Maca root has many health benefits

9 Health Benefits of Maca Root

Maca root looks like the love child of a parsnip and a potato and is considered a nutritional powerhouse. And "love child" is a good name for it, since it is most famous for its potential benefits for fertility and sexual health!

Maca is an edible, herbaceous, biennial cruciferous vegetable in the family Brassicaceae, related to cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli. While we're comparing this vegetable root to other plants, we should point out it's sometimes called Peruvian ginseng, although it is not in the ginseng family. Its scientific name is Lepidium meyenii.

Whatever you call maca root, one thing is clear: this herb has grown increasingly popular in recent years. Here are 9 ways it is thought to enhance well-being, plus some fun ways you can enjoy maca in your favorite healthy recipes.

Growing on the frigid and windy high plateaus of the Andean mountain tops, maca root was once considered more precious than gold—and with good reason! People in Peru have long believed it supports several aspects of well-being, and some early studies suggest they may be on to something. By most accounts, it's considered a superfood plant because it's packed with fiber, phytocompounds, B vitamins, vitamin C macamides (healthy fatty acids) and zinc—and all of that nutritional goodness can have positive benefits on how we feel, inside and out.

How so? Let's explore nine potential benefits of this Peruvian superfood.

1. May support men's fertility

Maca has a reputation for supporting men's fertility. Many say it can help maintain already-healthy sperm count and encourage healthy erections. Not surprisingly, maca root products have surged in popularity. That being said, clinical evidence backing up this hype has been mixed. If you're trying to conceive, it's possible that you could improve your chances by adding the Andean herb to your routine. Speak with your fertility doctor before you add maca to your daily habits.

2. Support for ovulation and hormone balance

Maca may help tone down hormonal fluctuations, like follicle stimulating and luteinizing hormones. Harmoniously balanced hormone levels are crucial for a woman's health and happiness. Some research suggests that alkaloids and macamides, bioactive compounds in this plant, are responsible for its hormone-balancing effects.

3. May help boost libido

Maca root has a reputation for revving up sex drive in both men and women. It has been shown in some small studies to encourage sexual desire as well as support sexual function and a healthy sex drive. Normal testosterone levels have been linked to healthy libido. Pro tip: Gentlemen, curious about your sex hormone levels? A male hormone panel lab test is an excellent way to know if your hormones are balanced.

4. Healthy energy production

Many athletes and bodybuilders stand by maca's reputation for supporting healthy energy levels, but the jury is still out on the energy-boosting benefits of maca.

5. May ease menopause symptoms

Stress, general fatigue, mood swings and hot flashes are the hallmarks menopause; they can be attributed to changes in the dip in estrogen levels and other hormonal fluctuations that happen as women exit their childbearing years and enter their perimenopausal years (the ones leading up to menopause).

When it comes to an herbal nutrient that has the potential to ease these menopausal symptoms, many menopausal women turn to this root from the Andean mountains of Peru. There is limited clinical evidence that suggests maca root (in powder or gelatinized forms) may help ease some of the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause.

6. Bone health for postmenopausal women

Maca-lovers also use the Peruvian root to complement their bone-friendly lifestyle, focusing on the regular consumption of foods rich in calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients necessary for bone health. However, clinical research is needed to confirm these benefits.

7. Focus and overall cognition support

There's a lot of hype that maca isn't just a superfood but is also "brain food." But does maca live up to its cognitive-supporting reputation? The jury is still out since there is no clinical data on maca's brain health benefits as of yet, but that doesn't mean it can't be part of an overall brain-healthy lifestyle, which should include exercise, eating habits like the Mediterranean Diet, and brain health nutrients with well-established benefits for cognition, such as omega-3 fatty acids.

8. Encourages a healthy mood

Some studies suggest added dietary intake—be it in powder or gelatinized form—may promote a healthy mood.

9. Promotes a healthy inflammatory response

Some evidence suggests that maca can help promote a healthy inflammatory response, and support muscle function and physical fitness in athletes.

What is black maca?

Peruvians have traditionally classified the maca root based on color. There is black maca root, purple, half-purple, cream-yellow maca and even red maca!

You may see that some options are packaged as "black maca" or "black maca powder" rather than just "maca." Does that mean there's a difference? Not really! Black maca is just a maca root that's…well, black. Why is it black? The varying levels of anthocyanin, some of its plant compounds, are primarily responsible for the color differences in the root.

Black maca, or black maca root, also varies significantly in the size and shape of its roots, which can be rectangular, spherical, flattened circular, or triangular.

Is maca good for my health?

All of the studies about maca's benefits—that it supports fertility, sexual function, encourages a healthy inflammatory response—are preliminary, meaning they were explored in small clinical studies and often had mixed results. Nevertheless, the research that does exist is promising.

One thing is sure–maca root's nutritional benefits are undisputed. Depending on where and how it was cultivated, maca root contains varying levels of alkaloids, minerals like potassium, iron and magnesium, protein and dietary fiber. And remember: your body is different from everyone else's and will likely have different nutritional needs.

Is maca safe?

Maca root powder is generally considered safe. It is usually well tolerated. However, more research is needed to know if consuming maca during breastfeeding or pregnancy is safe. Speak with your doctor before you add this Peruvian herb to your routine, especially if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

How to take maca?

You can cook it, eat it or drink it! Non-food options come in different forms, including gelatinized extracts, powders or capsules; if you prefer that to dietary options, choose high-quality formulas and follow the instructions on the label.

You can also explore culinary options. In Peru, it's a common ingredient that gives dishes an earthy vibe. It's usually dried and processed into flour, and it has a nutty, butterscotch-like flavor, so it blends well in baked goods.

Here are seven fun ways to add maca to your day:

  • Maca latte:

    We're not hating on coffee, but if you're looking for a caffeine-free drink, this one is it! It gives you all the flavor and none of the jitters that can sometimes come with a cup of joe.
  • Maca energy bars:

    Look for bars that have minimal to no added sugars, zero artificial flavors, colors and other additives.
  • Vegan maca milk:

    Exactly what it sounds like: mix a dairy-free milk of your choice with high-quality maca powder. Add some cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg for extra benefits (and flavors)!
  • Peanut butter maca granola:

    Homemade granola is the best way to eat this tasty breakfast food. Mix in maca to maximize the benefits.
  • Maca smoothie:

    Add more nutrient power to your smoothie with a scoop of maca powder of your choice. Pro tip: You can add cinnamon for a splash of antioxidants.
  • Maca cinnamon oatmeal:

    Step up your baked oatmeal with a scoop of maca powder.
  • Chocolate-covered coconut maca bars:

    Boost cacao's health benefits with maca.

About the Author: Krista Elkins has 20 years of experience in healthcare, both as a paramedic (NRP) and registered nurse (RN). She has worked on both ground and helicopter ambulances (CCP-C, CFRN), and in ER, ICU, primary care, psychiatric, and wilderness medicine. She practices and has a devoted life-long interest in preventative medicine. She is a conscientious, research-driven writer who cares about accuracy and ethics.