Advances in Food Technology and Nutritional Sciences

Open journal

ISSN 2377-8350

Maca: Botanical Medicine from the Andes

Maria Rosales-Hartshorn*

Maria Rosales-Hartshorn, PhD

School of Food Science Washington State University Pullman, WA 99164, USA E-mail:

Maca (Lepidium meyenii, Walp) (Brassicaceae) is a biennial herbaceous plant widely dispersed on high plateaus (altitudes between 4000 and 4500 masl) of the mountains in Peru, particularly in Junin. The underground part of the plant, the tuber, is the main product used for human consumption because of its nutritional value and phytochemical content.1,2,3 Maca presents three major phenotypes, yellow, red and black based on their hypocotyl and stem coloration (Figure 1).4 Andean people use maca as boiled or roasted food, in soups, or to prepare drinks, salads, jams, bread, coffee, substitutes, and even beer.5,6 A sweet aromatic dessert, called mazamorra, is prepared by boiling the roots in water or milk. A fermented drink, maca chichi, is also made and the dried roots are used to impart a special flavor to the sugar cane rum or aguardiente.1,7

Figure 1: Yellow, Red and Black Maca.


Maca is rich in sugars, starch, protein (13-16%), glucosinolates and essential minerals, such as iron and iodine.1 Maca also contains other compounds such as fatty acids (linoleic, palmitic, and oleic acid mainly), aminoacids (lysine and arginine), many microelements, tannins and saponins. An important component of maca is a mixture of alkaloids known as macaines 1,2,3 and 4 and alkamides (macamides), including alcamide 1 to 5. Some authors suggest that active substances are not just prostaglandins and sterols, but also aromatic isothiocyanates, such as benzyl-isothiocyanate or p-methoxy-benzyl-isothiocyanate to which the aphrodisiac qualities are attributed. Also, the antioxidative activity of maca is linked to those substances.1,6,7,8 The main functional properties of maca are shown in table 1.

Table 1: Main Functional Properties of Maca.



REPRODUCTION Male Reproduction:

Sperm function


Treatment of rats with maca at high altitude prevented high altitude-induced spermatogenic disruption.



Maca prevented lead acetate-induced spermatogenic disruption in rats and it may become in a potential treatment of male infertility associated with lead exposure.

Mice Maca enhances spermatogenesis following spermatogenic damage caused by the organophosphorous pesticide.



Black maca appeared to have more beneficial effect on sperm counts and epididymal sperm motility.

Men Maca improved sperm production and sperm motility by mechanisms not related to luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, prolactin, testosterone and estradiol.


Prostate function


The hydroalcoholic or aqueous extract of red maca containing 0.1 mg of benzylglucosinolate can reduce prostate size in male rats in which prostatic hyperplasia had been induced by testosterone enanthate.



Red maca reduced ventral prostate size in normal and testosterone enanthate treated rats.



Red maca administered orally in rats seems to exert an inhibitory effect at a level post dihydrotestosterone conversion, on the benign prostatic hyperplasia -induced experimentally, although a direct measure of reductase action would still be required.

in vitro Maca extracts (obtained with different solvents: methanol, ethanol, hexane and chloroform) are not able to regulate glucocorticoid response element activation.


Serum hormone

in vitro

Maca extracts (obtained with different solvents: methanol, ethanol, hexane and chloroform) are not able to regulate glucocorticoid response element activation. Thus maca does not exert direct androgenic activities.

Female Reproduction/Hormonal balance/Menopause Rats Serum estradiol levels were not affected.



Progesterone levels increased significantly in mice that received maca, while testosterone levels increased significantly in mice that received maca as well as in those that received both L. meyeniiWalp and J. macrantha. However, there were no marked changes in blood levels of estradiol-17beta or the rate of embryo implantation.

Men Treatment with maca does not affect serum reproductive hormone levels.



Administration of aqueous extract of yellow maca to adult female mice increases the litter size and also increases the uterine weight in ovariectomized animals.

Rats Red and black maca have protective effects on bone architecture in ovariectomized rats without showing estrogenic effects on uterine weight.



