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What is Maca?

Maca is an annual and biennial herbaceous plant (1) and one of the 249 known Lepidium species of plants (2). Maca is the common name that refers to two distinct species known as Lepidium meyenii and Lepidium peruvianum (3). While it belongs to the same botanical Brassicaceae family as the turnip, cabbage, mustard, and broccoli, it is phytochemically distinct from this vegetable group (4).

 

Maca’s native growing location is 3500–5000 meters above sea level in Peru’s high, harsh-weathered Andean plateaus (5–9). Though it is also grown in Bolivia and northwestern Argentina and due to the increased demand in more recent years, it is also being grown in China (10–12).

 

Maca, first described in 1553, serves as a dietary staple of native Peruvians, particularly in its dried hypocotyl (tuber) format at >20 g daily (4). In the mid to late 17th century, it was reported that Peruvians revered maca for its nutritional content, ability to grow in some of the coldest areas of the mountains, and for its impact on fertility (10).

 

As a traditional Peruvian food, it is roasted, commonly added to soups, made into a fermented beverage called “maca chica”, and can be ground into a powder to be added to smoothies, juices, coffee, chocolate, or oil preparations (13).

 

Historically it was known for and used as an aphrodisiac, dating back to the Inca empire (13), though it is also reported it was used primarily for energy (10). In modern times, it has been used therapeutically for energy, fertility, libido, and as a vitality tonic for aging (4,14,15). Beginning with the early 2000s, preclinical and clinical research has provided data that would expand maca’s use into other areas of health such as menstrual cycle regulation (16,17), menopausal symptoms (18–21), osteoporosis (22), sperm quality (23–29), memory (30–33), mood (32,34), prostate health (35–40), and fitness optimization (e.g., reducing inflammation and increasing strength) (41–43).

 

Even though maca has broader applications, there has been historical research emphasis on its ability to modify the endocrine system, pioneered by the work of Gonzales et al. on males (23,25,29,39,44,45) and Meissner et al. on pre- and post-menopausal women (18–21). Meissner et al. continue to conduct ongoing research at five universities in Poland to investigate the use of different maca phenotypes to treat specific medical conditions associated with various menopausal symptoms, men’s health, and even prevalent health areas of concern shared by both genders (46).

 

Parts of maca

 

The main edible portions are the hypocotyl (tuber) and tap root, commonly referred to as hypocotyl and root in the literature (47), when it is noted. The plant can grow to approximately 20 cm (about 8 inches) in height with the root measuring up to 7 cm in diameter (47). A medium sized root, measuring 5 cm long and 3-5 cm wide, is often preferred by Peruvians due to its shorter cooking time (48). Additionally, the shape of the root also has variations growing spherical, oval, spherical oval, and spindle shaped (47). The aerial parts consisting of the leaves, flowers, stems, and its seeds (contained in a silicle) are less utilized (47). Generally, hypocotyls are the plant part of maca harvested and processed for food and supplements, rather than the leaves, which are sometimes used for animal feed (49). In comparison to the other parts of the plant, the hypocotyls are higher in glucosinolates, macaenes, and macamides, while the leaves are noted to have greater beta-sitosterol and total phenols (49).

Maca Parts.png

Image 1: Parts of Maca

Image credit: Minich DM, Ross K, Frame J, Fahoum M, Warner W, Meissner HO. Not All Maca Is Created Equal: A Review of Colors, Nutrition, Phytochemicals, and Clinical Uses. Nutrients. 2024 Feb 14;16(4):530. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Colors of Maca

The most known or obvious feature of the root is the variations in colors (also referred to as phenotypes), for which 17 different colors have been identified (46). The most researched colors are black, red, yellow, and purple (violet). The hypocotyl is the part of the plant where colorful pigments are contained in the skin (outer layer), with one exception of yellow maca, which is also yellow on the inside flesh (49).

Image 2: Seventeen (17) Colors of maca

Image credit: Minich DM, Ross K, Frame J, Fahoum M, Warner W, Meissner HO. Not All Maca Is Created Equal: A Review of Colors, Nutrition, Phytochemicals, and Clinical Uses. Nutrients. 2024 Feb 14;16(4):530. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

To date, maca colors have been grossly overlooked in the methodology of published research studies. This website aims to delineate the importance of not just the color of maca, but also the growing location and phytochemical makeup of the colors of maca in order to best apply the science into clinical application.

 

Written by Kim Ross, DCN

Reviewed by Mona Fahoum, ND

Last Updated: March 13, 2024

 

References

 

1. Wang Y, Wang Y, McNeil B, Harvey LM. Maca: An Andean crop with multi-pharmacological functions. Vol. 40, Food Research International. 2007.

2. World Flora Online (WHO) Plant List [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Apr 28]. Lepidium L. Available from: https://wfoplantlist.org/plant-list/taxon/wfo-4000021089-2022-12?page=1

3. Meissner HO, Mscisz A, Kedzia B, Pisulewski P, Piatkowska E. Peruvian maca: Two scientific names Lepidium Meyenii walpers and Lepidium Peruvianum chacon – Are they phytochemically-synonymous? International Journal of Biomedical Science. 2015;

4. Gonzales GF. Ethnobiology and ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a plant from the peruvian highlands. Vol. 2012, Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012.

