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I love using herbs and spices to support the body in healing itself. Maca root is a favorite because it’s so supportive of the body’s production of hormones. Since hormones rule a lot of the body’s processes, maca is a great natural supplement for female hormone support.
Maca: A Root for Almost Anything
Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is a tuber or root about the size or shape of a radish that grows exclusively in the Andes mountains of Peru. These roots are commonly white and yellow, though they can come in pink and purple colors as well as gray and black.
While maca is about the size and shape of a radish, it has a nutty, almost sweet taste. Some explain it as being a bit like butterscotch! Some people add it to sweet treats because of this (though some people still don’t like the slightly earthy taste).
Maca root contains many nutrients and other beneficial compounds that have made it famous as a superfood, such as:
- Vitamin C
- Amino acids
But maca is more than its nutrient profile. Maca is also an adaptogen, meaning it’s an herb that helps support the body in adapting to stressors. This along with the compounds above make it an effective natural remedy that supports hormone production.
As we know, hormones cascade into other areas like thyroid health, fertility, libido, and more. Maca can help with all of these areas, and studies back it up!
Let’s dive deeper…
Health Benefits of Maca Root
Maca has gained a reputation for helping balance hormones and even reversing hypothyroidism. It is an endocrine adaptogen, meaning that it does not contain any hormones, but rather it contains the nutrients necessary to support normal hormone production.
Maca for Adrenal Support
Maca is often recommended to those with adrenal fatigue as it nourishes them and supports calm reduces stress hormones. Because maca is an adaptogen it can help support the adrenals when they become taxed (as happens during stress).
Research published in 2006 shows that maca contains alkaloids that act on the ovaries and the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis). By affecting the HPA access maca can support adrenal health as well as many other hormone-dependent functions of the body.
It’s thought that maca does this by nourishing and activating the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. As the “master glands” of the body, when these function better they can bring the adrenal, thyroid, pancreas, ovarian, and testicular glands into balance.
Maca for Libido
One of the ancient uses of maca root was as an aphrodisiac for libido and sexual health. Science backs up this ancient use as well. A small 2006 study found that men experiencing mild erectile dysfunction saw improvement with using maca. For this reason, it’s earned the nickname “nature’s Viagra.”
According to a 2010 Korean review, taking maca for at least six weeks increased sexual desire in participants in two of the 4 studies included. More research is needed to definitively tell whether maca works for this use based on the results of this review. While not definitive, this evidence suggests there may be a connection between maca and sexual desire.
Australian researchers found that maca given to postmenopausal women with sexual dysfunction helped with menopausal symptoms (like hot flashes) and increase sexual function but did not have any effect on sex hormone production. This study suggests that the support maca offers is not necessarily in affecting hormone production but in some other function of supporting hormone health.
Maca for Fertility
I have personally seen many cases of couples adding maca to their daily regimen and conceiving easily, even after struggling with infertility. (Note: It should not be consumed during pregnancy!)
But science also supports this function. A 2016 review found that maca increased the quality of sperm (and sperm count) in infertile as well as healthy men, indicating that maca may have a significant effect on fertility.
Women are also thought to benefit from maca. According to a Polish study, maca toned the hormonal processes along the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis, “balanced hormone levels” and “relieved symptoms of menopausal discomfort.”
Maca is also high in minerals (calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc) and essential fatty acids which can help support hormone production.
Maca for Mood
As anyone who has experienced puberty, pregnancy, or menopause knows, hormones can have a huge effect on mood. Since maca is thought to help with hormone health, it makes sense that it could help with mood as well.
A 2015 pilot study discovered that maca can support healthy blood pressure as well as a healthy mood. In this study, postmenopausal women were given maca for six weeks. Maca “appeared to reduce symptoms of depression and improve diastolic blood pressure” in these women. However, there was no measurable effect on hormones, suggesting that (like an earlier study) maca may affect hormone health in an unexpected way.
Also check out this podcast with Dr. Kelly Brogan about natural ways to support mental health and mood when it’s a struggle.
Safety and Side Effects of Maca
Maca root is considered safe for most people. However, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding it is not recommended. Because of this, it’s best to take maca between menses and ovulation to avoid possibly taking it while pregnant.
If you have hormone specific health concerns, like breast cancer, endometriosis, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, or uterine fibroids, check with your doctor to discuss whether this supplement is safe for you. As always, check with your doctor that using maca is a good idea for your situation.
How to Take Maca (and Where to Get It)
As maca is a root vegetable in the radish family, it can safely be taken in small amounts daily. It is available in powder form (this is the least expensive option) or in capsules (slightly more expensive).
If you opt for maca powder, add it into smoothies or coffee for easy ingestion.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you ever taken maca? Did you notice a difference? Share below!
- Meissner, H. O., Reich-Bilinska, H., Mscisz, A., & Kedzia, B. (2006, June). Therapeutic Effects of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon) used as a Non-Hormonal Alternative to HRT in Perimenopausal Women – Clinical Pilot Study.
- Shin, B.-C., Lee, M. S., Yang, E. J., Lim, H.-S., & Ernst, E. (2010). Maca (L. meyenii) for improving sexual function: a systematic review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 10(1).
- Brooks, N. A., Wilcox, G., Walker, K. Z., Ashton, J. F., Cox, M. B., & Stojanovska, L. (2008). Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content. Menopause, 15(6), 1157–1162.
- Lee, M. S., Lee, H. W., You, S., & Ha, K.-T. (2016). The use of maca ( Lepidium meyenii ) to improve semen quality: A systematic review. Maturitas, 92, 64–69.
- Meissner, H. O., Mscisz, A., Reich-Bilinska, H., Mrozikiewicz, P., Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska, T., Kedzia, B., … Barchia, I. (2006, December). Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon).
- Stojanovska, L., Law, C., Lai, B., Chung, T., Nelson, K., Day, S., … Haines, C. (2014). Maca reduces blood pressure and depression, in a pilot study in postmenopausal women. Climacteric, 18(1), 69–78.
- Zenico, T., Cicero, A. F. G., Valmorri, L., Mercuriali, M., & Bercovich, E. (2009). Subjective effects ofLepidium meyenii(Maca) extract on well-being and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Andrologia, 41(2), 95–99.