These randomized clinical trials demonstrated the favorable effects of maca on menopausal symptoms in healthy perimenopausal, early postmenopausal, and late postmenopausal women. However, the total number of trials, the total sample size, and the average methodological quality of the primary studies, were too limited to draw firm conclusions.

OSTEOPOROSIS Rats The higher dose of ethanol extract of maca was effective in the prevention of estrogen deficient bone loss.




Acute and short-term administration of maca produced a small effect of rat male sexual behavior and longterm administration did not increase anxiety

Rats Acute and chronic oral administration of maca significantly improve sexual performance parameters in male rats.


Mice and rats

Oral administration of lipidicmaca extract enhanced the sexual function of the mice and rats. as evidenced by an increase in the number of complete intromissions and the number of sperm-positive females in normal mice, and a decrease in the latent period of erection in male rats with erectile dysfunction.

Rats Hexanic and methanolic extracts were able to increase mount frequency, while only hexanic fraction significantly improved mount latency. Sub-acute oral administration of hexanicmaca extract improved sexual performance parameters in sexually inexperienced male rats most effectively.



Maca reduces psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and lowers measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women independent of estrogenic and androgenic activity.

Men Treatment with maca improved sexual desire.



Small but significant effect of maca supplementation on subjective perception of general and sexual wellbeing in adult patients with mild erectile dysfunction.

VITALITY AND STRESS TOLERANCE Women Maca was shown to have significant effects on psychological symptoms including effects on anxiety and depression as measured by the Green Climacteric Scale (GCS) and its subscales.



The methanolicmaca extract is capable of attenuating or even eliminating variations in homeostasis produced by stress since it reduces or abolishes stress-induced ulcers, elevated corticosterone levels, the reduction of glucose and the increase in the weight of adrenal glands produced by stress.

MEMORY & LEARNING Mice Black maca presented the better response with respect to latent learning in ovariectomized mice.



Black maca improves scopolamine-induced memory deficits in male mice.

IMMUNITY/NUTRITION Rainbow trout alevins and juvenile Maca tuber meal inclusion at least 5% improves growth rate, feed utilization, immunity by increased leucocyte number, and survival of rainbow trout alevins and juveniles.


Rainbow trout juveniles

The results indicate that certain compounds in maca meal have growth enhancing effects in rainbow trout juveniles.



Maca is an important source of glucosinolates mainly of the aromatic type (glucotropaeolin). Yábar et al.35 identified six glucosinolates in the yellow, red and black ecotypes. These glucosinolates corresponded to 5-methylsulfinylpentyl, 4-hydroxybenzyl, benzyl, 3-methoxybenzyl, 4-hydroxy-3-indolylm- ethyl and 4-methoxy-3-indolylmethyl. Glucosinolates and their derived products have received scientific attention because of their biological activities, mainly against cancer. The anticancer properties of maca have been also attributed to its flavonoid content. Bai et al.36 found three flavonoids in maca roots consisting of a tricin unit. Tricin has been considered as a potential cancer chemopreventive agent in humans. A specific study with red maca determined its efficacy on the regulation of prostatic growth by reducing prostate zinc levels in rats. As pointed out by Gonzales et al.37 the determination of prostate weight and zinc levels can be considered as alternative markers to discriminate the effect of red maca from different sources. Flavonoids in maca have shown to be potent inhibitors of monoamine oxidase activity, thus mimicking the actions of monoamine oxidase antidepressant medication. However the specific role of flavonoids in maca remains to be established.27

In addition, maca is marketed for its reported benefit in relieving menopausal symptoms, although additional scientific data is necessary to support any efficacy. To this respect,27 showed the ability of maca to reduce psychological symptoms associated with menopause, including anxiety and depression, along with sexual dysfunction. It is difficult to postulate how maca is acting to reduce psychological symptoms, given the complex nature of psychological control; thus the mechanisms need further investigation.

