By J. E. Hinners, MD MPH
Many of us have already heard “through the grapevine” of possible natural aphrodisiacs–including oysters, chocolate, and spicy foods, to name a few. But are any of these theories backed by scientific research?
Many of them are not.
Now, I do not write off any possibilities just because they are not yet explored through scientific research. “Un-researched” is not the same thing as “shown to be insignificant” and actually may indicate a possible ripe trail to follow if you’re wanting to design scientific studies of your own. Many times, certain topics only remain “un-researched” due to political or funding reasons.
Maca, however, is one of the handful of natural aphrodisiacs that has been scientifically explored.
Studies appear to collectively indicate that maca may indeed be an aphrodisiac that increases sexual desire, performance, and function.
What is an aphrodisiac?
First off, let’s define what we mean by the term “aphrodisiac.”
An “aphrodisiac” is defined as any substance that enhance sexual drive, desire, pleasure, and function.
What is maca?
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a butterscotch-smelling plant in the Cruciferae family and is related to the radish. It’s native to central Peru and found in high plateaus of the Andes mountains. Here is a short profile of what maca contains:
- 59% carbohydrates
- 10.2% protein
- 8.5% fiber
- 2.2% lipids
- sterols (campesterol, stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol)
- minerals (iron, calcium, copper)
- vitamins (B1, B2, C, E)
Historically, maca has been used to enhance livestock and human fertility and has been grown as a vegetable crop for at least 3,000 years.
In more recent years, maca has been a bit of health buzz ingredient often accompanying chocolate and raw cacao. Certain smoothie stores offer maca as a shake supplement, and it can also be bought separately for those who prefer adding it routinely to their own food and homemade protein shakes.
5 valuable studies pertaining to maca as an aphrodisiac:
- Zheng et al. administered maca orally to mice and measured mating activity and performance by number of complete intromissions and number of sperm-positive females. Latent period of erection (LPE) was also measured in rats with erectile dysfunction. The number of complete intromissions and sperm-positive females increased; latent period of erection also decreased, indicating improved sexual function.
- Rat sexual behavior after oral administration of maca was also investigated by Cicero et al. Sexual performance significantly improved in male rats, as was determined by decreases in 1st mount, 1st intromission, ejaculation, and intercopulatory interval, and copulatory efficacy. Long-term maca treatment also increased rat locomotion within the second 10-minute observation period.
- Gonzales et al. held a 12-week, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind parallel trial with human male subjects, comparing maca with a placebo. The study concluded that maca had no effect on human serum reproductive hormone levels (testosterone, in particular, since these subjects were all men).
- In Gonzales et al.‘s 12-week, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind parallel trial, maca was compared with a placebo in human male subjects to evaluate whether the subjective patient report of improved sexual desire was due to mood or testosterone levels. Sexual desire improved after 8 weeks in maca-users while testosterone and estradiol levels remained the same between maca and placebo groups, indicating that maca’s improvement on sexual desire at 8-12 weeks occurred independently of these hormonal levels.
- Meissner et al.‘s double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multi-centre clinical study in Poland showed maca to improve sex drive after 4 months of oral administration in human female subjects (postmenopausal women). Additional menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats also diminished.
How does maca work?
The mechanism of action for maca is largely unknown.
Does it matter when conclusions are derived from rats and not humans?
Some dismiss such possible benefits of maca because they claim these studies have mostly been performed in mice and rats rather than humans–a limitation to keep in mind. However, experimentation in animals is often conducted prior to experimentation in humans for safety reasons, and evidence showing maca to be ineffective in humans is lacking.
On the contrary, other healthcare practitioners, such as physician Hyla Cass, MD, say they have seen–in their own practice–improved sexual desire, fertility, and hormonal balance from patient use of maca. Moreover, Gonzales et al. and Meissner et al. demonstrate some evidence from human subjects.
Male lab rats vs. female lab rats
Another possible limitation applies not only to this topic but also to many other scientific studies: in most cases, all of the mouse/rat study subjects were male. Clearly, there are many cases where females respond differently, and studies drawing human conclusions from male-only mouse/rat trials run the risk of increasing unforeseen side effects in women. Fortunately, the gender equality in lab rats is being addressed by research institutions for future studies.
How much maca is safe to take?
As with any supplement, it is best to always first consult your physician to take into consideration your individual health circumstances. Any supplement, even if “natural” has potential to become toxic if taken in excess. It’s also important to investigate the quality of your supplement source –particularly with “natural products” that are less regulated by health authorities.
Recommended doses for increasing sexual desire:
- For Men: 1.5-3 grams / day (however, 1.5 grams is shown to be equally effective as 3 grams)
- For Women: insufficient data, however, postmenopausal women in Meissner’s study took 2 grams /day
- For Pregnant & Lactating Women: insufficient data; better to avoid.
Where do I find maca?
Maca can often be found in vitamin and health food stores in addition to online retailers.
Do you have any personal experience using maca? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Of course, perhaps any explicit details should be moderated if it worked for you 🙂
Other Resources Used in this Article: