Maca is a plant that has long been growing on the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains. Known scientifically as Lepidium meyenii, this ‘cousin’ of the radish has a rather distinct butterscotch smell. It’s widely known for its root, which is similar in appearance to the turnip. Apart from being a nutritious food source, this root acts as a useful medicinal herb and agricultural tool as well.
Maca: An In-Depth Look
Maca is a plant that the ancient Peruvians have grown for 3,000 years. The plant thrives in cold and windy environments, which is why it often grows in elevations of 4,000 to 4,500 metres.
The Maca plant is divided into 2 parts, one of which is its above-ground part. It is small and flat, which may be the result of its adaptation to the harsh Andean environment.
The other part is its root, which is scientifically known as the hypocotyl-root axis. It comes in 13 colour variations, which include the shades of white, pink, red, black, and yellow.
This root measures about 10 to 14 centimetres long and 3 to 5 centimetres wide. When dried, it can shrink to a diameter of about 2 to 8 centimetres.
Maca’s dried hypocotyls contain protein, which is about 13%-16% of its weight. It also comes with 59% of carbohydrates and 8.5% of fibre. It is also rich in linoleic, oleic, and palmitic free fatty acids.
Maca powder also contains a bevy of minerals, which includes iron, calcium, copper, zinc, and potassium.
The Many Uses of the Maca Plant
As a food, Maca is baked, roasted, and made into soup or other Maca recipes. It is also the main ingredient in a fermented drink called “Maca Chicha”.
As for its agricultural purpose, Maca can be used to enhance the fertility of certain livestock.
Given its high nutrient content, Maca is also used for various medicinal purposes. Its root is dried and often used to make Maca powder in smoothies. It can help manage several conditions, which will be discussed at length below.
What Does Maca Do for the Body?
For thousands of years, Peruvians have used Maca to improve mental clarity and energy, among many other things. Thanks to science, many Maca benefits are now supported and backed up by research.
1. Improves Libido and Sexual Function
All the world is abuzz about the Maca powder benefits for men. After all, the early Peruvians swear by its positive effects on one’s libido.
To solidify this claim, 5 scientists embarked on a study to determine the effects of Maca root on men. The research aimed to focus on 2 outcomes: physical activity and sexual desire.
The 8 participants were supplemented with either 2 grams of Maca extract or placebo for 14 days. Results showed that Maca improved performance in the treated subjects, though not better than the placebo. As for sexual desire and libido, Maca takers reported higher scores compared to those who took the placebo.
Maca root benefits go beyond libido though, as a study has shown that it may help boost male sexual performance as well.
The authors recruited 50 Caucasian men who suffer from mild erectile dysfunction (ED). The participants were supplemented with either 2.4 grams of Maca or a placebo for 12 weeks. While both arms showed improvements in erectile function and sexual function, the Maca group fared significantly better. As such, it has been concluded that Maca powder benefits the sexual well-being of men.
Maca’s prowess is not limited to men though, as women can benefit from them too. This was established by Brooks et al’s study of 14 post-menopausal women who were given 3.5 grams of Maca powder root or placebo. After 12 weeks of supplementation, the treatment group showed improvement in various sexual dysfunction measures.
2. Boosts Fertility
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, about 1 in 7 heterosexual couples in the UK suffer from fertility problems. 30% of cases are attributed to the male, while 25% are blamed on female ovulatory problems. Tubal damage and uterine problems contribute to 20% and 10% of the cases respectively.
Depending on the diagnosis, the couple may opt to undergo medical treatment or the use of ovulation drugs. Another option is surgical treatment, which can help manage endometriosis and other uterine conditions. The last course is assisted reproduction, which may include the direct placement of embryos. Either way, these treatments can be quite expensive – with the success rate not being absolutely 100%.
That being said, some couples have turned towards herbal remedies – including Maca powder for fertility. Unlike other natural alternatives, Maca can work well on both men and women.
