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Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a root plant consumed as a food and for medicinal purposes. Maca is also known as "Peruvian ginseng" (despite the fact that it is not a member of the ginseng family), because it is used as a folk remedy to increase stamina, energy, and sexual function. It is typically taken as a pill or liquid extract or as powdered maca root.
Long used to enhance energy and boost stamina, maca is often touted as an aphrodisiac and a natural means of improving sexual performance and fertility. Although few scientific studies have tested maca's medicinal effects, some research suggests that maca may offer certain health benefits.
Benefits of Maca
Proponents claim that maca may help with these health concerns:
symptoms of menopause
sexual dysfunction in women
sexual dysfunction in men (including erectile dysfunction)
Maca is also said to aid in the treatment of cancer.
The Science Behind Maca
Here's a look at the available research on maca and its potential health benefits:
1) Maca and Sexual Function
There is "limited evidence" for maca's effectiveness in improving sexual function in men and women, according to a 2010 report published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The report's authors analyzed four clinical trials, two of which found that maca may have positive effects on sexual dysfunction or sexual desire in healthy menopausal women or healthy adult men. However, the other two trials found that maca failed to produce any positive effects on sexual function.
In a 2008 study from CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, researchers found that maca may help alleviate sexual dysfunction caused by use of selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs, a class of medications used in treatment of depression). The study involved 20 people with depression, all of whom were experiencing SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. Results revealed that maca may also help improve libido.
2) Maca and Fertility
One small study looked at the effect of 4 months of treatment with maca tablets on semen quality in nine adult men. Treatment with maca resulted in increased semen volume, sperm count, and sperm motility. Serum levels of testosterone and estradiol were not affected.
There are different types of maca, including yellow, black, and red maca. Black maca appears to have the greatest effect on sperm count, followed by yellow maca, which has moderate effects.
3) Maca and Mood in Menopause
Maca may help ease anxiety and depression in postmenopausal women, according to a 2008 study from the journal Menopause. For the study, 14 postmenopausal women took 3.5 grams of powdered maca for six weeks and then took a matching placebo for another six weeks. Study results showed that maca helped reduce anxiety and depression, as well as improve sexual function.
4) Maca and Energy
Although preliminary findings from animal-based studies indicate that maca may help improve endurance, there is currently a lack of scientific support for the claim that maca can help boost energy and fight fatigue.
5) Maca and Cancer
To date, there is no evidence that maca can help treat cancer.
Side Effects of Maca
Little is known about the safety and side effects of short-term or long-term use of maca. In addition, it's not known whether maca may produce harmful effects when combined with other medicine.
Powdered maca root can be added to smoothies, juice, and shakes. Raw powdered maca root is available for people on a raw food diet. Maca is also available as a nutritional supplement, in liquid or pill form.
Should You Use Maca for Health Purposes?
Due to the lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend maca as a treatment for any health condition. If you're considering the use of maca, make sure to consult your physician before beginning treatment.
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