Your Questions About Maca Root Answered
It’s been around for thousands of years, but maca has recently skyrocketed in popularity thanks to its many purported health benefits. Not to be confused with matcha—the finely ground powder made from green tea leaves—maca is a plant that grows in the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains in Peru. Natives have long used it to improve energy levels, stamina, fertility, and sex drive. Nowadays, you can find maca worldwide in everything from smoothies and energy bars to supplements, oatmeal, yogurt, and more.
To help you get to the root of this South American superfood, we’re answering the most pressing questions about maca root powder so you can decide if it’s something you want to consider adding to your own diet.
What is Maca Root?
Also known as maca-maca, Peruvian ginseng, or its scientific name lepidium meyenii, the maca plant looks like a turnip, which is a fellow cruciferous vegetable along with kale, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. (1)
Maca is very starchy like a potato and the root is the primary part that Peruvians have eaten over the years either by cooking, boiling, baking, or roasting it. Also, like a potato, maca is not typically eaten raw.
Maca is also popular in Peru as a morning drink not unlike coffee—locals use maca root that is dried and ground down into powder form for Inca tea, which is a combination of cinnamon, cloves, oats, and maca boiled in water. Maca root powder is also used in capsule supplements and sometimes as a liquid maca extract.
While maca is often a white to yellowish color, there is also red maca and black maca. As for the taste of maca root, it’s an acquired taste. Those who like it say maca has a nutty, butterscotch-like profile while people who don’t like it often say there’s too much of an earthy flavor and bitter aftertaste.
What Is Maca Powder Good For?
Given that most research on maca powder consists of animal studies, more human clinical trials are needed to determine the effects of maca powder. That said, studies so far show that there are many potential health benefits of maca powder.
• It gives you a good amount of vitamins and minerals.
Maca is loaded with nutrients and contains more than 20 amino acids, including all eight essential amino acids. Maca is extremely high in vitamin C, which is a known antioxidant that helps protect cells against the damaging effects of free radicals. (2) It’s also high in copper and iron, both of which work together to help the body form red blood cells. (3)
• It can improve your overall sense of well-being.
A study published in 2016 demonstrated how people who consumed extracts of black or red maca over a 12-week period experienced better mood, energy, sexual desire, and health-related quality of life. (4) Consuming maca was linked to a high quality of life in another study done with adults living in the Peruvian Central Andes. (5) Black maca also reduced blood sugar levels. (4)
• It can boost energy and physical endurance.
Many athletes use maca root powder to improve strength and enhance exercise performance. Although there is no proof that maca can make you stronger, a 2012 published study on swimming rats demonstrated increased endurance capacity. (6)
Does Maca Powder Contain Caffeine?
No. Even though maca powder doesn’t have caffeine, it’s linked to enhanced energy levels. Perhaps this is because maca has blood sugar stabilizing qualities that prevent energy spikes and crashes (4). By the way, if you’re looking for a healthy coffee-free buzz, don’t miss our guide to the best natural caffeine alternatives that will still give you all-day energy.
Will Maca Keep Me Awake?
Because maca doesn’t have caffeine, it shouldn’t keep you awake and there is no scientific evidence to indicate maca causes insomnia. That said, every person is different. If you feel a little jittery after consuming maca root, don’t worry—it probably means you just consumed too much and need to tone it down.
Is Maca Good For Men?
Yes. A study conducted on male athletes showed that maca worked as a natural stimulant for sexual desire (7) while another test on adult healthy men revealed similar results. (8) A 2015 medical report found that maca could increase fertility and sperm count in men (9) while animal tests have shown that red maca can reduce the size of enlarged prostates. (10)
Is Maca Good For Women?
For women, especially those going through “the change of life,” maca can be a huge help. In a 2015 study on postmenopausal women, maca was shown to help reduce blood pressure and depression. (11) An earlier review of multiple studies also indicated that maca alleviated unwanted symptoms of menopause including hot flashes. (12) Maca has also been shown to help balance hormone levels for early postmenopausal women (13) and improve sexual function. (14)
How Long For Maca To Take Effect?
This depends on what kind of effect you’re seeking. There are a lot of anecdotal reports online that maca can have an energizing effect or provide increased sexual desire within 3-4 days of consumption. However, if you look to the scientific studies conducted on humans, many times it takes weeks before seeing any significant results. (15)
How Much Maca Should I Take Per Day?
As with any supplement, optimal dosage varies from person to person and depends on many factors. Also, since the FDA does not regulate supplements like maca root powder, there is no definitive dose. In studies, maca is generally dosed from 1.5 to 5 grams per day, so start small and then build from there if necessary.
What’s the Difference Between Maca and Siberian Ginseng?
Maca is often referred to as “Peruvian ginseng” even though it’s not related to ginseng. Both are high-carb roots that come from plants used for medicinal purposes, but only maca is specifically thought to reduce sexual dysfunction. On the other hand, both maca and Siberian ginseng are linked to increased energy and better exercise performance (16). Like maca, Siberian ginseng has also been shown to improve overall mood and quality of life. (17)
Where Can I Get Maca?
You can get your hands on maca just about anywhere these days—online, health stores, vitamin shops, or maybe even your local supermarket. Wherever you buy your maca root powder, make sure you only purchase from reputable sources. Also, look for organic maca to ensure you’re getting a product that’s free from pesticides, herbicides, and other synthetic ingredients.
Are There Any Dangers or Side Effects of Maca?
Maca has been shown to be safe with no serious side effects. (18) That said, if you have thyroid issues, you might want to pass on maca. That’s because it has goitrogens, which can suppress normal thyroid gland function. (19)
You also don’t want to ever eat raw maca as it can cause digestive issues. If you have certain medical conditions, are pregnant, nursing, or taking other supplements or medications, be sure to seek medical advice from your health care professional.
It’s also worth mentioning that a 2014 report concluded that maca, along with other herbal supplements commonly found in sexual enhancement products, carries potential safety risks “particularly among subjects with psychiatric disorders.” (20)
You Got This!
Now that you’re a maca know-it-all (well, maybe not all), you have a better idea about the benefits of maca root as well as some of its limitations. Sure, it’s blown up in recent years, but even a South American superfood like maca won’t solve all of your health concerns. The good news is that even if maca isn’t for you, there are plenty of other natural extracts that can give you that extra push to live your best life.