What is Maca?
Maca (lepidium meyenii) is an annual plant that grows at altitudes of about 4000m in the Andean Mountains of Bolivia and Peru. The root, which looks similar to a radish, is grown for its hypocotyls – the edible, fleshy part of the plant. Maca hypocotyls come in a variety of colours, including cream, red, purple, black and green, each variety of which is genetically unique.
For roughly 2000 years, Maca has been an important food source for Andean natives. According to local legends, the super food was eaten by Inca imperial warriors before each battle. The strength that made these warriors such formidable conquerors was apparently thanks to the enormous amounts of Maca they gorged themselves on, although historians have yet to find any evidence to support this.
The root has become popular in recent years and is said to have many medicinal benefits. Most notably, it has been dubbed “natural Viagra”, as it is believed to improve libido, sperm motility and sexual behaviour.
Benefits of Maca
Maca is believed to improve:
What the experts say
Maca is a rich source of zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron. Zinc and magnesium have been noted for their positive effects on sexual function.
Over the last few years, a number of small-scale studies have been carried out to ascertain the nutritional and therapeutic benefits of Maca root. One study, which appeared in the Asian Journal of Andrology in 2001, found that Maca treatment did in fact improve sperm production and motility.
Another, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, found that oral administration of Maca improved sexual desire and behaviour in male rats. The product has also been found to reduce enlarged prostate glands in rats.
Although studies have shown positive associations between Maca and sexual function, it seems that scientists know more about the root’s effects on rats than on humans. Scientists have also not yet performed any studies involving men who suffer from sexual dysfunction or infertility.
Considering that Maca is a staple food source for Andean natives, consuming the root doesn’t appear to pose any serious health risks – no more than eating any other vegetable.
However, some experts do caution that Maca may alter levels of sex hormones and potentially interfere with hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills. The plant may also act as a stimulant and cause hypertension (high blood pressure), so it’s advisable that anyone already on medication for hypertension consult with their doctor or pharmacist before combining therapies.
Scientists aren’t clear on the best dosage form of Maca, or on which health conditions may benefit from the root.
(Zaakirah Rossier, Health24, updated October 2010)