Maca has been used since ancient times for various health and medicinal purposes. Despite various claims about its benefits, however, there is a lack of enough scientific evidence to support the use of maca for medicinal purposes.
Due to this lack of evidence, avoid taking maca as a supplement unless your doctor recommends doing so. Some of the proposed uses of maca include the treatment of:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Male infertility
- Reduced libido
- Postmenopausal conditions
- Menstrual problems
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Reduced stamina and athletic performance
- Memory or cognitive impairment
- Certain cancers, such as leukemia and stomach cancer
- Low immunity
- Hormonal imbalance in women
- Human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
What is maca?
The maca plant, also called Peruvian ginseng, belongs to the mustard family which includes other vegetables, such as radish, turnip, cabbage, kale, and broccoli. The plant is native to the Andes mountains of Peru. The underground part of maca (called hypocotyl) is used as food, and it is available commercially in powdered form.
Four main varieties of maca are grown in the Peruvian region: red, black, purple, and cream. These varieties are considered nutritionally similar and are sold in various parts of the world as “superfoods.” Maca powder has a nutty or earthy flavor and can be added to smoothies, soups, juices, salads, and baked products.
Besides powder, maca is commercially available as liquid extracts, capsules, tablets, and as an additive in certain cocoa powder brands. Maca is used to improve soil fertility in agricultural practices.
A tablespoon of maca powder (about 8 grams) contains:
- Energy: 30 kcal
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sugars: 4 grams
- Cholesterol: None
- Calcium: 20 mg
- Iron: 0.4 mg
- Potassium: 130 mg
Are there any side effects of maca?
Maca is generally safe when consumed as a food. It is well tolerated by most healthy people and may be safe when taken as a supplement in amounts up to 3 grams a day for up to 4 months.
If, however, you are pregnant or breastfeeding or have underlying health conditions, you should talk to your doctor before taking maca supplements. Maca should be avoided by people with thyroid conditions because maca may cause thyroid gland enlargement (goiter).
Because maca can alter hormone levels, it should also be avoided by people with hormone-sensitive conditions, such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis. Maca has been reported to cause heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding and raised testosterone levels in some women.
Some people have reported side effects such as mood disturbances, altered menstrual cycles, cramp, gastritis, and sleep disturbances (insomnia) after maca consumption.
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Peace Health. Maca. https://www.peacehealth.org/medical-topics/id/hn-4392007
Food Data Central. Maca Powder. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/691066/nutrients
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Maca. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/maca
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