According to statistics, 5 out of 10 people assigned male at birth (AMAB) aged between 40 and 70 years suffer from different degrees of sexual dysfunction (SD).1 This is an umbrella term covering fertility problems such as erectile dysfunction, loss of libido and failure of sexual intercourse. Male sexual dysfunction is considered a critical public health issue today because of its increased prevalence and detrimental impact on relationships and psychological health. Different kinds of reproductive medicines are used to treat fertility issues and enhance sexual performance, however, most of them have well-known adverse side effects, which has led to growing interest in complementary therapy. One dietary supplement which has developed a growing popularity is the maca fertility-boosting supplement. Therefore, this article aims to explain what maca is, reveal the proven benefits of maca as a fertility-boosting product and inform you about the issues to be considered when choosing this product.
Understanding maca for male fertility
Maca is a Peruvian plant scientifically called Lepidium meyenii. The plant is subterranean and grows in the middle Andes at an elevation of more than 4000 metres.2 While the leading producer of maca is Peru, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Japan, and the Netherlands are the top consumers of maca-based products. The plant is also known as Peruvian ginseng and is said to smell just like butterscotch.
Due to maca's extraordinary nutritional and therapeutic benefits, the plant was traditionally consumed as a dietary supplement for generations by the Andes people, either in the form of porridge or a fermented beverage. In addition to this, the Andean people employed maca as a natural medication to cure a variety of illnesses like rheumatic disease and respiratory issues. There has, however, been a rising interest in maca over the past few decades and nowadays the plant is more popular for its use as a fertility-boosting supplement— this is for reasons that will be explained below.
The part of the plant which is mostly of interest is the maca roots. The roots are processed and dried— the traditional drying process is required to produce the bioactive metabolites that are missing from fresh maca.3 Then, the root fragments are ground to the powder which we refer to as maca powder. However, maca is distributed globally through powder, capsules, tablets, flour, liquor, and extracts.
Nutrients we can get from maca
The components of maca give it both nutritional and medicinal properties and the part of the maca plant which is edible is the root.4 Beneficial nutrients in the maca extract have been isolated and are said to have multiple healthful properties like improvement of reproductive health or semen production, anti-oxidation, neuro-protection (keeping nerve cells alive and healthy), anticancer activity, and prevention of liver damage. Some of those nutrients are:
- Carbohydrates: The high starch content of the root makes it function as a natural stimulant and because it doesn't actually contain any caffeine, you get a caffeine-free energy drink.
- Iron and vitamin B2 (riboflavin): The maca root powder is naturally abundant in these micronutrients which support the immune system's function and help to combat exhaustion
- Proteins and essential amino acids: The maca root contains all 20 amino acids, which are important for the regulation of hormone levels and maintaining hormonal balance.5
- Antioxidants: Maca extracts have been found to contain antioxidants which clear up free radicals and prevent them from building up.6 Free radicals build-up has been linked to illnesses such as inflammatory diseases or cancer. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants is an important way to combat oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
- Dietary fibre: The maca powder also has a considerable fibre content which is important for good digestion and regular bowel movements
Due to these benefits, maca is formulated into different products for health-conscious buyers, such as pills, capsules, tonics, and drinks.
Health benefits of maca for male fertility
Maca is generally ingested for its fertility-boosting qualities3, these are the ways it boosts fertility in people AMAB:
This is the process of sperm production. Studies have shown that maca extract ingested over time increases sperm production, with some improvement in sperm concentration showing as early as 3 days after usage.7 When the maca therapy is continued over a long period, a rise in semen parameters such as semen volume and overall sperm count has been noted.
- Prostate function
Clinical trials on male rats and mice have shown that red maca can effectively reduce prostate size.,8 The effects of red maca extract were compared with finasteride, a drug currently used to treat benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), and was found to have similar effects in terms of reducing the prostate. The prostate is important in sperm production because it produces the seminal fluid which acts as a vehicle for sperm.
- Sexual behaviour
People with AMAB were given a 12-week active treatment regimen that included varying doses of gelatinized maca along with a placebo. The study found that sexual desire improved at 8 to 12 weeks of treatment, without changing serum levels of testosterone or oestradiol. Maca also increased the energy needed for sexual performance.9
- Sexual libido
Aphrodisiacs are agents that have the psychological effect of increasing sexual desire and pleasure. Some of them improve erections by altering hormone levels, increasing blood flow, and relaxing smooth muscle. According to a study, using a spray-dried extract of red and Black maca for 12 weeks, maca improved peoples' moods, levels of energy, and overall health. Specifically, spray-dried red maca extract had better effects on mood and vitality.10 Furthermore, in another study, people AMAB who received long-term maca supplementation reported significantly higher levels of sexual desire than those who received a placebo.11
How and when to use maca for male fertility?
The maca root powder is formulated into different food and non-food forms ranging from solid pills and capsules to liquid tonics. The powder is typically included in shakes, smoothies, and juices, but it can also be found in coffee, chocolate, and oils. Whole maca roots are frequently added to broth and oats in Peru, roasted, and eaten as a vegetable.
The maca extract also comes in smoothies, energy bars, lattes, and protein shakes and can be ingested as delicious energy drinks instead of pills. Due to its natural malty and creamy flavour, it is also added to warm chocolate milk, hot chocolate, or even just milk making a wonderful caffeine-free substitute for regular coffee.
Dose-wise, most persons are thought to be safe with a usual dose of 3-5g (approximately a level teaspoon per day), which has no obvious negative effects. Adults have most frequently taken 1.5–3.5g of maca every day for 6–16 weeks. In vivo (within a living organism) and in vitro (in a laboratory setting, outside an organism) toxicity cannot be seen after short- or long-term ingestion, according to some experimental research.3 However, a healthcare professional can recommend what dosage would be appropriate for your situation.
Maca is recommended for people AMAB who have sexual dysfunction or fertility issues relating to low sperm count motility, and low libido. Studies showed no significant effect when ingested by fertile men.4 It is unclear whether it can be used alongside approved drugs for improved sexual function and sperm production.
The supplement is generally considered safe but people AMAB with fertility issues who have thyroid conditions might want to avoid eating cruciferous foods like maca. This is because some agents found in this vegetable family have the potential to interfere with thyroid function.
Things to consider
The maca plant has different varieties depending on the root colour and the effects of each of the colour types; the black, yellow, and red maca types have been found to vary. The best outcomes on sperm count, sperm motility, sperm quality and fatigue are seen with black maca, whereas red maca is the variant that can treat experimentally induced benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Most of the studies which have been carried out on maca are experimental2 which means that these tests are being carried out on the agent to see if it can treat your illness or condition, they are not clinical studies which are being used by scientists to determine the drug's safety and efficacy. This should be considered when making decisions and when in doubt, consult your health expert, especially when other conditions and medications are involved.
The absence of product standardisation makes evaluating the usage of herbal medications challenging. The regulatory bodies normally classify them as food additives, so there is little to no regulation of their manufacturing and sale. Herbal goods are likely to have significant variances in composition and purity because there is no governmental oversight.
There is a lot of conjecture about the specific components in maca that are responsible for its aphrodisiac and fertility-boosting effects. Some research implies that secondary metabolites (compounds produced by a plant that are not essential for the usual growth, reproduction etc.) present in maca extracts are significant ingredients responsible for its physiological effects. Different forms of maca are used in studies, from methanolic extracts, and boiled extracts to powdered roots. Some forms are also said to be more effective than others (for instance, the methanolic extract is said to work faster than the gelatinized maca extract). It is therefore unclear which component in the combination of components within different maca supplements is specifically responsible for the observed effects on sperm motility, semen production and improvement in erectile dysfunction.
The most prevalent and minor side effects of maca root include headaches and gastrointestinal symptoms.12 In addition to this, some minor toxic effects have been observed in some studies4 and the authors recommend more exhaustive and conclusive research on this supplement.
Maca root is a plant indigenous to the Andean people. It has numerous nutrients and can be consumed as food or as a dietary supplement in the form of tablets, capsules, and liquid. It is however more popular for its use as a fertility-boosting supplement.
