Along its vast 7,000 km length, the Andes Mountain range of South America hides many ancient secrets. One such secret – the lost mountain-top city of Machu Picchu – was rediscovered in 1911. More recently a natural remedy cultivated in those same mountains was finally revealed to the rest of the world – maca root.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a turnip-like plant that grows at altitudes of 4000 m and higher. The cold, harsh Andean mountain environment with its mineral-rich soil contributes to maca’s root system being rich in natural alkaloids (including macaridine, exclusive to maca), minerals (calcium, copper, potassium and many others), vitamins, proteins and plant sterols (most importantly beta sitosterol). This unique combination of nutrients is the key to maca root’s traditional use by Peruvians as an energizer, a natural aphrodisiac for both males and females and a reliever of menopausal symptoms in women.
Maca root is considered an “adaptogen” because of how it helps the body perform normally when undergoing stressful mental or physical situations. While its traditional use for energizing has long been touted, some of maca root’s other benefits have been put to the test in published clinical human studies.
Libido enhancing is one of maca root’s most commonly noted effects. This effect has been seen in several studies involving both male and female participants. For females specifically, one study showed that in postmenopausal women, six weeks of supplementation with maca root significantly reduced the participants’ anxiety and depression symptoms as well as their sexual dysfunction issues.1 Interestingly, this increase in sexual desire was not accompanied with increased hormonal (estrogenic) activity. A full understanding of maca root’s biochemical effects is not yet known, but maca root does not contain phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) as are found in many other natural remedies for menopausal relief, such as soy.2
A second study looked at the ability of maca root to counteract the negative effects to normal sexual functioning associated with the use of SSRI (selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants. This study suggested that maca root could in fact safely alleviate sexual dysfunction and increase libido in those taking SSRI’s over an eight-week period.3
A longer four-month study concluded that maca root might have potential as a non-hormonal alternative to HRT (hormone replacement therapy) in perimenopausal women. Maca root was observed to reduce the frequency of hot flashes, night sweating, sleep interruptions and nervousness. There was also evidence that maca was able to rebalance the women’s hormonal levels, not by phytoestrogenic means, but by strengthening with the hypothalamus-pituitary organs.4
One thing to note from the studies to date is that during the short-term both maca root and placebo treatments may show results. It is with the continued regular use of maca root that the most significant results are experienced.4
Maca root is a food with a long track record of safe human consumption; amounts up to 20 grams per day have been taken without issue. The amount of maca root you should take on a daily basis depends on the health benefits you are seeking. The potency of maca capsules can vary, but 750 mg per capsule is a common dosage. With a 750 mg capsule you should take:5
You may want to consider looking for a maca root supplement that is noted to be “gelatinized.” Maca root is a very starchy, fibrous material that can be hard to digest. Gelatinization is a process that removes this starchy material to make the active nutrients in maca more concentrated, potent and more easily absorbed by the body.
Maca root’s safety for daily use and increasing clinically-backed evidence suggest that it can have significant benefits for those experiencing menopausal discomforts.