The Pro & Cons of Maca

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Dietary aids such as herbal supplements have become increasingly popular. This increase has occurred despite safety concerns and lack of federal testing standards. People feel empowered by taking control of their health care, and ingesting substances from around the world adds an exotic flavor to daily life. Maca, also known as Lepidium meyenii, has been touted as the next panacea. Taking this herbal extract provides health benefits, but it also causes side effects. Speak with a doctor before using maca.

Increases Sperm Count

Anatomical pathologies and testicular cancer continue to increase. These changes have not necessarily reduced male fertility, but men are increasingly exposed to reproductive risks such as endocrine disruptors. Technological advances can combat these medical challenges, and nutritional supplements may help as well. A 2001 report published in the "Asian Journal of Andrology" looked at the effect of maca on sexual health. Middle-aged men received the supplement for four months. Relative to baseline, maca increased semen volume and sperm count, and reproductive hormones like testosterone stayed constant. Maca intake did not cause side effects in this study, but scientists have not determined the long-term safety of maca.

Enhances Athletic Performance

Competitive athletes remain willing to take great risks to reap the many rewards offered by professional sports. Illegal substances have been banned in most sports, and that change has left athletes seeking legal alternatives. Lepidium meyenii may provide an effective and safe option for athletes seeking a competitive advantage. A 2009 article presented in the "Journal of Ethnopharmacology" evaluated the impact of Lepidium on cycling performance. Healthy men received either the maca extract or an inert treatment for two weeks. Maca intake increased the cyclists' speed relative to placebo intake. It also enhanced their libido. The athletes did not experience untoward reactions to Lepidium. The mechanisms causing these effects remain unknown.

Improves Menopausal Symptoms

Menopause affects all women of an older age, and with it comes negative symptoms. For that reason, many women are turning to dietary aids to relieve such symptoms, and Lepidium meyenii may eventually prove a viable option. A 2008 paper offered in "Menopause" tested the ability of Lepidium to improve climacteric symptoms. Patients first received either maca or placebo for six weeks. They then received the opposite treatment for six weeks. Relative to placebo, maca reduced depression and anxiety scores. It also improved sexual performance without affecting reproductive hormones. A similar number of adverse events occurred in both conditions, but additional testing remains necessary before doctors can recommend Lepidium to postmenopausal women.

Side Effects

Supplements and drugs affect the body in a similar manner. They can enhance health but sometimes at a price. Some herbs, kava for example, may cause organ damage, but the side effects associated with maca appear less severe. An experiment described in the 2008 volume of "Food and Chemical Toxicology" assessed the safety of Lepidium intake in patients experiencing symptoms of diabetes. Participants received either maca or placebo for 60 days. This treatment increased diastolic blood pressure. It also increased aspartate transaminase, a warning sign for tissue damage. Both changes were small, and their clinical relevance remains unclear. Yet, the public is urged to wait for more safety data before taking maca.