What Is Maca Root?

Maca, also known as the "Peruvian ginseng," is a cruciferous vegetable grown in the Andes mountains of Peru, South America. The maca root comes in many colors, including red, black, yellow, and brown, and is typically consumed as a ground powder, tincture, or capsule. It contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fibers.

Like other adaptogens, maca root has become one of the most sought-after health supplements for managing daily environmental stress. 

However, it also has many distinctive properties that set it apart. For instance, some reasons maca root saw a recent spike in popularity are boosting energy, increasing libido (sexual drive), and reducing erectile dysfunction. I will discuss this in more detail throughout this article.

Where Does Maca Come From?

Known scientifically as Lepidium meyenii, the maca plant is native to Peru's high plateaus of the Andes mountain range. The Andean people or Peru have used maca for thousands of years as food and medicine. Adaptogens are plant extracts that support the body's ability to deal with stress. 

The plant can withstand harsh, extreme weather conditions, allowing it to grow nearly 4000m above sea level. The Andean people cultivated maca as food and medicine to treat respiratory and arthritic health conditions. While it is also called Peruvian ginseng, it neither belongs to the ginseng botanical family nor is it found anywhere in Asia. However, the increasing demand for maca root has led to its mass production worldwide, including in the mountainous Yunnan province in China.

How Is Maca Made?

To get the benefits, you can take maca in several ways, such as adding it to smoothies, juice, and shakes or using it as an ingredient in coffee, chocolate, or oils. In addition, it adds an earthy flavor to foods and is used in various dishes.

As the interest in alternative medicine grows among the general population, medicinal plants and herbs like the maca draw tremendous attention from researchers around the globe. As a result, a large body of animal and human research supports the health benefits of maca root. 

Researchers believe that the active ingredients responsible for the medicinal benefits of maca are macamides, macaridine, alkaloids, and glucosinolates. Combined with the high amount of essential nutrients such as iron, protein, and vitamin C, these active ingredients offer maca an exceptional ability to improve human health and promote well-being. 

You should know some of the most sought-after science-based health benefits of maca. 

1. Maca and Libido Benefits

The most well-known benefit of maca root is its potential to boost libido in both men and women. It may have all started from a study published in 2000 in which researchers found that oral consumption of maca extracts increased sexual desire in lab mice. After this finding, scientists began exploring the aphrodisiac benefits of maca root and found some favorable evidence. For example, a 2002 study showed that men who took 1.5 to 3 grams of maca per day experienced increased libido compared to those who received a placebo. 

Similarly, a study published in the CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics Journal found that 3 grams of maca consumption a day significantly increased libido and sexual function among women taking antidepressants. Likewise, a second study by the same authors found similar results, suggesting a potential benefit for postmenopausal women who want to increase their libido, especially if on antidepressants.

2. Maca and Fertility

Testosterone has been consistently declining among men in the developed world since 1970; much is likely due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Likewise, sperm count has also been under considerable decline. Research suggests that sperm count has declined by about one percent yearly, with a total drop of about 50 to 60 percent since 1970. Maca root may prove beneficial in this regard, as some evidence suggests it helps.

For example, a study from 2001 showed that maca supplementation increased semen volume, sperm count, and sperm motility. Similarly, a 2015 study revealed that daily maca intake led to a significant increase in sperm count and motility in the control group compared to the placebo. Likewise, according to another study published in the Journal Andrologia, 12 weeks of maca consumption showed a significant improvement in semen concentration among control group participants than the placebo group. 

However, the 2016 literature review indicates that while the evidence is encouraging, more studies are needed to get conclusive results.

3. Maca and Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) remains a common concern for millions worldwide. In the US alone, ED affects greater than 50 percent of men between 40 to 70 at one time or another. As a result, preventive measures, including aphrodisiacs such as maca root, have become very popular. The evidence seems promising too. For example, a 2009 study found that maca supplementation significantly improves sexual-well being among people with erectile dysfunction. 

Similarly, in a 2019 study, researchers looked at the effects of combined extracts of maca root and Chines chives (also known as garlic chives). They found that the combined extracts produced better effects on male sexual function than either alone. Furthermore, the authors of a 2010 literature review found that maca could improve sexual desire among men. However, the authors also note that the studies must be bigger to draw a firm conclusion.

