Lepidium meyenii (maca) is a cruciferous plant of the Brassica (mustard) family. It comes from the high Andes Mountains in Peru. It has become an important export for Peru for nutritional and medicinal uses. It grows on the Junin plateau at a very high altitude. It was domesticated as many as 2000 years ago. The edible portion is said to be a “radish-like tuber.”
Maca is dried when it is harvested and can be stored for long periods. It is boiled in water when it is to be eaten. The native people of Peru boil their maca, saying that uncooked maca may have a negative effect on the person’s health. Boiling may be necessary to improve the quality of the maca. (Heating the maca increases the amount of beneficial sulforaphanes, an anti-carcinogen, trans-lycopene and antioxidant activity.)
There may be as many as thirteen colors of maca, according to root color. The 3 main types of maca are red, black and yellow. Black maca has stronger effect on sperm production that yellow maca. Red maca has no effect on sperm production. Red maca does reduce the prostate in rats, more than yellow maca. Black maca shows no effect on rat prostate size. Red and black maca have good effects on bone structure; yellow maca had none.
Maca has been shown in studies to improve energy, mood and anxiety and enhance sexual desire. A study published in 2000 showed that maca improved rat sexual activity. Maca has been shown to increase sperm counts in men. Studies in various animals show that maca increases fertility. A study of rats with their ovaries removed showed that maca prevented the bone loss which would be seen due to the loss of estrogen. All three macas have anti-depressant activity. Especially, black maca has memory enhancing activity. For males the dose of maca was often 1.5 gm to 3.0 gm per day.
CONCLUSION: Maca seems to be an adaptogen, with beneficial effects on bone, depression, dementia, fertility and prostate. More studies are needed to evaluate the pathways by which maca works.
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