Health Care Professional Information
Lepidium Meyennii Walp, Lepidium peruvianum Chacon
Maca-maca, maino, ayak chichira, and ayak willku
A nutritionally valuable plant native to Peru that grows in a harsh climate above 4,000 feet, maca has been used traditionally to enhance fertility and sexual performance in both men and women and to relieve menopausal symptoms (1). It has been purported to treat cancer and to improve stamina in cancer patients.
Animal studies indicate that maca increases endurance (6), enhances sexual function (2)(5) and improves scopolamine-induced memory deficits (14).
Human trials of maca reported increased libido (3) and improvement in sperm production and sperm motility (4). Maca supplementation was also shown to enhance the subjective feeling of sexual well-being (11) and may benefit those with sexual dysfunction induced by selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (12). However, the evidence to support use of maca for sexual dysfunction is limited and needs further research (13). The data on maca's role in alleviating menopausal symptoms are limited (15).
Another review indicates that maca is not an effective anti-aging agent (16).
Dried maca was shown to have lower content of the suspected active metabolite than fresh maca. It is also available as a liquor, tonic and mayonnaise, although health benefits of these derivatives seem minimal (7).
- Menopausal symptoms
- Sexual performance
- Strength and stamina
- Cancer treatment
- Amino acids - aspartic acid, glutamic acid, serine, glycine, arginine, valine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, threonine.
- Lipids - Fatty Acids, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, oleic acid and sterols
(1) (7) (6) (8)
Mechanism of Action
Maca root contains far greater amounts of glucosinolates than other members of the Brassicacae family, such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Fertility-enhancing properties of maca are thought to be due to aromatic isothiocyanates hydrolyzed from these glucosinolates. Furthermore, benzyl isothiocyanate has been reported to inhibit breast, stomach and liver cancer in rats. Aphrodisiacal properties are attributed to the prostaglandins, sterols and amides of polyunsaturated fatty acids (7). The most confounding question about maca's effect is its ability to influence sexual performance without affecting serum hormone levels such as luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, prolactin, testosterone and estradiol (9). It is therefore assumed that maca acts on the receptors for these hormones (4).
Both methanolic and aqueous extracts of Maca exhibit estrogenic activity in vitro (10). Alkaloids purified from the maca root are thought to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, explaining why maca can induce effects in both sexes (6).
The therapeutic dose and toxicity of maca are unknown.
Literature Summary and Critique
Shin BC, Lee MS, Yang EJ, Lim HS, Ernst E. Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 Aug 6;10:44.
This review was conducted to determine the effectiveness of maca for the treatment of sexual dysfunction. Seventeen databases from the date of their launch until April 2010 were searched for randomized clinical trials. The risk of bias for each study was assessed using Cochrane criteria, and statistical pooling of data was performed where possible. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validations were performed independently by two authors. Four studies met the inclusion criteria, two of which suggested a significant positive effect of maca on sexual dysfunction or sexual desire in healthy menopausal women or healthy adult men. The third study did not show any effects in healthy cyclists. The fourth trial assessed the effects of maca in patients with erectile dysfunction using the International Index of Erectile Dysfunction-5 and showed significant effects.
The evidence to support use of maca in improving sexual function is limited. More studies are warranted.
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- Muhammad I, Zhao J, Dunbar DC, Khan IA. Constituents of Lepidium meyenii 'maca'. Phytochemistry 2002;59:105-10.
- Zheng BL, He K, Kim CH, Rogers L, Shao Y, Huang ZY et al. Effect of a lipidic extract from lepidium meyenii on sexual behavior in mice and rats. Urology 2000;55:598-602.
- Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Vega K, Chung A, Villena A, Gonez Cet al. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. Andrologia 2002;34:367-72.
- Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Gonzales C, Chung A, Vega K, Villena A. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) improved semen parameters in adult men. Asian J Androl 2001;3:301-3.
- Cicero AF, Piacente S, Plaza A, Sala E, Arletti R, Pizza C. Hexanic Maca extract improves rat sexual performance more effectively than methanolic and chloroformic Maca extracts. Andrologia 2002;34:177-9.
- Balick MJ,.Lee R. Maca: from traditional food crop to energy and libido stimulant. Altern Ther Health Med 2002;8:96-8.
- Li G, Ammermann U, Quiros CF. Glucosinolate Contents in Maca (Lepidium peruvianum chacon) Seeds, Sprouts, Mature Plants and Several Derived Commercial Products. Economic Botany 2001;55:255-62.
- Piacente S, Carbone V, Plaza A, Zampelli A, Pizza C. Investigation of the tuber constituents of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.). J Agric Food Chem. 2002;50:5621-5.
- Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Vega K, et al. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a root with aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties, on serum reproductive hormone levels in adult healthy men. J Endocrinol 2003;176(1):163-8.
- Valentova K, Buckiova D, Kren V, et al. The in vitro biological activity of Lepidium meyenii extracts.Cell Biol Toxicol 2006;22(2):91-9.
- Zenico T, Cicero AF, Valmorri L, Mercuriali M, Bercovich E. Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract on well-being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Andrologia. 2009 Apr;41(2):95-9.
- Dording CM, Fisher L, Papakostas G, et al. A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. meyenii) for the management of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2008 Fall;14(3):182-91.
- Shin BC, Lee MS, Yang EJ, Lim HS, Ernst E. Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 Aug 6;10:44.
- Rubio J, Dang H, Gong M, et al. Aqueous and hydroalcoholic extracts of Black Maca (Lepidium meyenii) improve scopolamine-induced memory impairment in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 Oct;45(10):1882-90.
- Lee MS, Shin BC, Yang EJ, Lim HJ, Ernst E. Maca (Lepidium meyenii) for treatment of menopausal symptoms: A systematic review.Maturitas. 2011 Nov;70(3):227-33.
- Hunt KJ, Hung SK, Ernst E. Botanical extracts as anti-aging preparations for the skin: a systematic review.Drugs Aging. 2010 Dec 1;27(12):973-85.
How It Works
Bottom Line: Maca may increase sexual function but it has not been shown effective against cancer.
Maca root is in the same family as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Maca has traditionally been used to improve sexual performance and as a treatment for infertility. Studies have shown that maca is able to improve sexual performance, however it does so without affecting serum hormone levels in the blood. It is possible that maca affects the receptors that these hormones bind to. Because maca affects the body through these hormones, it is assumed that it can produce effects in members of both sexes. Further study is warranted.
- To treat infertility
No clinical trials support this use.
- To treat menopausal symptoms
There is no evidence to back this claim.
- To improve sexual performance
A few clinical trials showed increase in sexual desire, sperm count and motility.
- To improve strength and stamina
This use is not backed by research.
- To treat cancer
Scientific evidence is lacking to support this claim.
A systematic review was conducted to determine the effectiveness of maca for the treatment of sexual dysfunction. Seventeen databases from the date of their launch until April 2010 were searched for randomized clinical trials. Of the four studies selected for the review, two suggested a significant positive effect of maca on sexual dysfunction or sexual desire in healthy menopausal women or healthy adult men. The third study did not show any effects in healthy cyclists. The fourth trial was done to study the effects of maca in patients with erectile dysfunction and it showed significant effects.
Last updated: April 30, 2013