As per the study of Melnikokova et al., the researchers supplemented 20 men with 1.75 grams of milled Maca. After 12 weeks, these volunteers’ sperm samples were checked. Results showed that those who were given Maca had better sperm concentration and motility, compared to those given placebo. These fertility parameters are vital, as high sperm quantity and good sperm motility as needed to improve the chances of pregnancy.
As mentioned, ovulation problems can lead to infertility. In a study of 189 women, only 1 in 10 of the participants was ovulating. Add to that, 37.6% of the subjects had polycystic ovarian syndrome, a type of ovulation disorder that affects fertility.
To address these issues, the participants were given a mix of Maca, Vitex, and active folate. Coupled with ovulation monitoring and intercourse 2-3 times a week, 37% of the participants (70) got pregnant by the end of the study. At the same time, the supplement helped start ovulation in 43% of the women. Add to that, it also helped decrease the rate of PCOS to just 14%.
3. Relieves Menopausal Symptoms
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her period stops. This occurs because the ovaries cease to produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This usually happens after age 45. Common symptoms include:
- Period changes – shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, with fewer/longer gaps
- Night sweats or hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Concentration difficulties
- Vaginal dryness
- Sleeping troubles
- Scalp hair loss
Hormone therapy is often prescribed to relieve these symptoms. While this is effective, it comes with pesky side effects such as headaches, nausea, mood changes, breast tenderness, bloating, and vaginal bleeding. It’s also very risky for women with cancer, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, or clotting conditions.
That being said, more and more women are searching for natural remedies, one of which is the Maca root. Its menopausal benefits were seen in the study of Meissner et al., where 34 volunteers were supplemented with either two 500 mg Maca capsules or placebo.
After 2 months of supplementation, those who received Maca demonstrated more ‘balanced’ hormone levels. As a result, they had fewer occurrences of menopausal discomforts, such as that of night sweats and hot flushes.
Add to that, the Maca group demonstrated better bone density markers, which placed them at lower risk of developing osteoporosis. This condition often occurs during menopause, as low levels of oestrogen can lead to profound bone loss.
4. Reduces Psychological Symptoms
Mental health disorders are widely prevalent in the UK. After all, about 19.7% of UK residents have signs of depression or anxiety. These make these the world’s top 2 mental health problems, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Furthermore, depression is deemed the second-leading cause of disability worldwide – with some countries noting it to be the primary factor behind disability.
Despite the availability of mental health services, only 59.4% of depressed people in the UK get their treatment. The percentage of anxiety is even lower at 48.2%. The obstacle to full treatment remains, as the Foundation has reported that 75% of people in England are unable to access the mental health services they need.
That being said, the pursuit of cheap, natural remedies continues. One of the more viable candidates is Maca powder, which may help reduce a number of psychological symptoms.
a) Anxiety and Depression
Such promising results were seen in the above-mentioned study of Brooks et al involving 14 post-menopausal women. More than just enhancing their sexual function, those who took Maca reported improvements in their psychological symptoms as well. After 12 weeks of treatment, the group demonstrated lower scores for both anxiety and depression.
b) Mood and Energy Improvement
Apart from reducing psychological symptoms, Maca root may help improve a person’s mood and energy levels as well. According to a study by Arimborgo et al., those who were given either 3 grams black or red Maca demonstrated better health-related quality of life scores. In simpler words, these individuals reported better mood and energy following Maca supplementation.
5. Helps Boost Learning and Memory
If you have a hard time memorizing and learning new things, then you may need to consume more Maca powder recipes. After all, many studies have shown that it may help boost learning and memory capacity.
According to Rubio et al., Maca root’s benefits on the mind may be due to its ability to inhibit brain acetylcholinesterase. It breaks down acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps sustain memory and attention.
While most types of Maca may help boost brain function, Rubio et al. have shown that the best results come with the consumption of Black Maca.
