Maca (Lepidium meyenii) root provides neuroprotective properties. When used prior to the infliction of possible brain damage, research subjects who’ve been given the supplement are less likely to suffer damage than those who haven’t. The measurement of this protective effect is in terms of infarct volume, which is a common way to calculate brain injury following a stroke. This measures the amount of brain tissue that died as the result of an interruption of blood flow to the area.
Increased libido has been associated with the consumption of Maca since long before outsiders discovered it. This effect is significant because it affects both men and women and does not seem to be related to elevation of sex-related hormones.
Maca is often used to increase energy and even athletic performance. There are unconfirmed accounts that, in the 16th century, Incan warriors ate copious amounts of Maca before going into battle. These legendary warriors, known for their endurance and formidable strength, also proved a threat to the women of conquered cities, due to the increased virility the Maca root bestowed upon them.
The standard therapeutic dose of Maca root is usually between 1,500 – 3,000 mg. Administration occurs either by eating the root or taking supplements, which typically come from a powdered form of the plant. This supplement is best taken with food.
Maca Mode of Action
In regards to neuroprotection and cognitive benefit, the mode of action for Maca remains relatively unknown.
Fertility and vitality boosts, in both people and animals, is traditionally the primary use of Maca. It exerts this effect on both men and women but doesn’t appear to work through the body’s hormones. Research has not found any effect on either male or female sex hormone levels following consumption of this supplement. However, men who use Maca root have reported increased sperm production.
Maca Side Effects & Toxicity
Because there have been no reported toxic effects with Maca root, it isn’t possible to calculate LD50 amount. There have also been no reports of drug interactions or side effects. Because this is a food product, the first pass effect, which is a measure of the amount of an oral drug dose that survives digestion and enters the bloodstream, does not apply.
The body can digest carbohydrates, protein, lipids, and most minerals easily and absorb them into the bloodstream. Fiber, however, isn’t digestible and passes through the digestive tract intact. Given the percentage of fiber in Maca root, and estimating the percentage of minerals digested, it is safe to assume that the body absorbs approximately 90% of the amount of this food eaten.
There have been no reports of significant toxicity reported following human consumption of Maca, despite one traditional method involving amounts roughly ten times therapeutic dose. Some animal studies involve doses that are, relatively speaking, twice that method and there were no toxic effects noted.
Although the major use of Maca root is in areas such as sexual vigor and reproductive health, Peruvian natives also use it to improve their children’s intellectual performance. They don’t tend to show a color preference, but research has found that it is the black variety that shows the greatest effect in areas of memory and focus. These studies involved inducing a memory deficit in rodents by removing the ovaries to induce estrogen shortage. The manner of deficit produced gives hope that Maca could have promise with post-menopausal memory difficulties.
The unique thing about Maca is that it helps the body to correct the physiological issues related to imbalances in testosterone and estrogen, without increasing their levels in the blood. Some issues that see improvements from this supplement, yet still need more research include sexual dysfunction, fertility, depression, and litter size in animals. This last improvement occurs through the ramping up of factors that lead to more robust pups that are more likely to survive gestation, rather than inducing the release of more eggs.