Surviving up to 15,000 feet high in the Central Andes Mountains, the maca root has retained its enigmatic potency and has continued to be embraced by native populations for thousands of years. This universally proclaimed superfood has just recently found its way to local supermarket chains across the United States in the last 21st Century. Analysis of its nutritional composition has found that the maca root is high in protein, dietary fiber, iron, selenium, and calcium; but that is not the whole story. From local villagers to athletes, this distant cousin of the radish family has put the vigor and vitality back into the lives of so many.

     Over the past 20 years, maca has gained greater public interest in various parts of the world. It even made a televised appearance on an episode of National Geographic’s Taboo in 2002. On this particular episode, couples from all over the world that had difficulty conceiving a child, would visit a shop at a local Peruvian village to try a beverage known as “Jugo de Maca.” The key ingredient was maca root, and within a year, there was a new addition to their household.

     Besides increasing fertility rates, this “Peruvian ginseng” has also put the libido back into the lives of those suffering from depression. One double-blind randomized pilot study by Dording et al. sought to determine whether maca was effective at correcting for anti-depressant induced sexual dysfunction. Researchers recruited 20 remitted depressed outpatients, and measured their libido at bi-weekly clinical appointments for 12 weeks, using a series of questionnaires. Comparing a low-dose (1.5 g/day) to a high-dose (3.0 g/day) of the maca regimen, scientists found that both subject groups demonstrated increased sexual function, but found a more significant improvement for the higher dose group.

     Is this foreign plant with so many potent health benefits, and nutritional density safe? Recently, researchers observed a Peruvian population who consumed maca frequently and measured several health factors. There were no safety concerns identified. Both liver and kidney function were maintained at normal levels. Scientists also found an association between maca consumption and increased health benefits, such as low body mass index, low systolic blood pressure, lower rates of fractures, and lower scores of signs and symptoms related to chronic mountain sickness. It was determined to not only be safe, but also beneficial.

     This unique plant source has provided great benefits for many individuals from a range of demographics, but has yet to be truly embraced by the mainstream community. Maca’s does not come from a lab or over the counter, but from the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains. It certainly deserves to be elevated to the highest peaks and added to the list of the superfoods of today.

 Contributed by Bryan Stengel, Dietetic Intern

Dording, C.M., Fisher, L., Papakostas, G., Farabaugh, A., Sonawalla, S., Fava, M.,…(2008). A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. Meyenii) for the management of SSRI-Induced sexual dysfunction. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics. 14, 182-191.

Gonzales, G.F. (2011). Ethnobiology and ethnopharmacology of lepidium meyeni (maca), a plant from the peruvian highlands. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012, 1-10