- Maca root comes from a vegetable grown in Peru and is sold in the United States as a supplement.
- It is touted for its adaptogenic properties and is said to boost energy and libido.
- Research is limited, but some experts say maca is safe for most people. However, pregnant women should avoid maca due to potential lead exposure.
Maca root comes from a plant native to Peru and has a culinary history dating back nearly 2,000 years. Traditionally cooked and used in soups or juices, maca eventually made its way to the United States as a superfood supplement.
Health food stores sell raw maca root powder and gelatinized maca root capsules claiming that these products can support energy, memory, female fertility and more. It is considered an adaptogen and is said to help the body deal with stress.
Maca root is something I use most often when caring for women and for specific health needs for women, Baljit Khamba, ND, MPH, naturopathic physician and chair of clinical sciences at Bastyr University in San Diego.
Some previous research suggests that maca may improve mood o treat antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women, but most of the studies on maca have been done on animals.
Animal research indicates that maca root supports the balance of estrogen and progesterone. This may be why some women see fertility benefits and some experience relief from menstrual, perimenopause and menopause symptoms when they take maca root, Khamba said.
But there isn’t enough research to confirm the benefits of maca root. For those who want to take maca root for fertility issues, Khamba said they should speak to a supplier to discuss whether it’s appropriate.
Because maca root is a food, the risks associated with its consumption are low, Khamba said. However, it’s important to know that when a food is derived in powder or capsule form, it can be more concentrated than it is in its most natural state.
Maca root powder vs. capsule: does it matter?
Maca is mainly sold in the United States in powder or capsule form. Some may prefer the capsule form since raw maca can taste strong and bitter, but the benefits are likely the same.
It probably doesn’t make much difference how you consume it. Often, when in capsule form, maca root is combined with something else. So, I have a slight preference for mixing it into your food,” Khamba said.
According to Khamba, maca can be used every day, but she encourages people to talk to a naturopathic doctor about a dosage that’s right for them.
The United States Pharmacopoeia Convention states that as a dietary supplement the recommended dosage range is 1.53g.
Generally, starting with smaller doses is best. Maca root works best when its effects are cumulative and occur over time, he said.
What are the risks associated with maca root?
Maca root is considered safe, but some people on social media have reported stomach pain and gastrointestinal distress after taking this supplement.
I think people generally perceive these nutritional supplements as safe because they are available over the counter. And people don’t really consider that they could have possible side effects, said Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, medical toxicologist and interim executive director of the National Capital Poison Center.
Maca and other dietary supplements sold in the United States are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety or efficacy. Johnson-Arbor recommends seeking third-party verification from the USP, NSF, or ConsumerLab before purchasing maca.
In 2018, Johnson-Arbor published a case report in Journal of Medical Toxicology on a woman who was exposed to lead from maca powder. The woman’s blood lead levels rose but returned to normal after she stopped consuming the supplement.
Johnson-Arbor said the woman had no lead poisoning and for most people, occasional maca consumption can lead to only minor lead exposure. However, lead has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, so pregnant women may want to avoid maca.
We really don’t want people who are pregnant or intending to become pregnant to use maca because it certainly could raise the level of lead to an extent that could potentially be dangerous to the pregnancy, she said.
While maca root is safe for most people, pregnant women and children should avoid using this supplement.
As long as you are aware of these risks and take the appropriate precautions, I don’t think it’s necessarily dangerous for people to take, Johnson-Arbor said.
What does it mean to you
Maca root is said to support energy, libido and sexual function, but research is limited. Consider speaking to a trusted healthcare professional before starting any new supplement.
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