Maca is a vegetable crop that grows in the Andes and has the odd distinction of looking like a golden-colored radish and smelling like butterscotch. People take it orally to enhance stamina, energy, memory, and athletic performance. They also take it to treat sexual dysfunction caused by antidepressants.
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Does It Work?
Scientists know that maca root contains fatty acids, amino acids, and many other health-promoting compounds, but they aren’t sure exactly how it confers its specific benefits. Notably, integrative practitioners have had success using maca to increase sex drive.
“SSRIs (or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), the conventional treatment for depression, tend to produce an unwanted side effect of decreased libido,” says Janelle Louis, a functional medicine practitioner at Focus Integrative Healthcare. “I usually prescribe maca for peri-menopausal women who are taking SSRIs for their depression and are finding that they are experiencing decreased libido.” She also recommends it for sexual dysfunction in patients who are not taking SSRIs.
What the Science Says
While there's a lot left to be determined about the effects of maca on libido and fertility, a handful of studies have been conducted.
First, this study showed that using maca for eight weeks, compared to a placebo group, resulted in an increased sexual desire for men. Then, a small review of five studies proved that maca improved the semen quality of both fertile and infertile men. Another study showed that the herb may potentially quell the uncomfortable side effects of menopause in women (though it wasn't conclusive). All this said, many large-scale studies are still needed before maca is ready for prime time.
How to Use It
In food form, the root vegetable is often baked or roasted, but in the States, it’s more commonly packaged in powder or capsule form. If you go the powder route, try blending it with something to mask the taste.
“It isn’t the best-tasting herb, but it does become far more palatable when added to a smoothie,“ Louis says.