The maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is a cruciferous plant related to broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Its native country is Peru, and now it is being touted as a plant that can boost men’s sexual health. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a review on the maca root in August of 2010, presenting what has been discovered about the root and its effect on libido and erectile dysfunction. The review’s results are based on a limited number of randomized controlled studies conducted so far.
The utilization of maca root has a unique history and goes back to the time of Incan warriors. According to Incan folklore, warriors took the plant before they went into battle because it increased physical strength. The warriors also began to notice that the maca root increased their libido, which was unacceptable for war purposes. Leaders eventually prohibited their soldiers from taking it during wartime.
Recently, researchers have begun to explore the claims of enhanced sexual function and stamina associated with maca, looking into the biochemistry behind the root. In addition to the claims of improved sexual health, maca also belongs to the Brassicacae family, which is known for its anticancer properties. Because of this, speculation is also arising that it may be helpful in protecting against prostate cancer or other prostate conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia.
The department of urology at Margagni-Pierantoni Hospital in Italy conducted a double-blind trial to test the maca root. Fifty men who had mild erectile dysfunction participated. Half were given 2,400 mg maca daily and the other half received placebo. After 12 weeks, men in the maca-treatment group experienced a more significant increase in the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-5) than men in the placebo group. The scientists concluded that maca supplements provide a small but significant effect on sexual health and well-being in men who have mild erectile dysfunction.
In regards to prostate health benefits, the type of maca used matters in the effectiveness of the root. Maca comes in red, yellow, and black, and in a 2009 study researchers compared the impact of each one on prostate size in rats with induced benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate). Red maca appears to have a prostate-reducing effect, while yellow offers a mild impact and black has no impact.
In addition, three other studies on the effects of maca on a man’s libido are important. In the first, researchers evaluated the effect of 1,500 mg and 3,000 mg of maca compared with placebo in a 12-week trial. After 8 weeks, men who took maca reported an improvement in sexual desire in one while men in the placebo group did not. The second study found that maca increased sperm count, sperm motility, and seminal volume, which could improve fertility. Finally, the third study, conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, involved depressed men and women. The participants in this study took 3,000 mg maca daily and reported an improvement in sexual dysfunction.
So how does maca root work? The enhanced sexual health may be attributed to several different components of the root. Maca contains higher levels of glucosinolates than its cruciferous cousins, and substances hydrolyzed from these glucosinolates reportedly inhibit certain types of cancers in rats. The enhanced libido may be attributed to maca’s polyunsaturated fatty acids. But experts are not certain how maca works in relieving erectile dysfunction. The root does not affect levels of testosterone, estradiol, and other hormones. One theory is that it acts on the receptors for these hormones, not the actual hormones themselves.
Maca is available as capsules, powder, tablets, and an extract. Several studies have shown 3,000 mg daily to be an effective and safe dose, but it is best to take maca according to package directions and to consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider.