A traditional root medicine from the Andes mountains may relieve your health complaints. The Inca people from Peru have cultivated and used the root for more than 2,000 years as a food and medicine. They believe the root gives energy and endurance as well as improving libido and memory. Maca root is either black, red or yellow and resembles a small turnip. It is boiled, dried and turned into a powder for use. Yellow maca is the most prevalent in the American supplement market.
Though the world is vastly different from when the Inca's flourished, people suffered from depression then as now. All three varieties of maca root may relieve depression. A study published in the journal "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" showed that administering yellow, red or black maca may reduce symptoms of hopelessness associated with depression. The researchers believe this may be attributed to the plant sterols acting as phytoestrogens found in maca root. These phytoestrogen compounds mimic the action of natural estrogen in the body and may regulate hormone balance and mood. The University of Michigan Health System states that insufficient research has been done to date on the ability of maca root to improve mood.
In addition to enhancing mood, the Peruvians use maca root as an energizer. They claim that it can improve physical stamina and endurance. One study reviewed in the journal "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" showed that when healthy men were given maca for 14 days, they improved their times in a endurance-cycling event. The men were also given a survey about their energy. Those taking the maca reported feeling higher energy levels than the group receiving the placebo supplement.
Maca root contains antioxidants, which may improve memory and brain function. Traditionally, Peruvian parents have given their children maca claiming that it improves performance and learning at school. In clinical studies, such as one published in "Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine," only black maca has shown a positive effect on brain function. Researchers believe these results can be attributed to the antioxidant properties of the black maca, which reduces oxidative stress in the brain. The relief from stress allows the brain to function properly and may prevent disease. According to the University of Michigan Health System, minimal scientific evidence exists to support this use of maca.
The Incas believed that maca root had aphrodisiac properties. In modern times, most sexual dysfunction is attributed to a lack of interest from women or erectile dysfunction in men. A review of clinical studies published in the journal of "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" showed that supplementing with maca may enhance sexual desire in men and women. The review also noted that healthy adult men may be relieved of erectile dysfunction through the ingestion of maca root.
- Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepedium Meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Effect of Three Different Cultivars of Lepidium Meyenii (maca) on Learning and Depression in Ovariectomized Mice
- Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Aqueous Extract of Black Maca on Memory Impairment Induced by Ovariectomy in Mice
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Maca (L. Meyenii) for Improving Sexual Dysfunction, a Systematic Review
- University of Michigan Health System: Maca
Erica Kannall is a registered dietitian and certified health/fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked in clinical nutrition, community health, fitness, health coaching, counseling and food service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in clinical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.