Medically reviewed: June 7, 2018
What is Maca?
The aerial part of maca has 12 to 20 leaves and the foliage forms a mat-like, creeping system of stems that grows close to the soil. The underground portion of the plant, known as the hypocotyl, is a storage organ and is the part that is used commercially. The hypocotyl can be a variety of colors, such as red, purple, cream, yellow, or black, and is 10 to 14 cm long and 3 to 5 cm wide; a cold climate seems to be critical for its formation or growth. Maca is cultivated in a narrow, high-altitude zone of the Andes Mountains in Peru. Maca has one of the highest frost tolerances of any cultivated plant, allowing it to grow at altitudes of 3,800 to 4,800 m above sea level in the puna and suni ecosystems, where only alpine grasses and bitter potatoes can survive. Maca and several related wild species also are found in the Bolivian Andes. While traditionally cultivated as a vegetable crop, use for its medicinal properties has become more prominent in Peru.
Lepidium meyenii Walp. Family: Brassicaceae (mustards)
Maca also is known as Peruvian ginseng, Maino, Ayuk willku, and Ayak chichira.
What is it used for?
Maca was domesticated at least 1,300 to 2,000 years ago and has been used commonly as a food by native Andean people because of its high nutritional value as well as to enhance fertility and sexual performance. Indigenous people used maca to treat numerous conditions including anemia, tuberculosis, sterility, and fatigue. Ethnobotanical studies document the use of maca for depression, and cancer, as well as for menstrual and sexual disorders.
The tuberous hypocotyl, or root, of the plant may be eaten raw or cooked, and dried and stored for years without serious deterioration. The root has a tangy taste and an aroma similar to that of butterscotch. Dried root may be mixed with honey or fruits to prepare juices, gelatins, jams, and alcoholic beverages.
Numerous studies on the aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties of maca are documented in scientific literature.
What is the recommended dosage?
Maca is available commercially in several dosage forms including powder, liquid, tablets, and capsules. Most commercial Web sites recommend a daily dose of 1 dried maca extract 450 mg capsule 3 times daily taken orally with food.
Patients with thyroid conditions should avoid maca because glucosinolates taken in excess and combined with a low-iodine diet can cause goiter.
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
There is no evidence of adverse reactions with maca. Maca has been reported to have a low degree of acute oral toxicity in animals and low cellular toxicity in vitro.
No adverse reactions were reported in an animal study with rats fed maca extract in doses up to 5 g/kg. Its long-time use as a food product suggests low potential for toxicity.
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