5. Gonzales GF, Villaorduña L, Gasco M, Rubio J, Gonzales C. Maca (lepidium meyenii walp), a review of its biological properties. Rev Peru Med Exp Salud Publica. 2014;31(1).

6. Gonzales GF, Gonzales C, Gonzales-Castañeda C. Lepidium meyenii (Maca): A Plant from the Highlands of Peru – from Tradition to Science. Forschende Komplementärmedizin / Research in Complementary Medicine. 2009;16(6):373–80.

7. Beharry S, Heinrich M. Is the hype around the reproductive health claims of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) justified? Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2018.

8. Zhang L, Li G, Wang S, Yao W, Zhu F. Physicochemical properties of maca starch. Food Chem. 2017;218.

9. Huarancca Reyes T, Scartazza A, Pompeiano A, Guglielminetti L. Physiological responses of Lepidium meyenii plants to ultraviolet-B radiation challenge. BMC Plant Biol. 2019 Dec 7;19(1):186.

10. Ulloa del Carpio N, Alvarado-Corella D, Quiñones-Laveriano DM, Araya-Sibaja A, Vega-Baudrit J, Monagas-Juan M, et al. Exploring the chemical and pharmacological variability of Lepidium meyenii: a comprehensive review of the effects of maca. Front Pharmacol. 2024 Feb 19;15.

11. Geng P, Sun J, Chen P, Brand E, Frame J, Meissner H, et al. Characterization of Maca (Lepidium meyenii/Lepidium peruvianum) Using a Mass Spectral Fingerprinting, Metabolomic Analysis, and Genetic Sequencing Approach. Planta Med. 2020 Jul 20;86(10):674–85.

12. Zhang J, Wang HM, Zhao YL, Zuo ZT, Wang YZ, Jin H. Comparison of Mineral Element Content in a Functional Food Maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) from Asia and South America. J Anal Methods Chem. 2015;2015.

13. Carvalho F V., Fonseca Santana L, Diogenes A. da Silva V, Costa SL, Zambotti-Villelae L, Colepicolo P, et al. Combination of a multiplatform metabolite profiling approach and chemometrics as a powerful strategy to identify bioactive metabolites in Lepidium meyenii (Peruvian maca). Food Chem. 2021 Dec;364:130453.

14. Carvalho F V., Ribeiro PR. Structural diversity, biosynthetic aspects, and LC-HRMS data compilation for the identification of bioactive compounds of Lepidium meyenii. Vol. 125, Food Research International. 2019.

15. Nieman KM, Zhu Y, Tucker M, Koecher K. The Role of Dietary Ingredients in Mental Energy–A Scoping Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Nutrition Association. 2023.

16. Ross K. Improvements in Premenstrual Syndrome, Primary Dysmenorrhea, and Menorrhagia with Natural Therapies: A Case Report. Current Research in Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 2023 Oct 5;7(4).

17. Fahoum M, Ross K. An Integrative Approach for Improving and Managing Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): A Case Report. Current Research in Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 2023 Oct 27;7(4).

18. Meissner, HO Mscisz, A Bilinska-Reich, H, Kapczynski, W, Mrozikiewicz, P Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska, T Kedzia, B Lowicka, A Barchia I. 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 C. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006;2(4):360–74.

19. Meissner HO, Kapczynski W, Mscisz A, Lutomski J. Use of gelatinized maca (lepidium peruvianum) in early postmenopausal women. Int J Biomed Sci. 2005;

20. Meissner HO, Reich-Bilinska H, Mscisz A, Kedzia B. Therapeutic Effects of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon) used as a Non-Hormonal Alternative to HRT in Perimenopausal Women - Clinical Pilot Study. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006;

21. Meissner HO, Mscisz A, Reich-Bilinska H, Mrozikiewicz P, Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska T, Kedzia B, et al. Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (III) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006;

22. Zhang Y, Yu L, Jin W, Ao M. Effect of ethanolic extract of Lepidium meyenii Walp on serum hormone levels in ovariectomized rats. Indian J Pharmacol. 2014;46(4).

23. Gasco M, Aguilar J, Gonzales GF. Effect of chronic treatment with three varieties of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on reproductive parameters and DNA quantification in adult male rats. Andrologia. 2007;39(4).

24. Gonzales C, Rubio J, Gasco M, Nieto J, Yucra S, Gonzales GF. Effect of short-term and long-term treatments with three ecotypes of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on spermatogenesis in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006;103(3).

25. Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Gonzales C, Chung A, Vega K, Villena A. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) improved semen parameters in adult men. Asian J Androl. 2001;3(4).

26. Gonzales GF, Gonzales-Castañeda C, Gasco M. A mixture of extracts from Peruvian plants (black maca and yacon) improves sperm count and reduced glycemia in mice with streptozotocin-induced diabetes. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2013;23(7).

27.  Inoue N, Farfan C, Gonzales GF. Effect of butanolic fraction of yellow and black maca (Lepidium meyenii) on the sperm count of adult mice. Andrologia. 2016;48(8).

