One of the biggest food trends of the last couple decades has been the rise of ‘superfoods'. These are foods that are valuable because of their power to nourish and heal, instead of their calorie or nutrient content. A perfect example of this is the soaring popularity of maca root.
Maca root comes from the plant Lepidium meyenii, and is commonly used in powder form and packs an insane amount of health benefits. And people are catching on. Whole Foods market even mentioned maca root in their predictions for 2018 health trends (emphasis mine):
Powders are serious power players. Because they’re so easy to incorporate, they’ve found their way into lattés, smoothies, nutrition bars, soups and baked goods. For an energy boost or an alternative to coffee, powders like matcha, maca root and cacao are showing up in mugs everywhere. Ground turmeric powder is still on the rise, the ever-popular spice used in Ayurvedic medicine. Smoothie fans are raising a glass to powders like spirulina, kale, herbs and roots for an oh-so-green vibrancy that needs no Instagram filter. Even protein powders have evolved beyond bodybuilders to pack in new nutrients like skin- and hair-enhancing collagen.
In fact, the energy boosting properties of maca root have inspired many coffee shop owners to start offering it in their drinks. Gregorys Coffee in Washington DC recently made the news for doing just that (you can read about that here.)
As you can see, many health experts are preaching the benefits of maca root. And with good reason.
So what exactly does maca root do for you?
There are a lot of claims about the health benefits of maca root, but not all of them are founded. However, there is agreement about some of its healthy effects. Organic Facts does a nice job summarizing the benefits:
The health benefits of maca root include relief from problems related to menstruation and menopause, while also balancing hormones and boosting fertility in women. It helps in increasing energy levels, improving sexual health, and boosting bone health. It helps in building stamina, maintaining a healthy immune system, and improving healthy skin. It has antidepressant properties and under stressful conditions, it also promotes homeostasis (balance within the body).
By adding maca to your diet, you can balance your vitamin and mineral intake, because it is a great source of B12 vitamins, along with B1, B2, C, and E. The plant is also a rich source of protein, a beneficial attribute for vegetarians and vegans, and it contains the ever-important trace elements of iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium. It is itself composed of approximately 60-75% carbohydrates, and 10-14% proteins, along with fiber and a small amount of fat. The high content of proteins and important nutrients may explain its’ connection to higher energy, clearer thinking, an increase in sexual libido, and many other interconnected benefits of this small South American plant.
You can see why maca has a reputation for being a ‘superfood' based on all that.
The benefit that perhaps gets the most attention is the boost in libido. This reportedly occurs for both men and women, which might explain why it's so popular. But is there good data to support this?
The best article I could find is this review from 2010 published in BioMed Central Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which concluded as follows:
The results of our systematic review provide limited evidence for the effectiveness of maca in improving sexual function. 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. More rigorous studies are warranted.
As with many natural and alternative health remedies, there is not a whole lot of systematic research being done on maca root. The limited evidence is inconclusive one way or another.
This doesn't mean that maca root isn't all it's cracked up to be – it just means it needs more research. For that reason, I recommend maca root as a supplement to a healthy diet and exercise routine. And it should not be used as a replacement for prescribed medications.
For further reading, I will point you toward Dr. Josh Axe's take on maca root, which you can find here. We also recommend a detox diet that uses maca root for one of it's main staple ingredients (read our review here).