The Spartan Guide to Maca
Maca is a vegetable crop that grows high in the Andes Mountains and has the odd distinction of looking like a golden-colored radish and smelling like butterscotch. People take it orally to enhance stamina, energy, memory, and athletic performance. But more commonly, they take it to treat sexual dysfunction caused by antidepressants.
Scientists know that maca root contains fatty acids, amino acids, and many other health-promoting compounds, but they aren’t sure exactly how it confers its specific benefits. Notably, integrative practitioners have had success using maca to increase sex drive. “SSRIs, the conventional treatment for depression, tend to produce an unwanted side effect of decreased libido,” says Janelle Louis, a functional medicine practitioner at Focus Integrative Healthcare in Overland Park, Kansas. “I usually prescribe maca for peri-menopausal women who are taking SSRIs for their depression and are finding that they are experiencing decreased libido.” She also recommends it for sexual dysfunction in patients who are not taking SSRIs.
Does it work? It’s likely. One small study showed that taking maca twice a day for 12 weeks slightly improved sexual dysfunction in female patients on antidepressants. Another study suggested that 12 weeks of daily supplementation increased sexual desire in healthy men, and a third found increased semen and sperm count after four months (although it’s unclear if that necessarily leads to increased virility). But much large-scale studies are still needed before maca is ready for prime time.
How to Use It
In food form, the root vegetable is often baked or roasted, but stateside, it’s more commonly packaged in powder or capsule form. If you go the powder route, try blending it with something to mask the taste. “It isn’t the best-tasting herb, but it does become far more palatable when added to a smoothie,“ Louis says.
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