February 7, 2012

Maca Madness

Photo of the Andes Mountains in Peru courtesy of Pixabay

If this were March we would be talking about March Madness. But, it’s February so we’ll talk about Maca Madness. Maca is an herb that is being touted for its sexual and general health effects/benefits. Maca or Lepidium meyenii is grown at higher altitudes up to 14,500 feet in the Andes Mountains of Peru and Bolivia and is one of the few plants that grows well in rough climates.

It has been used for over 2,000 years for food, medicinal purposes, and as a form of currency. It is traditionally consumed cooked, but maca supplements and extracts are now available online and in health food stores.

Nutritional Value of Maca

Maca is rather nutritious being high in calcium and potassium and trace minerals like copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc. It is contains healthy fatty acids and most amino acids for protein synthesis.

Maca and Sexual Effects

Maca has been used as an aphrodisiac and was used by Inca warriors to enhance muscle strength and endurance.  One systematic review of the literature did not find convincing evidence that it improved sexual dysfunction, but the studies reviewed were too small and too limited to find a difference. However, an Italian study showed maca to slightly improve erectile dysfunction and sexual well-being with use of 2,400 mg of maca extract.

In a Peruvian double-blind placebo controlled study over 12 weeks men who received 3 grams of the herb reported improved sexual desire. This study and others did not show it to actually increase testosterone or estradiol levels. Studies have shown the herb to increase sperm count and seminal volume. It may be through its general nutritional content that maca improves sexual desire rather than through any changes in hormone levels in men or women.

The zinc content of the herb may explain some of these sexual improvements. In our post “Natural Testosterone Boosters” we discussed that zinc is important for sperm health and also blocks the conversion of testosterone to estrogen.

One study showed 3 grams of maca a day improved sexual dysfunction caused by SSRI antidepressants (Celexa, Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft, and others). Keep in mind many antidepressants lower sexual desire and function, and keep in mind some depression is caused or exacerbated by low sex hormone levels.

Maca and Menopausal Symptoms

One study suggests that 3.5 grams of the herb a day may alleviate anxiety and depression associated with menopause.

The Bottom Line

Studies suggest that maca may improve libido and sexual function. These improvements do not appear to be related in increases in sex hormone levels and may be more related to the nutritional content found in the herb.  Based on over 2,000 years of human consumption it certainly appears safe when consumed as a food. It appears that 3 grams or 3,000 mg a day is necessary for improvements in libido and/or sexual function to occur.

If you suffer from low libido or sexual dysfunction having sex hormone levels measured is advisable. If low, consideration should be given to having hormone levels restored to optimal levels. This is more likely to be effective than taking maca, but certainly there’s little down-size to trying maca first.

See related articles.

“Herbs for Menopause”

“Today’s Leading Herbal Anti Aging Supplements”

“Anti Aging Medicines May Alter How Death Claims Life”



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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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