Maca: The Fertility Enhancer
Posted by Allie on 30th October 2015
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a plant that grows in the Peruvian Andes and has been used for centuries by native people for its medicinal properties. It's also gained a lot of worldwide recognition in recent years for its nutritional benefits. Maca is a member of the mustard (brassica) family along with cabbages, turnips and watercress. The plant produces leaves and has an tuberous, edible hypocotyl which is where the root joins the stem - this is often referred to as the maca root. The dried root holds its nutritional value and is rich is essential amino acids, protein and minerals such as iron, calcium, copper, potassium and zinc. There are different types of Maca, characterised by their colour which range from white through to black.
Although the majority of studies examining Maca have been carried out on animals, it has been found to have nutritional, fertility enhancing and energising benefits including improved bone health, mood, metabolism, energy levels, memory and hormonal balancing in menopausal women (1). The news that maca is also a fertility enhancer has been of particular interest for women looking to get pregnant. Maca extract has been shown to increase the amount of offspring in mice and rainbow trout. But it seems that the benefits are also for the men! It has been found to increase male sexual drive and, with consumption of black and yellow varieties (not red), sperm motility and count (1).
It is worth noting that Maca hasn't been tested for use during pregnancy. It is said that children in Peru consume Maca from childhood as do women throughout their pregnancy. However, as it hasn't been formally tested for safe consumption during pregnancy, it is generally not recommended for use during this time.
As Maca's popularity has grown, some issues have been raised about its safety. A research study in 2002 (2) suggested that a compound found in Maca called MTCA can be toxic. However, further research has shown that MTCA is a natural component also present in other plants and fruits, such as oranges, and that Maca is indeed safe for human consumption (1, 3).
In terms of recommended dosages, the amount seems to vary in the research literature. A study using rats to examine the effects of maca to balance hormones during the menopause suggested that oral doses of up to 15g/kg bodyweight should not pose a health risk to humans (4). Another study in 2012 stated that consuming less than, or equal to, 1g/kg bodyweight daily is considered safe for humans (1). Some resources also recommend daily maca use for 3 weeks followed by a week's break but this was not sourced from a research study. As with all foods, some people may have an allergy to it.
Maca can be taken in powder, tablet or capsule form and bought from health food stores or reputable online shops. There are lots of ways to use Maca powder. It can be added to drinks, such as juices and smoothies, for an easy way to enjoy its benefits!
References & Information Resources
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1: G.F. Gonzales (2012) 2012:193496. Review Article Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands. Evidence -Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 01/2012; 2012:193496. DOI: 10.1155/2012/193496
2: S. Piacente et al (2002) Investigation of the tuber constituents of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 50 (20): 5621–5625
3: G. F. Gonzales & C. Gonzales-Castañeda (2009) The Methyltetrahydro-β-Carbolines in Maca (Lepidium meyenii). Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 6 (3): 315–316
4: H.O. Meissner et al (2006) Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (I) Biochemical and Pharmacodynamic Study on Maca using Clinical Laboratory Model on Ovariectomized Rats. International Journal of Biomedical Science. 2 (3): 260-272