg macaridine, lipidiline) and macamides which have beneficial effects on hormone regulation. As a root vegetable, Maca is a good source of carbohydrate, amino acids, fatty acids and is eaten to increase energy and stamina. Maca powder also provides vitamins B1, B2, B12, C and E plus the minerals calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, copper and iron.
Some herbalists consider Maca is superior to red Korean ginseng as an adaptogen herb, and refer to it as Peruvian ginseng.
Maca powder may be gelatinised by low heat to remove indigestible starch, which improves absorption and bioavailability.
Maca root benefits low sex drive
Maca is traditionally reputed to have an aphrodisiac action in both men and women. Modern research suggests that Maca improves libido and sexual function due to an interaction of Maca sterols with receptors in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, without affecting circulating levels of oestrogen, testosterone, progesterone or prolactin.
A pilot study tested the effects of Maca in 16 men and women whose low sex drive was associated with depression and taking antidepressant (SSRI) therapy. In those taking 3g Maca per day, there were significant increases in sexual function and libido, but in this group with biological depression, the lower dose (1.5g per day) had no effects.
A similar study tested the effects of Maca in 14 older women whose low sex drive was associated with menopause. The women took either 3.5g Maca powder or placebo, in random order, for 6 weeks, then crossed over to take the other preparation for 6 weeks. While they were taking Maca, there were significant improvements in anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction compared with inactive placebo. There were no changes in oestrogen or testosterone levels.
Another study involving 57 men aged 21-56 explored the effects of Maca on sexual desire in healthy males. One group took 1500mg Maca per day, one group took 3,000mg Maca per day, while a third group were given placebo.
An improvement in sexual desire was observed in both Maca groups, with 24.4% of men reporting increased sexual desire at 4 weeks (versus 16.6% in the placebo group). At 8 weeks and 12 weeks, 40% and 42% of those in the Maca groups reported increased sexual desire compared with none in the placebo groups. This study did not show an increased effect with higher doses of Maca.
Maca benefits for men
Maca is traditionally used to treat male impotence (erectile dysfunction) and fertility.
Erectile dysfunction: A study involving 50 men with mild erectile dysfunction compared the effects of taking 2,400mg Maca per day against placebo, for 12 weeks. Those taking Maca reported significantly greater improvements in potency, satisfaction and psychological performance scores than those taking placebo. The researchers concluded that Maca produced a significant effect on subjective perception of general and sexual well-being in men with mild erectile dysfunction.
Sperm counts: A small trial involving 9 healthy men, aged 24 to 44 years, assessed the effects of taking Maca for 4 months on sperm health. Six of the men took a dose of 1,500mg Maca per day, and 3 took a higher dose of 3,000mg Maca per day. Semen quality was assessed at the beginning of the study, and again after 4 months. Both doses of Maca significantly improved semen volume, total sperm count, motile sperm count and sperm motility without affecting blood hormone levels.
After 4 months Maca
|Semen volume (ml)
|Sperm count (106/ml)
|Total sperm count (106)
|Motile sperm count (106)
|Sperm motility grade A+B (%)
Other researchers have found that black Maca powder has better effects on sperm production than yellow Maca, while red Maca has no effects on sperm production.
Maca benefits for women
Maca is a traditional Peruvian remedy for hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, reduced fertility, and menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, loss of energy, libido and depression, and to boost energy at this time of life.
Maca appears to work in a different way to phytoestrogens such as soy isoflavones and Black cohosh as it does not contain oestrogen-like plant hormones, but may normalise hormone balance through effects on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain, to lower levels of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone).
This was tested in a small group of 20 women, aged 41-50 years, experiencing menopausal symptoms. Half took Maca 1,000mg per day for two months, and half took placebo. They then crossed over to take the other preparation for another two months. During the time the women took Maca powder capsules, improvements in menopausal symptoms of hot flushes, excessive sweating and interrupted sleep were highly significant compared to placebo.
Maca is used to treat menopausal symptoms in women who are unable or unwilling to take oestrogen hormone replacement therapy, and has been used to help wean women off hormone replacement therapy, especially those who have taken it for many years.
Maca root may protect against ‘flu
Laboratory studies show that Maca root extracts have a strong antiviral action against influenza type A and influenza type B viruses. The viral load of infected cell cultures was significantly reduced without harming the cells themselves.
Maca powder dose
Maca is available as powder (to add to smoothies or other foods), capsules, pills, flour, liquor, and extracts.
Usual dose for Maca capsules is 1g, taken two or three times a day.
Usual dose for Maca powder is one to two teaspoons per day, added to milk, juice or smoothies.
Long-term use of Maca may lead to a ‘very slight but significant’ increase in a liver enzyme (AST), and a rise in diastolic (but not systolic) blood pressure, which can be prevented by combining it with milk thistle seed extracts.