Regarding the role of maca supplementation in endurance capacity and exercise performance, Stone et al.38 determined that 14 days supplementation with maca extract significantly improved time to complete a 40 km time trial in trained male cyclists. Thus, the efficacy of maca extract on the improvement of exercise performance was demonstrated. Similarly, supplementation with the lipid-soluble maca extract for 3 weeks increased swimming time to exhaustion in weight- loaded forced swimming rats that can be partially explained by attenuation of exercise-induced oxidative stress.39

Maca is also known for its supportive effect on fertility and enhancing and aphrodisiac properties.6,27 Some studies reported the beneficial effects of maca in sexual function of mice and rats. Ethanol maca extract enhanced the sexual function of the mice and rats, as evidenced by an increase in the number of complete intromissions and the number of sperm-positive females in normal mice. Also, a decrease in the latent period of erection in male rats with erectile dysfunction was observed.25 Here, the aphrodisiac activity of L. meyenii was revealed. Additionally, the hexanicmaca extract improved the majority of the sexual parameters measured such as mount latency in sexually inexperienced male rats most effectively.26 The effect of maca on fertility has been also supported by Uchiyama et al.40 They investigated the effect of maca on the serum pituitary hormone levels during the pro-oestrus phase. It was demonstrated that maca uniquely enhances the luteinising hormone (LH) serum levels of pituitary hormones in female rats during the pro-oestrus LH surge and acts in a pharmacological, dose-dependent manner.

As mentioned above, the varieties of maca are based on the root color. Black maca enhanced daily sperm production and increased epididymal sperm motility, in adult rats, compared to red and yellow maca. In relation to the prostate weight, black or yellow maca did not affect it while red maca did reduce the weight. Thus, black maca appeared to have more beneficial effect on sperm counts and epididymal sperm motility than red and yellow maca.12 In a similar study, Rubio et al.10 determined that maca reduced the harmful effect on daily sperm production caused by lead acetate treatment. Consequently, maca may become a potential treatment of male infertility associated with lead exposure. The acetate fraction of the hydroalcoholic black maca extract was also found to have the greatest effect in spermatogenesis in rats. As cited by the authors, antioxidant components could also play a role in the effect of increased epididymal sperm concentration.41

On the other hand, no increase in testosterone levels was observed in healthy men after 12 weeks of maca administration. Further studies are needed to determine the effect of maca administration in subjects with sexual dysfunction.3 Even tough, maca treatment produced a small effect of rat male sexual behavior, an increase in ejaculation latency and post ejaculatory interval was observed. Also, a long-term administration of maca did not increase anxiety.23

Furthermore, maca is recommended for malabsorption syndrome, ethylism, as a laxative, and during reconvalescence, owing to its excellence nutritional characteristics. Also, it is used to combat anemia and insomnia, reduce plasma glucose levels and free fatty acids and as a regulator of female menstruation and menopause.5,6

Maca contains several compounds but their specific biological activity and mechanisms of action have not been fully elucidated as yet. Given the maca’s compounds potential as anticarcinogenic, antioxidant, performance exercise enhancer among other benefits such as its positive effects on fertility and sexual dysfunction, this plant needs much more intense examination in the future that include human studies. Particularly, continued studies related to glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables, mainly maca will create more confidence in people whose tendency of healthy eating habits is incessantly growing.

1. Ochoa C. Maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.; Brassicaceae): a nutritious root crop of the central andes. Econ Bot. 2001; 55: 344-345. doi: 10.1007/BF02866557

2. Sandoval M, Okuhama NN, Angeles FM, et al. Antioxidant activity of the cruciferous vegetable Maca (Lepidium meyenii). Food Chem. 2002; 79: 207-213. doi: 10.1016/S0308-8146(02)00133-4

3. Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Vega K, Chung A, Villena A, Gonez C. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a root with aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties, on serum reproductive hormone levels in adult healthy men. J Endocrinol. 2003; 176: 163-168. doi: 10.1677/joe.0.1760163

4. Esparza E, Hadzich A, Kofer W, Mithöfer A, Cosio EG. Bioactive maca (Lepidium meyenii) alkamides are a result of traditionalAnd ean postharvest drying practices. Phytochemistry. 2015. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2015.02.030

5. Piacente S, Carbone V, Plaza A, Zampelli A, Pizza C. Investigation of the tuber constituents of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.). J Agric Food Chem. 2002; 50: 5621-5625. doi: 10.1021/jf020280x

6. Večeřa R, Orolin J, Škottová N, et al. The Influence of Maca (Lepidium meyenii) on antioxidant status, lipid and glucose metabolism in rat. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2007; 62: 59-63. doi: 10.1007/s11130-007-0042-z

7. Balick MJ, Lee R. Maca: From traditional food crop to energy and libido stimulant. Altern Ther Health Med. 2002; 8: 96-98.

8. Muhammad I, Zhao J, Dunbar DC, Khan IA. Constituents of Lepidium meyenii “Maca”. Phytochemistry. 2002; 59: 105-110. doi: 10.1016/s0031-9422(01)00395-8

9. Gonzales GF, Gasco M, Cordova A, Chung A, Rubio J, Villegas L. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on spermatogenesis in male rats acutely exposed to high altitude (4340 m). J Endocrinol. 2004; 180: 87-95. doi: 10.1677/joe.0.1800087

10. Rubio J, Riqueros MI, Gasco M, Yucra S, Miranda S, Gonzales GF. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) reversed the lead acetate induced-Damage on reproductive function in male rats. Food Chem Toxicol. 2006; 44: 1114-1122. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2006.01.007

11. Bustos-Obregón E, Yucra S, Gonzales GF. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) reduces spermatogenic damage induced by a single dose of malathion in mice. Asian J Androl. 2005; 7: 71-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-7262.2005.00006.x

12. 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: 448-454. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2005.08.035

13. 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: 301-303.

14. Gonzales GF, Vasquez V, Rodriguez D, et al. Effect of two different extracts of red maca in male rats with testosterone-induced prostatic hyperplasia. Asian J Androl. 2007; 9: 245-251. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-7262.2007.00228.x

15. Gonzales GF, Miranda S, Nieto J, et al. Red maca (Lepidium meyenii) reduced prostate size in rats. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2005; 3: 1-16. doi: 10.1186/1477-7827-3-5

16. 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; 14: 460-464. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2006.12.003

17. Bogani P, Simonini F, Iriti M, et al. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) does not exert direct androgenic activities. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006; 104: 415-417. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2005.09.028

18. Oshima M, Gu Y, Tsukada S. Effects of Lepidium meyenii Walp and Jatrophamacrantha on blood levels of estradiol-17 beta, progesterone, testosterone and the rate of embryo implantation in mice. J Vet Med Sci. 2003; 65: 1145-1146. doi: 10.1292/jvms.65.1145

19. Ruiz-Luna AC, Salazar S, Aspajo NJ, Rubio J, Gasco M, Gonzales GF. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) increases litter size in normal adult female mice. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2005; 3: 1-6. doi: 10.1186/1477-7827-3-16

20. Gonzales C, Cárdenas-Valencia I, Leiva-Revilla J, Anza-Ramirez C, Rubio J, Gonzales GF. Effects of different varieties of Maca (Lepidium meyenii) on bone structure in ovariectomized rats. Forsch Komplementmed. 2010; 17: 137-143. doi: 10.1159/000315214

21. Lee MS, Shin B-C, Yang EJ, Lim H-J, Ernst E. Maca (Lepidium meyenii) for treatment of menopausal symptoms: A systematic review. Maturitas. 2011; 70: 227-233. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2011.07.017

22. Zhang Y, Yu L, Ao M, Jin W. Effect of ethanol extract of Lepidium meyenii Walp. on osteoporosis in ovariectomized rat. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006; 105: 274-279. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2005.12.013

23. Lentz A, Gravitt K, Carson CC, Marson L. Acute and chronic dosing of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on male rat sexual behavior. J Sex Med. 2007; 4: 332-340. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2007.00437.x

24. Cicero AF, Bandieri E, Arletti R. Lepidium meyenii Walp. improves sexual behaviour in male rats independently from its action on spontaneous locomotor activity. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001; 75: 225-229. doi: 10.1016/s0378-8741(01)00195-7

