A sudden decrease in your libido can seriously affect your mood, your health, and — if you’re in one — your relationship. Studies show that a self-reported low libido affects almost 30% of men and 45% of women worldwide. Some of the leading causes of low libido include erectile dysfunction, hormonal imbalance, and psychological stress.
If you see your doctor for a low sex drive, you may be prescribed erectile dysfunction medication (available for both men and women) or hormone replacement therapy. Although effective, these treatment options come with their fair share of adverse side effects.
Understandably, many of those who experience a low libido want to turn to more natural approaches as an alternative, such as herbal supplements. Maca is one option that can naturally increase libido in men and women.
In this guide from ASYSTEM, we’ll go over everything you need to know about maca, including its mode of action, its side effects, and what the science says about its role in boosting libido.
What Is Maca?
Maca — also known as Peruvian Ginseng, Ginseng Andin, or Lepidium meyenii — is a plant that grows in the Andes Mountains. It belongs to the brassica (mustard) family, including broccoli, cabbage, and turnip.
Maca has been cultivated as a root vegetable for at least 3,000 years in Peru. Known for its ability to survive harsh climates, maca can grow as high as 13,000 feet above sea level.
Although it has a green, leafy top, only the root of maca is consumed. Traditionally, maca was consumed as a drink or porridge. Today, it is often sold in ground powder form as a supplement.
Maca has been used traditionally in Peru to enhance fertility in both humans and animals. In recent decades, burgeoning research began to support the benefits of maca, which may include increased sperm quality and quantity, increased male sexuality, and improved prostate health.
Aside from its effects on sexual health and sexual function, maca may reduce levels of psychological stress, protect against UV radiation, improve glucose metabolism, and even offer neuroprotective effects.
Maca is generally considered an effective supplement for improving sexual health while offering various other benefits. However, does science support this?
Read on to discover how maca works and how it can boost libido in men and women.
How Does Maca Work?
To date, maca’s mechanism of action (how it works) is not clear to researchers. However, there is research on maca's beneficial compounds, which can tell us why it’s such an effective herbal supplement.
Here are some of the compounds in maca root that can explain its effects:
Glucosinolates are natural compounds found in many pungent plants (such as mustard, horseradish, and — of course — maca). Glucosinolates produce mustard oils when these plants are damaged.
Studies show that glucosinolates have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. This may explain why maca can support the body in dealing with psychological stress and systemic inflammation. This, in turn, can offer benefits for sexual health.
Phytochemicals are a broad group of compounds produced by plants that can have various benefits for general health. Some phytochemicals may have antioxidant effects, which protect cells from damage caused by exposure to harmful UV rays. Other phytochemicals can regulate hormone levels.
Not surprisingly, studies found that maca may help regulate the production of various sex hormones, such as estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone.
Maca is also a potent antioxidant, which allows it to improve glucose metabolism, lipid metabolism, and cognitive function.
Vitamins and Minerals
Maca root contains an extensive nutritional profile, including various vitamins and minerals. In addition, it contains several amino acids, fatty acids, and ample fiber.
Although the specific nutritional profile of maca depends on which type it is (there are three primary types), it has been shown to generally support digestive health, energy levels, and immune health.
Are There Side Effects of Maca?
It is important to keep in mind that no studies have been carried on to examine the adverse side effects of maca root. We cannot say with full certainty that maca does not have any side effects.
However, the studies on the herb did not find any adverse reactions. Doses of up to 5 grams per day (roughly one teaspoon) are generally considered safe for most people.
However, some people should check with their doctor before supplementing with maca. Those who have thyroid problems should minimize maca consumption and other mustard plants due to their high goitrogen content. This substance can interfere with thyroid function.
Can Maca Increase Libido?
While animal studies overwhelmingly show maca’s ability to improve sexual health and function, these results can’t always be generalized to humans.
Fortunately, some double-blind placebo-controlled trials show how maca impacts sex drive in humans.
One study recruited 57 healthy men aged 21 to 56. One group was treated with 1.5 grams of maca, while the other received 3 grams per day over 12 weeks. At the end of the trial, both groups showed a significant improvement in sexual desire.
The experiment also found that the group who was administered three grams showed more significant effects, which suggests that greater dosage can have greater effects. The increase in libido was independent of any changes in mood, energy, or hormones.
In women, maca may have similar effects. In a study of women with low libido caused by depression, researchers administered three grams of maca for 12 weeks. At the end of the trial, the treatment group reported a significant decrease in symptoms of depression and an increase in sexual desire.
Maca has also been shown to increase sexual health in males. One study recruited a cohort of males aged 24 to 44 years. They received three grams of maca over four months. At the end of the experiment, they experienced increased seminal volume, sperm count, and sperm motility. As in the study cited above, this effect was independent of any hormonal changes.
How Soon Does Maca Start Working?
Science supports the benefits of maca for sex drive. However, as with any supplements, it might take time before seeing any results.
So, how long does it take maca to start working? Currently, there are no studies examining maca’s time of onset. In addition, how long maca starts working depends on several factors, such as the type of maca you try, how much you take, and how your metabolism works. As such, it’s hard to say with 100% certainty how quickly you’ll get to see the results of maca.
Most studies on maca typically administer the supplement for eight weeks. This can mean that maca takes two months to start working if you consume three grams per day. Of course, this number may vary with your individual characteristics.
If two months seems like a long time, we may have some good news for you. According to a study, healthy male cyclists could experience a boost in libido as quickly as two weeks after starting supplementation.
However, because researchers did this study on male athletes, we can’t generalize its effects on other populations. It’s best to track your own body’s response to maca supplementation (under the supervision of your doctor).
If you notice that your sex drive is beginning to wane, maca may be one herbal supplement to give you the boost you need.
Of course, you have plenty of other natural options for boosting your libido. ASYSTEM’s Libido Gummies are made of a combination of ingredients (such as S7®, Sea Moss, and Boron) that have been clinically proven to work.
With just one gummy per day, you’ll be well on your way to reclaiming your libido.
Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (II) Physiological and Symptomatic Responses of Early-Postmenopausal Women to Standardized doses of Maca in Double Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Multi-Centre Clinical Study | PMC
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Former Olympic Athlete, Founder, B2ten Foundation (coach to multiple Olympic Champions)
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