The Pros + Cons Of Maca Root + How It Can Improve Your Health
As a functional medicine practitioner, I am no stranger to alternative wellness tools. I love learning more about all of the natural herbal medicines on the planet and what they can do for our health.
One of my favorites is maca root. It has continued to rise in popularity over the years but not many people fully understand maca root pros and cons. So what does maca root do to the body? Without wasting anymore time, let’s dive right into all the details of one of my go-to natural healing tools.
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What is maca root?
Known scientifically as Lepidium meyenii and also referred to as Peruvian ginseng, the maca plant is a type of cruciferous vegetable found natively in the Peruvian Andes mountain range. It has been used for thousands of years by the Andean people for its powerful health benefits and ability to be cultivated in extreme weather conditions.
Today, maca is considered an adaptogen - a group of plant and herbal medicines that are generally safe for most people and help the body balance hormones, adapt to stress, and so much more.
The maca root is the part of the plant that is most abundantly utilized due to its fiber, vitamin, and mineral content along with other compounds like macamides and macaridine that contribute to its adaptogenic benefits. It is available in three different varieties: red, yellow, and black, each boasting slightly different health benefits. Red is the sweetest but most mild tasting. Yellow is the least sweet, and black is right in the middle.
Because of its rise to fame as an adaptogen, it has become more widely available in powdered form for at-home use and in capsule supplements. But what are these amazing benefits that make maca so popular? Let’s dive into the maca root pros and cons.
1. Increased libido
Maca has been studied over the years for its ability to increase libido and help individuals overcome sexual dysfunction. One of the more recent studies in 2015 (1) found that consistent maca supplementation was able to reverse sexual dysfunction in women after 12 weeks, with additional studies showing maca supplementation to be beneficial in increasing (2) sexual desire.
2. Improved mood
3. Reduced blood pressure
The same study that looked at the link between maca and depression, found that supplementing with maca for 12 weeks was able to significantly lower blood pressure. (4)
4. Enhanced energy
One of maca’s biggest claims to fame is its ability to help support energy levels with studies showing that red maca has the best energy boosting capabilities. (5) One of the great things about maca is that it's able to boost energy without leaving you feeling jittery, making it the perfect option if you are sensitive to caffeine in coffee and tea.
5. Increased fertility
Promising research is starting to emerge surrounding the benefits of maca for male reproductive health. In fact, maca has been linked to an increase in sperm count and more balanced hormones. (6)
6. Boosted cognitive function
Although there hasn’t been any human studies linking maca to improved cognitive function, initial studies on mice have been extremely promising with black maca being shown to improve memory, learning, and cognitive function. (7)
7. Enhanced immune health
Packed with vitamin C, maca is another immune booster for when you are fighting off a cold.
8. Inhibited free radical damage
Since maca is extremely high in antioxidants, it is able to help fight free radical damage, keeping your cells healthy and thriving to prevent cardiovascular problems and cancer. (8)
9. Balanced hormones
Menopause symtpoms are often due to the imbalance of hormones, specifically estrogen. One study showed that maca was able to relieve symptoms in postmenopausal women by rebalancing estrogen levels that had gone haywire and lowering cortisol levels that can further contribute to hormone imbalance and fatigue. (9) Therefore using maca for hormones and maca for menopause can be extremely beneficial
10. Elevated endurance
A special study on male cyclists confirmed maca’s ability to enhance endurance and performance over the course of 2 weeks. (10)
The two most common questions I get asked about maca are:
- Are there any negative effects of maca root?
- What are the disadvantages of maca?
Many of my patients are pleased to hear that maca doesn’t have many downsides except for its limited clinical research. While it is enough to justify and encourage the use of maca for its specific health benefits it is not as extensively studied as some other adaptogenic herbs or natural supplements available.
I have seen plenty of positive anecdotal evidence supporting the use of maca, so its limited clinical research is up to you on what you are comfortable with and if your doctor advises this as a good option for you.
Who shouldn’t take maca root?
Again, maca root is generally safe for most people. However, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are one any medications, or have hormone related conditions like endometriosis and breast cancer, it is advised to avoid supplementing with maca root. However, since everyone’s biochemistry and health case is unique, be sure to talk with your doctor before adding in any additional supplements to your routine.
Maca root is just one of the amazing plants on this planet that boasts some serious next-level healing capabilities. When people first start taking maca I often get asked the following questions, “how long does it take for maca to work?” and more specifically, “how long does it take for maca to balance hormones?” Ultimately, the answer is going to vary depending on your particular health case.
If you are wanting to learn more about if maca is right for you and how you can start rebalancing hormones or boosting energy, check out our consultation to learn more about how we can work with you to regain the health you deserve.
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- Dording, Christina M et al. “A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2015 (2015): 949036. doi:10.1155/2015/949036
- Shin, Byung-Cheul et al. “Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine vol. 10 44. 6 Aug. 2010, doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-44
- Brooks, Nicole A et al. “Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content.” Menopause (New York, N.Y.) vol. 15,6 (2008): 1157-62. doi:10.1097/gme.0b013e3181732953
- Stojanovska, L et al. “Maca reduces blood pressure and depression, in a pilot study in postmenopausal women.” Climacteric : the journal of the International Menopause Society vol. 18,1 (2015): 69-78. doi:10.3109/13697137.2014.929649
- Gonzales-Arimborgo, Carla et al. “Acceptability, Safety, and Efficacy of Oral Administration of Extracts of Black or Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Adult Human Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 9,3 49. 18 Aug. 2016, doi:10.3390/ph9030049
- Melnikovova, Ingrid et al. “Effect of Lepidium meyenii Walp. on Semen Parameters and Serum Hormone Levels in Healthy Adult Men: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2015 (2015): 324369. doi:10.1155/2015/324369
- Rubio, Julio et al. “Dose-response effect of black maca (Lepidium meyenii) in mice with memory impairment induced by ethanol.” Toxicology mechanisms and methods vol. 21,8 (2011): 628-34. doi:10.3109/15376516.2011.583294
- Zha, Shenghua et al. “Extraction, purification and antioxidant activities of the polysaccharides from maca (Lepidium meyenii).” Carbohydrate polymers vol. 111 (2014): 584-7. doi:10.1016/j.carbpol.2014.05.017
- Meissner, H O et al. “Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (III) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study.” International journal of biomedical science : IJBS vol. 2,4 (2006): 375-94.
- Stone, Mark, Ibarra, A., Roller, M., Zangara, Andrea and Stevenson, Emma (2009) A pilot investigation into the effect of maca supplementation on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 126 (3). pp. 574-576. ISSN 0378-8741
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.