6. Helps Minimize Osteoarthritis Symptoms
According to a study, about 3.1 million UK residents suffer from osteoarthritis (OA). Most of these individuals suffer from OA of the foot, followed by that of the hand, hip, and knee.
OA is characterized by pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness of the affected joints. It could lead to a grating sensation – and the development of bone spurs as well. To address these symptoms, certain treatments and therapies are prescribed.
Apart from taking Acetaminophen and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, Maca extract may help reduce the said symptoms. According to the study of Mehta et al., 1.5 grams of Maca extract and 300 mg of Vincaria helped reduce pain scores (as per the WOMAC and VAS scales) in 94% of the respondents. More importantly, tolerability remained excellent, as there was no adverse effect reported with the Maca-Vincaria supplement.
7. Helps Prevent Metabolic Disorders
Metabolic disorders occur when problems disrupt the body’s normal processes. These include making energy from food intake, breaking down acids and sugars, or storing energy sources in your tissues.
Aberrations in any of these could lead to metabolic syndrome, which is a group of disorders that can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It manifests as high cholesterol/triglyceride levels, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and excessive fat around the waist.
Apart from living a healthy life, taking Maca may help minimize your risk of developing a metabolic disorder. According to a mice study done by Wan et al., Maca supplementation can help reduce metabolic symptoms. Results showed that intake of 300 to 1,200 mg/kg of Maca a day led to a decrease in cholesterol levels. It also helped reduce insulin resistance, which is a driving factor in the development of diabetes.
8. Helps Provide Sun Protection
While sun exposure is important for the production of Vitamin D, too much of it can lead to negatively affect the eye, skin, and immune system.
While sun avoidance, protective clothing, and sunscreen may help, Maca may offer some UV protection as well. According to the study of Castaneda and Gonzales, boiled Maca extract, when applied to the skin, shielded the rats’ skin from UV irradiation. The authors attribute this effect to Maca’s glucosinolate and polyphenol content, which are antioxidants that defend the rats’ skins from radiation damage.
Can Maca Make You Gain Weight?
Yes. This supplement can help improve your appetite, which is the key to weight gain. For a ‘healthier’ Maca root weight gain, make sure to eat good high-calorie sources, such as that of potatoes, wheat pasta, whole grain bread, and soy milk.
Maca may also help you gain muscle, which is perfect if you’re looking to build a stronger, fitter body. Apart from taking protein powder with Maca, you can hastily build muscle by lifting weights at lower reps. Add to that, make sure to limit your cardio at a moderate pace for 25 to 30 minutes. Make sure to do these for about 2 to 3 times a week for best results.
How to Use Maca Powder
The amount of Maca in food is generally safe for consumption. Generally, it can be eaten in its root form or through its water/ethyl acetate extract.
According to a report, the recommended intake for Maca root according to body weight are the following:
- 150 pounds: 10.9 to 24 grams
- 200 pounds: 14.5 to 32 grams
- 250 pounds: 18.1 to 40 grams
As for Maca powder dosage, the recommended amount is 1.5 to 3 grams, or 1 to 3 teaspoons a day. The max amount – when taken continuously for 4 months – is considered safe by experts.
While you can freely use Maca powder for recipes, it’s best taken without food. That way, you get to absorb all of its nutrients right away.
Since Maca affects the hormonal balance in the body, new users are advised to take it daily for 4 to 6 weeks, after which a 1-day ’off’ should be observed every week. Another method is to be Maca-free for 5 consecutive days every month. Any of these methods will help your body adjust well to your Maca powder dosage.
Best Time to Take Maca Root
As mentioned, Maca powder can help boost your energy levels. That being said, it’s best to take this the first thing in the morning. Apart from powering you up, it can help improve your mood and memory – which is something you need at the workplace!
Since Maca makes you energetic, it may get in the way of your sleep should you decide to take this late in the day. However, if you’re looking for an energy boost during these times – as is the case with shift workers – Maca is a healthier alternative to coffee or energy drinks.