25. Zheng BL, He K, Kim CH, et al. Effect of a lipidic extract from Lepidium meyenii on sexual behavior in mice and rats. Urology. 2000; 55: 598-602. doi: 10.1016/s0090-4295(99)00549-x

26. Cicero AFG, Piacente S, Plaza A, Sala E, Arletti R, Pizza C. Hexanic Maca extract improves rat sexual performance more effectively than methanolic and chloroformic Maca extracts. Andrologia. 2002; 34: 177-179. doi: 10.1046/j.1439-0272.2002.00490.x

27. Brooks NA, Wilcox G, Walker KZ, Ashton JF, Cox MB, Stojanovska L. Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content. Menopause. 2008; 15: 1157-1162. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e3181732953

28. Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Vega K, et al. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. Andrologia. 2002; 34: 367-372. doi: 10.1046/j.1439-0272.2002.00519.x

29. Zenico T, Cicero AFG, Valmorri L, Mercuriali M, Bercovich E. Subjective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) extract on wellbeing and sexual performances in patients with mild erectile dysfunction: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Andrologia. 2009; 41: 95-99. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0272.2008.00892.x

30. López-Fando A, Gómez-Serranillos MP, Iglesias I, Lock O, Upamayta UP, Carretero ME. Lepidium peruvianum chacon restores homeostasis impaired by restraint stress. Phytother Res. 2004; 18: 471-474. doi: 10.1002/ptr.1455

31. Rubio J, Caldas M, Dávila S, Gasco M, Gonzales GF. Effect of three different cultivars of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on learning and depression in ovariectomized mice. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2006; 6: 1-7. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-6-23

32. Rubio J, Dang H, Gong M, Liu X, Chen S, Gonzales GF. Aqueous and hydroalcoholic extracts of Black Maca (Lepidium meyenii) improve scopolamine-induced memory impairment in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. 2007; 45: 1882-1890. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2007.04.002

33. Lee KJ, Dabrowski K, Rinchard J, Gomez C, Luz L, Vilchez C. Supplementation of maca (Lepidium meyenii) tuber meal in diets improves growth rate and survival of rainbow trout Oncorhynchusmykiss (Walbaum) alevins and juveniles. Aquaculture Res. 2004; 35: 215-223. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2109.2004.01022.x

34. Lee K-J, Dabrowski K, Sandoval M, Miller MJS. Activity-guided fractionation of phytochemicals of maca meal, their antioxidant activities and effects on growth, feed utilization, and survival in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) juveniles. Aquaculture. 2005; 244: 293-301. doi: 10.1016/j.aquaculture.2004.12.006

35. Yábar E, Pedreschi R, Chirinos R, Campos D. Glucosinolate content and myrosinase activity evolution in three maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) ecotypes during preharvest, harvest and postharvest drying. Food Chem. 2011; 127:1576-1583. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2011.02.021

36. Bai N, He K, Roller M, Lai C-S, Bai L, Pan M-H. Flavonolignans and other constituents from Lepidium meyenii with activities in anti-inflammation and human cancer cell lines. J Agric Food Chem. 2015; 63: 2458-2463. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b00219

37. 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: 362-369. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0272.2011.01190.x

38. 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: 574-576. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.012

39. Choi EH, Kang JI, Cho JY, et al. Supplementation of standardized lipid-soluble extract from maca (Lepidium meyenii) increases swimming endurance capacity in rats. J Funct Foods. 2012; 4: 568-573. doi: 10.1016/j.jff.2012.03.002

40. Uchiyama F, Jikyo T, Takeda R, Ogata M. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) enhances the serum levels of luteinising hormone in female rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014; 151: 897-902. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.11.058

41. Yucra S, Gasco M, Rubio J, Nieto J, Gonzales GF. Effect of different fractions from hydroalcoholic extract of Black Maca (Lepidium meyenii) on testicular function in adult male rats. Fertil Steril. 2008; 89: 1461-1467. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2007.04.052


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