28. Lee HW, Lee MS, Qu F, Lee JW, Kim E. Maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) on semen quality parameters: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Pharmacol. 2022;13.

29. Gonzales GF, Nieto J, Rubio J, Gasco M. Effect of Black maca (Lepidium meyenii) on one spermatogenic cycle in rats. Andrologia. 2006;

30. Rubio J, Yucra S, Gasco M, Gonzales GF. Dose–response effect of black maca ( Lepidium meyenii ) in mice with memory impairment induced by ethanol. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2011 Oct 22;21(8):628–34.

31. Liu X, Rubio J, Qiong W, Jiang Z, Dang H, Chen SL, et al. Aqueous extract of black maca (Lepidium meyenii) on memory impairment induced by ovariectomy in mice. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011;2011.

32. Ybañez-Julca RO, Quispe-Díaz IM, Asunción-Alvarez D, Sánchez-Muñoz K, Vargas-Goñas A, Morote-Guzman J, et al. Antidepressant-like behavioral and spatial memory effects in peruvian red maca (lepidium meyenii)-treated rats. Pharmacognosy Journal. 2021;13(1).

33. Tarabasz D, Szczeblewski P, Laskowski T, Płaziński W, Baranowska-Wójcik E, Szwajgier D, et al. The Distribution of Glucosinolates in Different Phenotypes of Lepidium peruvianum and Their Role as Acetyl- and Butyrylcholinesterase Inhibitors—In Silico and In Vitro Studies. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Apr 27;23(9):4858.

34. Dording CM, Schettler PJ, Dalton ED, Parkin SR, Walker RSW, Fehling KB, et al. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2015;2015.

35. Shin D, Jeon SH, Piao J, Park HJ, Tian WJ, Moon DG, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Patients with Symptoms of Late-Onset Hypogonadism: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. World Journal of Men’s Health. 2023;41(3).

36. Gonzales GF, Vasquez V, Rodriguez D, Maldonado C, Mormontoy J, Portella J, et al. Effect of two different extracts of red maca in male rats with testosterone-induced prostatic hyperplasia. Asian J Androl. 2007;9(2).

37. Gonzales GF, Miranda S, Nieto J, Fernández G, Yucra S, Rubio J, et al. Red maca (Lepidium meyenii) reduced prostate size in rats. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2005 Jan 20;3:5.

38. Gonzales GF, Gasco M, Malheiros-Pereira A, Gonzales-Castañeda C. Antagonistic effect of Lepidium meyenii (red maca) on prostatic hyperplasia in adult mice. Andrologia. 2008;40(3).

39. Gonzales C, Leiva-Revilla J, Rubio J, Gasco M, Gonzales GF. Effect of red maca (Lepidium meyenii) on prostate zinc levels in rats with testosterone-induced prostatic hyperplasia. Andrologia. 2012;44(SUPPL.1).

40. Gasco M, Villegas L, Yucra S, Rubio J, Gonzales GF. Dose-response effect of Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) on benign prostatic hyperplasia induced by testosterone enanthate. Phytomedicine. 2007;

41. Stone M, Ibarra A, Roller M, Zangara A, Stevenson E. A pilot investigation into the effect of maca supplementation on physical activity and sexual desire in sportsmen. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;126(3).

42. Liu T, Peng Z, Lai W, Shao Y, Gao Q, He M, et al. The Efficient Synthesis and Anti-Fatigue Activity Evaluation of Macamides: The Unique Bioactive Compounds in Maca. Molecules. 2023;28(9).

43. Orhan C, Gencoglu H, Tuzcu M, Sahin N, Ojalvo SP, Sylla S, et al. Maca could improve endurance capacity possibly by increasing mitochondrial biogenesis pathways and antioxidant response in exercised rats. J Food Biochem. 2022 Jul;46(7):e14159.

44. Gonzales GF, Córdova A, Vega K, Chung A, Villena A, Góñez C, et al. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. Andrologia. 2002;

45. Vásquez-Velásquez C, Gasco M, Fano-Sizgorich D, Gonzales GF. Inflammatory pathway employed by Red Maca to treat induced benign prostatic hyperplasia in rats. Andrologia. 2020;52(3).

46. Minich DM, Ross K, Frame J, Fahoum M, Warner W, Meissner HO. Not All Maca Is Created Equal: A Review of Colors, Nutrition, Phytochemicals, and Clinical Uses. Nutrients. 2024 Feb 14;16(4):530.

47. Wang S, Zhu F. Chemical composition and health effects of maca (Lepidium meyenii). Food Chem. 2019;

48. Bower-Cargill C, Yarandi N, Petróczi A. A systematic review of the versatile effects of the Peruvian Maca Root (Lepidium meyenii) on sexual dysfunction, menopausal symptoms and related conditions. Vol. 2, Phytomedicine Plus. 2022.

49. Clément C, Diazgrados DA, Avula B, Khan IA, Mayer AC, Aguirre DDP, et al. Influence of colour type and previous cultivation on secondary metabolites in hypocotyls and leaves of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walpers). J Sci Food Agric. 2010;90(5).

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