A Tale of Two Macas

July 28, 2014 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Many holistically-minded consumers have heard of and/or tried Maca – a root vegetable belonging to the mustard family which has been used medicinally for thousands of years in the Andean region of South America. In health food stores, you’ll frequently find it in supplements intended to support athletic performance, hormonal regulation and virility. In addition, Maca powder is sometimes featured in juices and smoothie concoctions for added nutrition and unspecified health benefits. In essence, Maca has taken on a similar reputation as ashwagandha or ginseng, as an adaptogen which promotes balance in various systems in the body. However, not all Maca products are created equal.

The most popular form of Maca can be identified by it’s Latin or scientific name: Lepidium meyenii. A recent study on L. meyenii reports that a daily dose of 3.3 grams does not influence hormone levels or immunity in postmenopausal women. But, it effectively lowers diastolic blood pressure and improves depression. A previous trial from 2008 noted that a similar amount of Maca reduced anxiety, depression and other symptoms pertaining to sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women. Likewise, Maca has been shown to improve sexual desire and well-being in men under various circumstances ranging from healthy athletes to men diagnosed with erectile dysfunction and antidepressant-induced sexual side effects. Related data indicate that Maca supplementation improves fertility by boosting sperm count, motility and volume. But, once again, these effects do not involve any meaningful alterations in hormone levels. Therefore, how exactly L. meyenii “works” remains a mystery. Lastly, a trial published in the March 2008 issue of Food and Chemical Toxicology determined that supplementing with 600 mg of Maca/day for 90 days caused a moderate rise in AST (a liver enzyme) and diastolic blood pressure. These unexpected results prompted the study authors to urge caution for those using “high doses of maca powder”.

Another variety of Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon) is often included in nutraceuticals intended to address women’s health issues. Thus far, there have been three peer-reviewed studies assessing the viability of this “pre-gelatinized” form of organic Maca. The findings of the trials reveal that L. peruvianum does appear to affect certain hormones in postmenopausal women. It elevates estrogen, while lowering cortisol, FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and thyroid (T3 or triiodothyronine). Additionally, markers of bone density increased as a result of 2 grams daily of this specific Maca extract known as “Maca-GO”. Of note, menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweating declined over the course of this four month study. While promising, there are a few issues that require resolution for my own peace of mind. Firstly, there have only been three human studies completed using the L. peruvianum form of Maca – all published in 2006. Why hasn’t there been any follow up research? Secondly, one of the three studies involving perimenopausal women determined that pre-gelatinized Maca affected hormones differently than in postmenopausual women. Clarification on this issue and more data regarding long term safety are needed before I can offer a widespread endorsement of either of the Macas.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Maca Reduces Blood Pressure and Depression, In a Pilot Study In (link)

Study 2 – A Pilot Investigation Into the Effect of Maca Supplementation On (link)

Study 3 – Subjective Effects of Lepidium Meyenii (Maca) Extract On Well-Being … (link)

Study 4 – A Double-Blind, Randomized, Pilot Dose-Finding Study of Maca Root (link)

Study 5 – Beneficial Effects of Lepidium Meyenii (Maca) On Psychological (link)

Study 6 – Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) and Yacon (Smallanthus Sonchifolius) In (link)

Study 7 – Lepidium Meyenii (Maca) Improved Semen Parameters In Adult Men (link)

Study 8 – Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (L. P. Chacon): (III) (link)

Study 9 – Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (L. P. Chacon): (II) (link)

Study 10 – Therapeutic Effects of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (L. Peruvianum Chacon) (link)

Pre-Gelatinized Maca May Support Postmenopausal Bone Density

Source: Int J Biomed Sci. 2006 Dec;2(4):375-94. (link)

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Posted in Bone and Joint Health, Nutritional Supplements, Women's Health

5 Comments & Updates to “A Tale of Two Macas”

  1. JP Says:

    Update 05/13/15:


    Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:949036.

    A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women.

    Objective. We sought to demonstrate that maca root may be an effective treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction (AISD) in women. Method. We conducted a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of maca root (3.0 g/day) in 45 female outpatients (mean age of 41.5 ± 12.5 years) with SSRI/SNRI-induced sexual dysfunction whose depression remitted. Endpoints were improvement in sexual functioning as per the Arizona Sexual Experience Scale (ASEX) and the Massachusetts General Hospital Sexual Function Questionnaire (MGH-SFQ). Results. 45 of 57 consented females were randomized, and 42 (30 premenopausal and 12 postmenopausal women) were eligible for a modified intent-to-treat analysis based on having had at least one postmedication visit. Remission rates by the end of treatment were higher for the maca than the placebo group, based on attainment of an ASEX total score ≤ 10 (9.5% for maca versus 4.8% for placebo), attaining an MGH-SFQ score ≤ 12 (30.0% for maca versus 20.0% for placebo) and reaching an MGH-SFQ score ≤ 8 (9.5% for maca versus 5.0% for placebo). Higher remission rates for the maca versus placebo group were associated with postmenopausal status. Maca was well tolerated. Conclusion. Maca root may alleviate SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women.

