Maca root has been used for thousands of years as a natural aphrodisiac and herbal medicine. Now, modern research is confirming what the ancient Peruvians knew for centuries: this little root is a powerhouse when it comes to sex drive, mood, energy, and overall vitality.
Here are all of the many reasons we love the maca root, plus how to reap maca's benefits by choosing a good supplement.
What is Maca?
The use of maca (or Lepidium meyenii, if you want to get technical) dates back to its roots as an ancient Peruvian dietary staple.
Also called maca-maca, chichira, and “Peruvian ginseng”, this small turnip-like root is in the same family as cruciferous plants like mustard, turnips, and cabbage. Its use as a food and medical foods began between1,300 and 2,000 years ago. It grows wild, but is also cultivated in the harshly bright and cold Andes Mountains of Peru.
For centuries, maca has been valued for its potent nutritional punch and as a functional medicinal food. Nowadays, it is a popular ingredient in supplements and foods around the world!
Maca Root Benefits
So why do people use maca in the first place?
Maca root for Men
Maca root is most famous as an aphrodisiac! Its reported abilities to boost libido and improve fertility have made it a staple in Peruvian medicine for centuries. Recent research documents its positive effect on sexual desire.
For example, one double-blind randomized study on healthy adult men between the ages of 21-56 found that maca supplementation over a twelve-week period led to reports of increased sexual desire. In a similar vein, taking maca might also help with fertility if you’re trying to conceive: a small study on 9 healthy men found that taking a dose of maca for four months led to an increase in both sperm count and sperm motility.
Maca root for Women
The benefits of maca root don’t stop with male sexual health, either. There is also evidence that maca can have the same libido-boosting benefits in some women!
What’s more, woman use maca as herbal support for transitioning through menopause, and there is at least preliminary evidence that it can help relieve menopausal symptoms.
While maca doesn’t seem to directly affect estrogen levels, one trial found that maca reduced postmenopausal complaints of depression and anxiety. This could result from an indirect effect on progesterone levels accomplished by its role as an adaptogen.
Beyond sexual health, maca is widely regarded as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbs that have taken the wellness world by storm in recent years, and for good reason. These plants contain very special phytochemicals that work by acting on your HPA Axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which is the system that responds to physical, environmental, and emotional stress through a series of hormonal responses. Adaptogens help your body manage its stress response by promoting a quicker recovery, meaning that you produce less cortisol. Studies have shown that lowers levels not only of cortisol, but other stress related hormones.
Progesterone plays a key role in your menopausal experience. Because your body makes cortisol from progesterone, every time you feel stressed, your progesterone levels drop. By reducing cortisol production, adaptogens like maca may support higher progesterone levels. We don’t yet know for sure, but this could be at least part of the reason that maca supplements help women during perimenopause and menopause. Beyond that, of course, are other vastly important benefits that stem from helping manage your stress response. These include higher energy, better mood, feelings of being more in control, etc.
Mood and Energy Booster
On a related note, maca’s abilities to regulate your stress response can also be good news for your mood and energy levels! A 2014 study found that administering maca led to antidepressant-like effects in mice, with feel-good “brain chemicals” noradrenaline and dopamine levels increasing after six weeks of supplementation. And, as mentioned above, other studies show that maca shows promise in reducing symptoms of mood related issues symptoms in some menopausal women, which could make it a useful tool for managing your mental health through different stages of your life.
How to Take Advantage of the Benefits of Maca Root
While you might be hard-pressed to find fresh maca root on the market. Depending on where you are, maca may or may not be widely available. Some things to look for in a maca supplement include:
- Maca type - There are more than thirteen different colors of maca root available, and each color group can have different biological properties. For example, one study found that black maca root was more effective at enhancing sperm count and motility than the yellow or red versions in rat subjects. On the other hand, red maca seems better for women.
- Dosage - There are no current recommendations or standard dosages for how much maca you should be taking to enjoy its benefits. However, a common dose is 1.5-3.5 grams per day. Make sure to read your supplement directions and consult with your doctor before adding maca root to your supplement regimen to determine a safe dosage for your needs.