How Long Does It Take for Maca Root to Work?
This will depend on your desired effect. According to the above-mentioned studies, Maca can:
- Improve libido after 14 days
- Improve erectile and sexual function in men after 12 weeks
- Improve sexual function in women after 12 weeks
- Enhance sperm count and motility after 12 weeks
- Promote pregnancy in as short as 3 months
- Relieve unpleasant menopause systems in 2 months
- Reduce anxiety and depression symptoms after 12 weeks
- Improve mood and energy in 12 weeks
- Reduce joint stiffness and pain after 8 weeks
How to Store Maca Powder Root
What’s great about dried Maca powder is that it has a long shelf life. It remains good for about 3 years since it was made into powder.
Although this is the case, you should store it appropriately if you want to keep it fresh for a long time. As for Maca powders, blends, and chips, they’re best kept in an area free from sunlight and humidity. But if you live in a particularly humid area, it’s best if you placed your Maca in the fridge or freezer.
As for Maca capsules, these supplements should be stored in a tightly-closed amber jar. For Maca extracts, make sure that the bottle cap is screwed shut. Again, these Maca products should be stored away from sunlight or heat.
What Are the Side Effects of Maca?
Generally speaking, there are no known Maca powder side effects. Some people, however, experience indigestion after taking Maca, especially the raw variant. To avoid this, do not take Maca with fruit or fruit juice. Since they pass easily through the digestive tract, taking any of these with Maca can lead to bloating or gas. Another option is to take gelatinized Maca, which is free from stomach-upsetting starch.
While there are a few reports about Maca root benefits, studies are still limited to make an absolute conclusion. Because of this lack of literature regarding safety and efficacy, pregnant or breastfeeding women are discouraged from taking Maca.
Although there are many known Maca root benefits, it is not recommended for people with hormone-sensitive conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, breast cancer, and uterine fibroids. Since Maca acts like oestrogen, it may end up worsening the aforementioned conditions.
Recipes with Maca Powder
If you want to enjoy the many Maca benefits in a more appetizing way, then make sure to try any of these healthy Maca powder recipes:
1. Maca Energy Bar
Make the most out of the root’s energy-boosting effects by adding gelatinized Maca powder to your energy bar. You can prepare it in several flavourful ways – with the addition of dried apples & cinnamon, powdered ginger, lime zest & juice, or chocolate chips.
2. Maca Truffles
One of the best recipes for Maca powder is this delectable yet healthy truffle. Just add carob powder, cacao powder, cacao butter, coconut oil, maple syrup, and Himalayan salt for an energy-boosting pick-me-upper.
3. Maca Ice Cream
With healthy Maca powder recipes such as this one, you’re sure to have your entire family on board the Maca craze. This is very easy to do too, as all you need are raw cashews, banana, gelatinized maca powder, sea salt, vanilla extract, and dark chocolate.
4. Maca Latte
Use your Maca powder to pack some punch into your favourite latte. You can make it healthier by using soy milk or coconut milk instead of heavy cream.
Maca is a plant grown in the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains. It is differentiated by root colour, which comes in 13 shades. The root is a nutrient-dense source, as it is rich in protein, fibre, fatty acids, and various minerals.
While Maca is largely eaten or used for medicinal purposes, it may help improve livestock fertility as well.
Maca root benefits are plentiful. According to scientific studies, it may improve libido, sexual function, and fertility. It may also help reduce menopausal symptoms such as night sweats.
Maca benefits the mind as well, as it may help reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. At the same time, it may help improve mood, learning, and memory too.
Maca powder root may also help reduce osteoarthritis symptoms – and the risk of metabolic disorders.
This supplement can also promote weight gain as well as muscle gain.
The recommended Maca powder dosage is 1 to 3 grams per day. It’s best taken on an empty stomach in the morning for better cognition and energy.