Q&A: Side-effects of Maca?

Q&A: Side-effects of Maca?

Maca (Lepidium meyenii, and other Lepidium species) is a food and medicinal plant originally used by the indigenous peoples of Peru and Bolivia, who collect and consume both the leaves and the root. Although marketed as an aphrodisiac and energy enhancer, it’s traditional use suggests that it was rather more important as a food, the leaves used as a fresh vegetable, and the root (hypocotyl) dried, pulverized, and used as a flour in baking. The root in particular is comprised of about 60-75% carbohydrates, and contains smaller amounts of protein (<14%) and fats (<2.2%). Given its traditional importance as a food, rather than as a medicine, claims for its medicinal efficacy should be viewed with a some skepticism – especially when consumed in small amounts as a supplement. There are many anecdotal reports of its medicinal efficacy, but much of this comes third hand from companies selling it as a supplement. A survey of the medical literature suggests a benefit on exercise performance and sexual function, but nothing dramatic. Maca does contain goitrogens that some have speculated may aggravate pre-existing hypothyroid states, but this isn’t a commonly observed symptom associated with use. As it is a food, Maca is reasonably safe and can be expected to produce very few side-effects. Like other members of the brassica family, Maca contains a variety of glucosinolates¬†that have antitumor properties. I place it on par with something like rutabaga, a related Brassica species, in terms of its ultimate benefits – and if you think about it, not many people would consider powdering dried rutabaga and taking it as a health supplement. But to each their own.¬†With trying anything new however, make sure to try a small amount first to see how your respond, just a few hundred milligrams at a time. If no response is noted after a couple days, feel free to bump up the dose to “medicinal” levels. Although drug-herb interactions aren’t well-established, it is probably a good idea to consult with a practitioner before you take Maca if you are also taking pharmaceutical drugs.