Maca is a type of plant found in Peru, and is used as a food and as a traditional medicine. It has properties that are similar to ginseng and has been touted as a beneficial supplement for energy and physical stamina, as well as for improving libido. Its potential value, however, extends beyond those qualities. Not all of maca’s effects are supported by scientific evidence, and potential side effects associated with its use have not been ruled out.
Psychological and Sexual Effects
The psychological and sexual effects of the plant make it potentially beneficial for those suffering from anxiety, depression or sexual dysfunction. Postmenopausal women who consumed 3.5 grams of maca per day for six weeks showed reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, and had lower measures of sexual dysfunction, according to a study published in December 2008 in “Menopause.” These effects were not related to the plant’s influence of hormones such as estrogen and androgen. A rat-based study published in February 2006 in the “International Journal of Biomedical Science” suggests that these effects could apply to both sexes, but this warrants further research.
Prevention of Postmenopausal Osteoporosis
Some evidence suggests that maca has benefits in relieving the symptoms of menopause and of reducing the risk of developing postmenopausal osteoporosis. Rats fed daily with 0.24 gram of maca extract per kilogram of body weight over the course of 28 weeks showed higher bone density than a control group, notes a study published in April 2006 in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology.” This is an indication that daily maca supplementation could reduce the risk of developing postmenopausal osteoporosis.
Other Potential Benefits
Limited evidence indicates other positive physical effects from the plant. Red maca reduces prostate size in normal and testosterone-supplemented rats, suggesting its possible use in treating enlarged prostate, states a study published in January 2005 in “Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology.” Other animal studies have indicated that maca may be useful in preventing and managing diabetes and high blood pressure, but there is no sufficient evidence to substantiate this at this time.
Possible Risks and Side Effects
A human study published in “Menopause” and rat studies published in “Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology” and the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” revealed no significant negative side effects throughout the duration of the studies. Maca has a low toxicity at a cellular level and a low acute oral toxicity in animals, making it safe for reasonable consumption. Maca, however, has not been researched thoroughly enough to fully understand its effects and possible consequences, especially when taken over an extended period.