Maca is a hardy plant that grows at high altitudes in the Andean highlands of Peru. It has been used as a food and medicine by indigenous South Americans for more than 2000 years. Historical records suggest that one of the plant’s main uses was as a tonic to prepare men for battle—the herb supposedly increasing strength and vitality. Another widespread traditional use of maca, as was documented by the early Spanish visitors, was to improve the sexual health of the population—men, again, being the principal beneficiaries. Peruvian men of today continue to use maca, and, over the last decade, news of the plant’s efficacy has slowly filtered to other parts of the world, where enlightened health practitioners and their patients enjoy its many benefits.
Modern scientific analysis has revealed that maca contains a veritable warehouse of ingredients that are useful for men’s health. There are high levels of minerals, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, as well as protein and amino acids—all of which are essential for building healthy bodies. There are plant sterols that are keenly sought as supplements by athletes who want to build muscle without resorting to the damaging side effects of anabolic steroids. Other phytochemicals, some of which are unique to maca, have been identified as being responsible for maca’s reputation as an aphrodisiac and as an agent to increase sexual potency and performance.
In recent times, scientific research has been conducted to see whether the claims made about maca can actually stand up to unbiased scrutiny. Nor surprisingly, much of this research has centered on male sexual health. Numerous studies conducted on mice and rats have had positive outcomes in this regard:
J Ethnopharmacol. 2001; 75(2-3):225-9. Maca was shown to “significantly improve sexual performance parameters in male rats.”
Andrologia. 2002; 34:177-179. Maca increased the number of times rats copulated, and decreased the intervals between copulations.
Asian Journal of Andrology. 2001; 3:231-233. Maca increased testicular weight and spermatogenesis in rats.
Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2005; 3(1):5. Maca was able to reduce prostate size. Prostate enlargement is a problem for most men as they age.
Urology. 2000; 55:598-602. Maca supplementation led to a tripling of sexual activity of mice. In addition, rats with erectile dysfunction were shown to have their latent period of erection halved.
There have been fewer human trials, but those conducted show a similar trend:
Asian Journal of Andrology. 2001; 3:301-303. This was one of a number of studies led by Dr. Gustavo Gonzales. In this trial, normal men aged from 24 to 44 received maca for four months. This resulted in increased seminal volume, sperm count per ejaculation, and sperm motility.
Andrologia. 2002; 34:367-372. This 12-week double blind placebo-controlled trial led by Gonzales demonstrated maca’s ability to increase sexual desire in men aged 21 to 56.
The Phase I results of another study led by Gonzales show that, apart from improvements in male sexual health, maca supplementation also improved the subjects’ state of mind, decreasing stress and anxiety levels.
Maca has been termed an adaptogen, which refers to a substance that can normalize one or more of the body’s systems. In the case of maca, it acts on the hormonal system. Hormonal imbalance for men does not get as much press as it does for women. Nevertheless, for some men, male menopause (known as andropause) can be physically and emotionally significant. It occurs when testosterone levels become depleted, resulting in mood changes, a loss of energy, lowered sex drive and reduced physical agility. By balancing and strengthening the hormonal system,