    Be well!


  2. JP Says:

    Update 05/13/15:


    Climacteric. 2015 Feb;18(1):69-78.

    Maca reduces blood pressure and depression, in a pilot study in postmenopausal women.

    OBJECTIVE: Lepidium meyenii (Maca) has been used for centuries for its fertility enhancing and aphrodisiac properties. In an Australian study, Maca improved anxiety and depressive scores. The effects of Maca on hormones, lipids, glucose, serum cytokines, blood pressure, menopausal symptoms and general well-being in Chinese postmenopausal women were evaluated.

    METHODS: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study was conducted in 29 postmenopausal Hong Kong Chinese women. They received 3.3 g/day of Maca or placebo for 6 weeks each, in either order, over 12 weeks. At baseline, week 6 and week 12, estradiol, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), full lipid profiles, glucose and serum cytokines were measured. The Greene Climacteric, SF-36 Version 2, Women’s Health Questionnaire and Utian Quality of Life Scales were used to assess the severity of menopausal symptoms and health-related quality of life.

    RESULTS: There were no differences in estradiol, FSH, TSH, SHBG, glucose, lipid profiles and serum cytokines amongst those who received Maca as compared to the placebo group; however, significant decreases in diastolic blood pressure and depression were apparent after Maca treatment.

    CONCLUSIONS: Maca did not exert hormonal or immune biological action in the small cohort of patients studied; however, it appeared to reduce symptoms of depression and improve diastolic blood pressure in Chinese postmenopausal women. Although results are comparable to previous similar published studies in postmenopausal women, there might be a cultural difference among the Chinese postmenopausal women in terms of symptom reporting.

    Be well!


  3. Colin Says:

    I’m curious what your take is on the various phenotypes (colors) of Maca and heated/gelatinized vs raw. I’m particularly interested in claims of increasing brain resiliency to alcohol.

    It seems to me that raw maca could have a healthy prebiotic effect, but do its benefits go beyond that which could be achieved with a cheaper substitute like raw potato starch? Maca prices have skyrocketed (applicable adage: sex sells).

    It appears raw maca is more heavily researched according to this summary:

    FWIW, the Wikipedia article on Maca suggests it’s disputed that there are two separate species:
    “She considered the widely cultivated natural maca of today to be a newer domesticated species, L. peruvianum.[2] Most botanists today doubt this distinction, however, and continue to call the cultivated maca L. meyenii.”

    Thanks for your continuous output on this site

  4. JP Says:

    Hi Colin,

    Thank you for your thoughtful questions and support.

    Presently, I don’t recommend using Maca as a neuroprotectant. IMO, there just isn’t enough data to go on. Also, I couldn’t find any published research demonstrating any effect on gut microbiota – though, it probably does something due to it’s carbohydrate/fiber/phytochemical content.

    Here’s some of the latest info. I found re: Maca genotypes and more:


    Int J Biomed Sci. 2015 Sep;11(3):131-45.

    Peruvian Maca (Lepidium peruvianum): (I) Phytochemical and Genetic Differences in Three Maca Phenotypes.

    Glucosinolates were previously reported as physiologically-important constituents present in Peruvian Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon) and linked to various therapeutic functions of differently-colored Peruvian Maca hypocotyls. In two separate Trials, three colours of Maca hypocotyls “Black”, “Red” and “Yellow” (termed “Maca phenotypes”), were selected from mixed crops of Peruvian Maca for laboratory studies as fresh and after being dried. Individual Maca phenotypes were cultivated in the highlands of the Peruvian Andes at 4,200m a.s.l. (Junin and Ninacaca). Glucosinolate levels, chromatographic HPLC profiles and DNA variability in the investigated Maca phenotypes are presented. Genotypic profiles were determined by the ISSR-PCR and RAPD techniques. Compared to the Black and Red phenotypes, the Yellow phenotype contained much lower Glucosinolate levels measured against Glucotropaeolin and m-methoxy-glucotropaeolin standards, and exhibited different RAPD and ISSR-PCR reactions. The Red Maca phenotype showed the highest concentrations of Glucosinolates as compared to the Black and Yellow Maca. It appears that the traditional system used by natives of the Peruvian Andean highlands in preparing Maca as a vegetable dish (boiling dried Maca after soaking in water), to supplement their daily meals, is as effective as laboratory methods – for extracting Glucosinolates, which are considered to be one of the key bioactive constituents responsible for therapeutic functions of Peruvian Maca phenotypes. It is reasonable to assume that the HPLC and DNA techniques combined, or separately, may assist in determining ID and “Fingerprints” identifying individual Peruvian Maca phenotypes, hence confirming the authenticity of marketable Maca products. The above assumptions warrant further laboratory testing.


    Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:324369.

    Effect of Lepidium meyenii Walp. on Semen Parameters and Serum Hormone Levels in Healthy Adult Men: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study.

    Background/Aims. Products of Lepidium meyenii Walp. (maca) are touted worldwide as an alimentary supplement to enhance fertility and restore hormonal balance. Enhancing properties of maca on semen parameters in animals were previously reported by various authors, but we present to the best of our knowledge the first double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot trial in men. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of maca on semen parameters and serum hormone levels in healthy adult men. Methods. A group of 20 volunteers aged 20-40 years was supplied by milled hypocotyl of maca or placebo (1.75 g/day) for 12 weeks. Negative controls of semen were compared to the samples after 6 and 12 weeks of maca administration; negative blood controls were compared to the samples after 12 weeks of treatment. Results. Sperm concentration and motility showed rising trends compared to placebo even though levels of hormones did not change significantly after 12 weeks of trial. Conclusion. Our results indicate that maca possesses fertility enhancing properties in men. As long as men prefer to use alimentary supplement to enhance fertility rather than prescribed medication or any medical intervention, it is worth continuing to assess its possible benefits.


    Carbohydr Polym. 2015 Nov 5;132:509-12.

    Physicochemical and functional properties of dietary fiber from maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) liquor residue.

    Using maca (Lepidium meyenii) liquor residue as the raw material, dietary fiber (DF) was prepared by chemical (MCDF) and enzymatic (MEDF) methods, respectively, of which the physicochemical and functional properties were comparatively studied. High contents of DF were found in MCDF (55.63%) and MEDF (81.10%). Both fibers showed good functional properties, including swelling capacity, water holding capacity, oil holding capacity, glucose adsorption capacity and glucose retardation index. MEDF showed better functional properties, which could be attributed to its higher content of DF, more irregular surface and more abundant monosaccharide composition. The results herein suggest that maca DF prepared by enzymatic method from liquor residue is a good functional ingredient in food products.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Updated 08/23/16:


    Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2016 Aug 18;9(3).

    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.

    The plant maca, grown at 4000 m altitude in the Peruvian Central Andes, contains hypocotyls that have been used as food and in traditional medicine for centuries. The aim of this research was to provide results on some health effects of oral administration of spray-dried extracts of black or red maca (Lepidium meyenii) in adult human subjects living at low (LA) and high altitude (HA). A total of 175 participants were given 3 g of either placebo, black, or red maca extract daily for 12 weeks. Primary outcomes were changes in sexual desire, mood, energy, health-related quality of life score (HRQL), and chronic mountain sickness (CMS) score, or in glycaemia, blood pressure, and hemoglobin levels. Secondary outcomes were acceptability and safety, assessed using the Likert test and side effect self-recording, respectively, and the effect of altitude. At low altitude, 32, 30, and 32 participants started the study receiving placebo, red maca, or black maca, respectively. At high altitudes, 33, 35, and 31 participants started the study receiving placebo, red maca, and black maca, respectively. Consumption of spray-dried extracts of red and black maca resulted in improvement in mood, energy, and health status, and reduced CMS score. Fatty acids and macamides were higher in spray-dried extracts of black maca than in red maca. GABA predominated in spray-dried extracts of red maca. Effects on mood, energy, and CMS score were better with red maca. Black maca and, in smaller proportions, red maca reduced hemoglobin levels only in highlanders with abnormally high hemoglobin levels; neither variety of maca reduced hemoglobin levels in lowlanders. Black maca reduced blood glucose levels. Both varieties produced similar responses in mood, and HRQL score. Maca extracts consumed at LA or HA had good acceptability and did not show serious adverse effects. In conclusion, maca extract consumption relative to the placebo improved quality of life parameters. Differences in the level of improvement between red and black maca are probably due to differences in the composition of these two plant varieties. Both maca extracts were well tolerated and safe.

    Be well!


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