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Updated 27 January 2016

Maca could be nature's answer to viagra

For many women, a smooth, shaven chin, complete with a fresh hint of aftershave, is a potent aphrodisiac. But could shaving have some libido-boosting benefits for men too?

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Though Colin Farrell’s rugged look may have many women swooning, for others, a smooth, shaven chin, complete with a fresh hint of aftershave, is a potent aphrodisiac.

But could shaving have some libido-boosting benefits for men too?

GQ magazine (UK) seems to think so. The magazine’s top new grooming product of choice is a Maca-root shaving cream that not only delivers a smooth shave, but, according to product promoters, may also increase sex drive and stamina.

In recent years, Maca has become increasingly popular for its medicinal benefits. But is this Andes-grown vegetable really all it is cracked up to be?

Read: FDA panel backs 'female Viagra'

Maca?

Maca, or 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.

Health benefits

While some sceptics may find the idea of a sex-frenzy-inducing root hard to swallow, Maca has become a sought-after medicinal crop, and big business for nutritional supplement suppliers.

Peruvian Products, a US-based company that supplies Maca, claims that the product “is not only popular as a sexual libido enhancer and menopause symptoms saviour, but also greatly affects energy, stamina, depression, memory, and more.”

Too good to be true?

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.

Read: Maca coulds save your sex life the natural way

What are the risks?

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. But, so far, the initial results of investigations into its effects on fertility and libido enhancement look promising.

Still, there’s no scientific proof that grinding the stuff up and slathering it onto your skin will up your mojo, as most studies have focused on oral administration of the root. Then again, there's probably no harm in trying it.

Read more:

Will pink Viagra ignite women's sex lives?

The dangers of herbal viagra

Sources:

A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. meyenii) for the management of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction, CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, 2008.

Medline, The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements.

 
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