What is Maca Root Extract?
The maca root is a plant (herb) present mainly in Peru in the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains. The maca root can only grow at high elevations and may be the highest elevation food crop in the world. Since the time of the ancient Incan civilization, the maca root has been harvested as a vegetable crop and used for medicinal purposes. The maca is a relative of the radish and emits a smell akin to butterscotch (x).
The maca root contains several chemicals such as fatty acids and amino acids. While research may not be able to determine exactly how it functions, the maca root’s reputation as an aphrodisiac has been around for thousands of years. But one thing is certain — the maca root does not contain hormones, but does contain the nutrients necessary to support hormone production. It’s like giving your hormones a little pick-me-up, and it’s all natural.
The maca root may also produce mental clarity and deliver energy on top of enhancing sex drive. Other uses include treating anemia and enhancing energy, stamina, athletic performance and memory. It is also used to help improve female fertility and help treat female hormone imbalance, menstrual problems, menopause symptoms and sexual dysfunction. Overall, the maca root extract may arouse sexual desire and boost the immune system (x).
Where Does It Come From?
Maca root extract comes from the maca plant, otherwise known as lepidium meyenii. The root grows underground and has a turnip-like shape, but is smaller at about two to three inches in diameter. The root can vary in color from yellow to red, black or dark purple. The maca root has a flavor that is something like a cross between radish and butterscotch, while the maca leaves are somewhat spicy. The plants grow only in frost-free seasons, especially where the summers reach over 75 degrees (x).
What is Extracted?
The valuable part of the maca plant is the root. The root is extracted from the ground and typically ground into powder form, to be used as a supplement. Otherwise, it is steeped in alcohol to get the liquefied extract form.
Maca Root Extract Benefits
Helps Improve Sex Drive
Ancient folk belief indicated that maca root extract improved sexual desire, and modern research seems to confirm it. Numerous studies have been performed to determine whether maca root truly does increase sex drive. In one study, males between 21 and 56 received two different doses of maca, and their sexual desire was measured at four, eight and 12 weeks (x).
After eight weeks, participants did show an increase in sexual desire (x). Similar studies have been conducted regarding females, and the effect is similar.
Helps Improve Fertility
When it comes to fertility, most people automatically assume it is a problem that pertains to females. When it comes to studying the effects of maca root extract on fertility, however, the problem is linked to the male.
In fact, three randomized clinical trials and two uncontrolled observational studies have been conducted to determine semen quality as it relates to infertility (x). All studies displayed different pieces of evidence supporting the same conclusion — maca root improves semen quality. One study displayed favorable effects of maca on sperm motility in infertile men while other studies showed improvements for several qualities of semen during that time (x).
Helps Treat Menopause Symptoms
At first glance, maca root may seem a little like voodoo, but the research speaks for itself. It seems that maca root is magically effective even for symptoms of menopause. In all conducted clinical trials, the effects of maca root on lessening menopausal symptoms have been favorable. While the number of trials and safety are limited, the results are clear — maca root extract does help treat symptoms of menopausal activity for women who are in perimenopausal, early postmenopausal and late postmenopausal stages (x).
The ‘hype’ behind libido and fertility effects of maca root extract is true. But given that people have been using the herb for thousands of years, there are countless other uses which are attributed to the herb, though these uses are not necessarily scientifically backed. These uses include decreasing the effects of anemia, leukemia and chronic fatigue syndrome, improving memory and the immune system and helping treat female hormone imbalance, osteoporosis or tuberculosis (x).
Maca Root Extract Side Effects
Typically, up to 3 grams of maca root extract can be taken by anyone for four months. However there are some known aversions and side effects, specifically for women who have slow estrogen metabolism, or are breastfeeding or pregnant.
Estrogen levels can be a significant side effect when it comes to taking maca root. Some women who are slow in metabolizing estrogen have had adverse and opposite effects to maca root. They may experience sore breasts and intense, painful PMS symptoms for having too much estrogen that their bodies cannot break down in time (x).
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Like most supplements, maca root is not recommended for pregnancy or breastfeeding women because there is not enough research to qualify the maca root as ‘safe.’ As usual, you should always consult your doctor first. If unsure, maca root should be avoided completely.
Interactions with Maca Root
Any Medication or Supplement with Estrogen
As mentioned above, maca root does not have hormones in it, but it does support the production of more hormones, especially estrogen. So, taking any other medication or supplement that already has estrogen can be harmful.
Thyroid Conditions / Thyroid Medication
Individuals with thyroid conditions, taking thyroid medication should also not take maca root extract. This is because the Glucosinolates in maca root, when taken in excess and combined with a low-iodine diet, can cause goiter (x).
If the maca root is powdered from the uncooked root, it may be hard on some digestive systems. Moreover, if you start taking maca root extract at too high of a dose, it could make you sick. Maca root extract is also popular as a superfood, so countries have begun to produce lower quality maca root — this can also make you sick. If taken on an empty stomach or if your own bio-individuality does not support it, you may also want to stop taking maca root.
Maca Root Extract Dosage
Even for natural supplements like maca root extract, it is best to follow dosage instructions from your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare providers. Factors such as age, health and other conditions may affect dosing recommendations. Maca root extract comes in forms including powder and capsules. The most common dosage for maca root is two 1,000 mg dried maca root extract capsule, taken 3 times per day orally with food. Do not take if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Why Take It? Who Should Take It?
Maca root is notorious for helping balance hormones and reducing hyperthyroidism. It’s natural and doesn’t give you more hormones, it rather supports the production of the hormones you already have; so you don’t have to worry about putting something harmful into your body. Maca root is a great, natural way to increase fertility. It also has several minerals such as calcium, potassium and iron; 6 sterols, and up to 20 fatty acids, lipids, carbohydrates, fiber, protein and amino acids (x). Did we mention it’s all natural, grown straight from the earth?
While those may seem like all the best benefits, maca root should not be taken by just anyone. If you experience adrenal fatigue; you should take maca root. This supplement will nourish and reduce stress hormones. If you have an imbalance in hormones, especially one that affects your libido, sex drive, or sexual desire; you should take maca root. Also known as “nature’s Viagara”, if you experience hormonal challenges such as PMS, menopause, or hot flashes; have trouble with fertility, libido, or sexual function, you should also take maca root as prescribed by your doctor.
The Bottom Line
Maca root extract may be the be-all, end-all when it comes to fertility and libido issues, but it does not mean it is for everyone. For as many health benefits as it has, it could practically be considered the eighth wonder of the world. Essential minerals and vitamins, fatty and amino acids and the ability to improve most of the challenges faced in bed (sexual desire, sex drive, infertility, etc.), the maca root definitely lives up to its name. However, if you are one of the few with slow estrogen metabolism, thyroid conditions, hormone imbalances, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, maca root extract is not recommended. Otherwise, if you are having a little trouble in bed, look no further than the highest plateaus of the Andes Mountains in Peru; or your local natural supplement pharmacy.