Various exotic vegetables and fruit have the distinction of being popular for proven benefits. Peruvian Ginseng, as maca root is popularly known is one among this category of sought after vegetables. Identified by various other names, the root of this vegetable is linked to various proven, as well as unsubstantiated benefits. Subsequent sections will offer a detailed look about the benefits, both claimed and proven, and possible maca powder side effects. This is necessary considering the demand among certain age groups in light of the claimed effects. This will help prevent any undesirable outcomes from unregulated use or incorrect use of the vegetable root that has been elevated to that of medicinal status. Its benefits have also been linked to increasing fertility among dairy animals.

Overview of maca root and its origin

The plant is a native of Peru, and was grown mostly in the high ranges of the Andes. It traces its history to as long as 3000 years, with anecdotal evidence of its cultivation as a vegetable. It is broadly categorized with the radish family of vegetables, but has been elevated to the status of medicines due to the proven and claimed benefits.  Before we look at the benefits, here is a quick look at the various names by which it is known; this is essential as there is a likelihood of it being confused as a result of different names. It is also known as:

Claimed benefits of maca root

As mentioned above, the root is associated with many benefits and outcomes, including various benefits that are not actually substantiated or documented in a manner that links it to the benefits. The root is claimed to help individuals with the following conditions:

Highlight of unique mechanism of action of maca root

The root is known to contain significant quantities of proteins, fat, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, amino acids and minerals including iron. Its nutritional value is also attributed to glucosinolates, the compounds linked to the pungent smell of mustard.  The mechanism of action of the root is unique, in that it helps boost libido in healthy males, without any impact on testosterone levels or other sex hormones. One of the highlights of the mechanism of action of maca root is the increased semen volume, sperm count and motility among males.

Claimed benefits that have not been clearly substantiated or documented

Certain benefits of the root are mainly anecdotal in nature and attributed to traditional use of the root as a medicine. While there is the possibility of the benefits outlined below, it is still unclear, mainly due to a lack of sufficient studies or statistics. Laboratory animals have been used to understand effects of the root for certain conditions, but the same has not been studied in humans. For instance, enlarged prostate in rats have known to reduce as a result of the root intake, but the same has not been studied in depth in humans. The following is a compilation of claimed benefits (not entirely substantiated). Women on certain medications such as antidepressants are known to end up with reduced sex drive. Maca root is believed to help improve desire for sex in women, by combating the effects of the medications.

Similarly, the root is known to help improve semen volume and sperm count in men. While this has been reported, there is insufficient evidence to link the root to an impact on fertility. Women in menopause (post menopause) are likely to experience impact on blood pressure, with possibilities of mood swings, depression and anxiety. Studies have demonstrated that maca root helps in mitigating these conditions to a certain extent. Libido in men is also known to be positively affected when on maca root or extracts. However, this is limited to healthy men only, and this is one of the reasons why it is regarded as a claimed benefit.

Possible maca powder side effects

Here is a look at some of the possible and reported undesirable effects of the root. As the root of a vegetable, it does not pose any risks to most individuals and is considered as safe to consume. However, there is the likelihood of it triggering possible undesirable effects when consumed excessively. In other words, in most instances, it is not likely to cause any effects when consumed in portions or proportions that are normal in food.

When consumed as medicine, there is limited possibility of maca root causing undesirable effects, when the total quantity of extracts of maca root do not exceed 3 grams every day.  Due to the lack of studies about the effects of the root, when consumed on a long term basis, there are no recorded cases about such effects. The effect of maca on hormones is yet to be fully studied, and consequently, it is difficult to clearly certify its safety on that aspect. However, studies conducted on laboratory animals indicate that maca root causes an increase in luteinizing hormone, progesterone, and testosterone, and by virtue of this, there is the possibility of the root having an impact on women with certain conditions. For instance, women with certain conditions may need medical advice before actual use. This includes cancer (breast, uterine, or ovarian), women diagnosed with endometriosis, uterine fibroids, thyroid disease. It is also unsafe for pregnant women or women planning a pregnancy, as its effects have not been studied in detail. Similarly, the effects of maca root have not been studied in mothers with suckling infants, and it is therefore necessary for nursing mothers to avoid the extract, if taken in quantities like a supplement or as medication.

Important information regarding dosage

As mentioned above, one of the reasons for possible undesirable outcomes could be excessive intake. When consumed in the right quantity, as food, it is unlikely to cause any side effects. However, as it is regarded as a medicine, its extract is more likely to be consumed in more quantities. The actual safe limits for intake are determined by various factors, mainly the presence or absence of any co-morbidities. Additionally, the age of the patient, the health condition, and the use of other medications are considered before arriving at the correct dosage. Ideally, the safest limit would be around 3 grams per day, as this has been the amount used by volunteers as part of tests. As no adverse outcomes have been reported or documented with this quantity, it can be safely assumed that this may not cause any side effects.

Studies that have been quoted to claim benefits from the root

Most of the claimed benefits of the root are anecdotal in nature, apart from the results of studies conducted on groups of volunteers. Two groups of individuals of similar ages and health conditions, were part of the studies, with one group on placebos, while the other group was on maca root. The results on the various conditions were studied after a certain period to determine the effect. However, while this has been the basis for the claims, it is still early to fully go with the claims, in the absence of indepth research. It is also necessary to fully understand this as unrestricted use or incorrect use may result in possible maca powder side effects.

Increase sexual desire in women on antidepressants

Women on antidepressants have been known to suffer from lower interest in sex. Maca root and extract is known to have a positive effect. The basis for this claim has been the results of studies conducted on women who were given 3 grams of the root extract for three months. When compared with a test group of women who were not given the extract, the women on maca root reported an increase in sexual desire.

Impact on male fertility – improvement in few factors

Studies on male recipients in a group of volunteers showed improvement in a few factors of male fertility. This included increased sperm concentration levels, sperm count and volume. However, this is not directly linked to fertility, though it may have a bearing on fertility.  Sperm concentration levels are known to have an impact on male fertility and this the basis for the claims regarding male fertility.

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