According to some studies, maca root enhances sexual desire, semen parameters, sperm motility, sperm quality, sperm production and sexual performance. The actual evidence, though, is scant and sometimes conflicting. To verify these reproductive health claims, additional large-scale clinical studies are required.
Speak with your healthcare provider before making decisions about the use of supplements if you are worried about sexual dysfunction, low libido, and other fertility issues.
- Chen L, Shi GR, Huang DD, Li Y, Ma CC, Shi M, et al. Male sexual dysfunction: A review of literature on its pathological mechanisms, potential risk factors, and herbal drug intervention. Biomed Pharmacother [Internet]. 2019 Apr [cited 2023 Feb 22];112:108585. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332218353289?via%3Dihub
- Gonzales GF, Villaorduña L, Gasco M, Rubio J, Gonzales C. Maca (Lepidium meyenii WALP), una revisión sobre sus propiedades biológicas. Rev Peru Med Exp Salud Publica [Internet]. 2014 Mar 14 [cited 2023 Feb 22]. Available from: https://rpmesp.ins.gob.pe/index.php/rpmesp/article/view/15
- Tafuri S, Cocchia N, Vassetti A, Carotenuto D, Esposito L, Maruccio L, et al. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) in male reproduction. Nat Prod Res [Internet]. 2021 Nov 17 [cited 2023 Feb 22];35(22):4550–9. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/14786419.2019.1698572
- Wang S, Zhu F. Chemical composition and health effects of maca (Lepidium meyenii). Food Chem [Internet]. 2019 Aug 1 [cited 2023 Feb 20];288:422–43. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814619303942
- Tang Y, Zhu ZY, Pan LC, Sun H, Song QY, Zhang Y. Structure analysis and anti-fatigue activity of a polysaccharide from Lepidium meyenii Walp. Nat Prod Res [Internet]. 2019 Sep 2 [cited 2023 Feb 22];33(17):2480–9. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/14786419.2018.1452017
- Li S, Hao L, Kang Q, Cui Y, Jiang H, Liu X, et al. Purification, characterization and biological activities of a polysaccharide from Lepidium meyenii leaves. Int J Biol Macromol [Internet]. 2017 Oct 1 [cited 2023 Feb 23];103:1302–10. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141813017311820
- Gonzales GF, Vasquez VB, Gasco M. The transillumination technique as a method for the assessment of spermatogenesis using medicinal plants: the effect of extracts of black maca (Lepidium meyenii) and camu camu (Myrciaria dubia) on stages of the spermatogenic cycle in male rats. Toxicol Mech Methods [Internet]. 2013 Oct 1 [cited 2023 Feb 22];23(8):559–65. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3109/15376516.2013.802830
- Gasco M, Villegas L, Yucra S, Rubio J, Gonzales GF. Dose-response effect of Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) on benign prostatic hyperplasia induced by testosterone enanthate. Phytomedicine [Internet]. 2007 Aug [cited 2023 Feb 22];14(7–8):460–4. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0944711306002182?via%3Dihub
- Gonzales C, Rubio J, Gasco M, Nieto J, Yucra S, Gonzales GF. Effect of short-term and long-term treatments with three ecotypes of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on spermatogenesis in rats. J Ethnopharmacol [Internet]. 2006 Feb 20 [cited 2023 Feb 22];103(3):448–54. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874105005520
- Gonzales-Arimborgo C, Yupanqui I, Montero E, Alarcón-Yaquetto DE, Zevallos-Concha A, Caballero L, et al. Acceptability, safety, and efficacy of oral administration of extracts of black or red maca (Lepidium meyenii) in adult human subjects: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Pharmaceuticals [Internet]. 2016 Sep [cited 2023 Feb 22];9(3):49. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-8247/9/3/49
- Maca. In: LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012 [cited 2023 Feb 22]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548552/
- Lentz A, Gravitt K, Carson CC, Marson L. Acute and chronic dosing of lepidium meyenii (Maca) on male rat sexual behavior. J Sex Med [Internet]. 2007 Mar [cited 2023 Feb 22];4(2):332–40. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1743609515315393