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Maca has a hot-shot reputation in the wellness community, but the reality is a little more nuanced. Maca, or Lepidium meyenii, is a plant in the cruciferous vegetable family (like kale and Brussels sprouts) known for its purported adaptogenic properties or ability to help your body adapt to and cope with stress. Broccoli and its ilk may not be the most popular foods here, but, to the Incas, maca was a traditional medicine and aphrodisiac used to boost a man’s libido and stamina—so you can bet it had a few fans.
Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca is grown in the Andes mountains at a high altitude (Gonzales, 2012). Generally, the root—which can be red, yellow, black, or white and resembles a radish or turnip—has been used in medicines. Although maca gets its reputation from attractive claims like the ability to boost muscle mass and increase strength, there’s currently no evidence of that. But there is research to suggest the root may increase sex drive (Gonzales, 2002), improve male fertility and semen quality by boosting sperm motility and concentration (Melnikovova, 2015), and alleviate some menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and sexual dysfunction (Brooks, 2008). While the supplement does offer a lot of potential health benefits, there are some maca side effects you should be aware of.
- Maca is a plant in the cruciferous vegetable family that was used in traditional Incan medicine.
- It has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac, and research backs its ability to help with sexual dysfunction in both men and women.
- Since maca root is so readily available, you need to make sure you purchase supplements through reputable companies.
- Like other cruciferous veggies, maca may interfere with regular thyroid function.
- It should also be avoided by people with hormone-sensitive conditions since it may act like estrogen in the body.
- Overall, most people tolerate maca well and enjoy its butterscotch-like taste.
Possible side effects of maca
As you’ll see, there are relatively few side effects of maca. But that doesn’t mean you should start a regimen without talking to your healthcare provider. We’re still learning when it comes to some traditional herbal treatments, and this superfood is no exception. Many potential side effects and health benefits of maca root only have animal studies as support, so in some cases, we don’t know how the effect of Lepidium meyenii translates to human models. So while we wait for research to catch up, it’s better to err on the side of safety and discuss any potential concerns or interactions with a professional and follow the medical advice you’re given.
It’s also worth noting that supplements may be made from different kinds of maca. While most are powders, you can also find extracts and liquids. Any products made from red maca or black maca may have slightly different health benefits than those made from yellow versions of this root. You’ll also find a wide range of products available at supplement stores and on Amazon. Make sure you’re always buying from a brand you can trust.
Maca is likely safe for most people
All in all, very few people need to avoid maca. It’s generally well-tolerated, and the earthy, nutty flavor of maca powder blends well with steamed milk (like in a latte) or smoothies. In fact, it isn’t difficult to find rave reviews, and many people believe it tastes a bit like butterscotch. Although there’s only anecdotal evidence, maca may cause a “jittery” feeling in some people that interferes with their sleep. If you plan on trying the herbal supplement, it may be best to work into a morning smoothie or shake to allow plenty of time before bed.
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Avoid maca if you have a thyroid condition
The Brassicae family has a lot to offer in terms of health benefits. But, unfortunately, that also means it’s safer for some people to avoid maca altogether. Maca root, like its cruciferous cousins cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, contains goitrogens (Bajaj, 2016), substances that could interfere with the normal functioning of your thyroid gland. That means people with already impaired thyroid function, like those with hypothyroidism, should avoid all supplements with this ingredient, whether it’s maca extract or root powder.
Avoid maca if you have other hormone-sensitive conditions
Maca extract may also act like estrogen in the body (although the study on this was only done in vitro) (Valentová, 2006). That means it’s better to avoid this supplement if you have a hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer, endometriosis, uterine cancer, or uterine fibroids. The treatment or management of many of these conditions requires patients to work with their healthcare providers to closely monitor and control estrogen levels. Maca could make these conditions and their symptoms worse by affecting hormone levels.
But that doesn’t mean that all women should avoid the supplement or could be affected by it, even if this sounds scary. In fact, for healthy postmenopausal women, one small study has found that maca can improve sexual dysfunction and alleviate psychological symptoms like anxiety and depression—without affecting serum estradiol levels (Brooks, 2008). (There’s anecdotal evidence that it may also help with hot flashes, but no research as of yet to back up those claims. It also helped their blood pressure.)
Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding
Maca may help in several different ways while you’re actively trying to get pregnant: cyclists taking it for stamina noticed a marked increase in sexual desire (Gonzales, 2002). And the root is able to improve sperm count and quality in adult healthy men without affecting testosterone levels in one clinical trial (Gonzales, 2001). But while the supplement may set a couple up with the right conditions to get pregnant, women shouldn’t take maca extract or root powder once they are expecting. And maca should be avoided throughout the breastfeeding process as well.