 4. Maca, Mood, Anxiety, and Depression

Anxiety, depression, and mental health have become big issues over the last few years. For example, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Menopause showed that receiving 3.5 grams of maca daily improved psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression among postmenopausal women. Similarly, in another study, 29 postmenopausal Hong Kong women received 3.3 grams of Maca or a placebo daily for six weeks each. At the end of the study, the researchers found that maca consumption is associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure and depression compared to the placebo.

 To add more, plenty of animal studies also support this claim. For example, a 2019 lab study showed that maca supplementation has anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects. Research showed that maca decreases the important parameters of stress, such as cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) and other similar hormone levels.

5. Maca and Menopause Symptoms

For many women, menopause may be challenging. The good news is that supplements like maca root can be very beneficial during and after menopause. Research suggests that maca root consumption not only improves sexual dysfunction and psychological symptoms but may also help with hot flashes, night sweating, nervousness, heart palpitations, and sleep interruptions.

In a 2006 study involving 124 participants, researchers concluded that maca supplementation helps manage postmenopausal symptoms and may aid in reducing dependence on hormone replacement therapy. Thus, maca root has become an excellent choice for women seeking alternative means to relieve discomfort caused by menopause.

6. Maca and Learning And Memory Benefits

Whether age-related or otherwise, memory impairment, such as dementia, is a significant health problem worldwide. Unfortunately, there is no simple cure for such conditions, increasing the importance of alternative medicine significantly. Plenty of research suggests that adaptogens, like maca root, have neuroprotective health benefits. Maca root may help improve learning and memory. 

A 2007 animal study found that maca root improves memory loss induced by scopolamine — a drug frequently used to treat motion sickness and postoperative nausea and vomiting. Similarly, a 2011 study found that maca root improves ethanol-induced memory loss in lab mice. Whether or not this extends to humans is yet to be determined.

Likewise, a 2016 study showed that maca might also slow down age-related cognitive decline. However, large-scale human studies are needed to make conclusive opinions.

7. Maca Boosts Energy And Endurance

Some evidence suggests that maca root acts as an anti-fatigue supplement and increases energy and endurance. A 2017 study revealed that maca root promotes antioxidant activity in muscles and enhances muscle mitochondria levels in lab mice. Likewise, another study showed that maca supplementation promotes the growth of friendly gut bacteria, thus enhancing carbohydrate, lipid, and protein metabolism and acting as an anti-fatigue supplement. 

Besides animal studies, human studies also indicate that maca supplementation improves mood, energy, and health-related quality of life. 

Interestingly, these health benefits might be true for all high-altitude plants, per the authors of a 2020 literature review. The researchers found that high-altitude plants such as maca significantly relieve fatigue by preventing brain damage, increasing energy, regulating body metabolism, and serving as an anti-inflammatory compound. 

8. Maca's Skin Health Benefits

Among other health benefits, some evidence also indicates that maca root may protect skin against ultraviolet sun rays. Maca has significant antioxidant activity in the skin. It protects the skin against lipid peroxidation — a chain of reactions of oxidative degradation of lipids leading to membrane damage and cell death. Furthermore, maca contains nutrients, such as alkaloids, polyphenols, and sterols. And the photoprotective skin benefits of these compounds are well-established. 

9. Maca and the Immune System

Maca root may also strengthen your immune system, according to studies. Many animal studies suggest that maca root extract increases macrophage activity, CD4+ T cells, and white blood cells in general. White blood cells, including macrophages, neutrophils, and T cells (lymphocytes), are one of the body's most important defenses against foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Keeping stress levels controlled is also crucial to maintaining a robust immune system. 


Research has found maca to be entirely safe and free of side effects. Furthermore, the Andeans in Peru have used maca as food and medicine for thousands of years, which indicates that maca is well-tolerated by the human body. However, like any other supplement, it is important to consult your doctor before taking maca. 

Furthermore, research has not examined whether maca is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding for children. 


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