- Maca root comes from a vegetable grown in Peru and is sold in the US as supplement.
- It is touted for its adaptogenic properties and is said to boost energy and libido.
- Research is limited but some experts say maca is safe for most people. However, pregnant people should avoid maca due to potential lead exposure.
Maca root comes from a plant native to Peru and has a culinary history going back almost 2,000 years. Traditionally cooked and used in soups or juices, maca eventually made its way to the United States as a superfood supplement.
Health food stores sell raw maca root powder and gelatinized maca root capsules with claims that these products can support energy, memory, female fertility, and more. It’s considered an adaptogen and is said to help the body deal with stress.
“Maca root is something I use most often when caring for women, and for health needs specific to women,” Baljit Khamba, ND, MPH, a naturopathic doctor and chair of Clinical Sciences at Bastyr University San Diego, told Verywell.
Some older research suggests that maca may improve mood or treat antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women, but most studies on maca were conducted on animals.
“Animal-based research indicates maca root supports balancing of estrogen and progesterone. This may be why some women see benefit to fertility, and some experience relief from menstrual, perimenopause, and menopause symptoms when they take maca root,” Khamba said.
But there’s not enough research to confirm the benefits of maca root. For those who want to take maca root for fertility issues, Khamba said they should speak with a provider to discuss whether it’s appropriate.
“Because maca root is a food, the risks associated with consuming it are low,” Khamba said. “However, it’s important to know that when any food is derived into powder or capsule form, it can be more concentrated than it is in its most natural state.”
Maca Root Powder vs. Capsule: Does It Matter?
Maca is mostly sold in the U.S. as a powder or capsule. Some may prefer the capsule form since raw maca can have a strong, bitter taste, but the benefits are likely the same.
“It probably doesn’t make much difference how you consume it. Often, when in capsule form, maca root is combined with something else. So, I have a slight preference for mixing it into your food,” Khamba said.
According to Khamba, maca can be used every day, but she encourages people to talk with a naturopathic doctor about a dosage that’s right for them.
The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention says that “as a dietary supplement the recommended dose range is 1.5–3 g.”
“Generally, starting with smaller doses is best. Maca root works best when its effects are cumulative and happen over time,” she said.
What Are the Risks Associated With Maca Root?
Maca root is considered safe, but some people on social media reported stomach pain and gastrointestinal distress after taking this supplement.
“I think people generally perceive these dietary supplements as being safe because they’re available over-the-counter. And people don’t really consider that they could have possible side effects,” said Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicologist and interim executive director of the National Capital Poison Center.
Maca and other dietary supplements sold in the U.S. are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety or efficacy. Johnson-Arbor recommends looking for third-party verification from USP, NSF, or ConsumerLab before purchasing maca.
In 2018, Johnson-Arbor published a case report in the Journal of Medical Toxicology about a woman who was exposed to lead from maca powder. The woman’s blood lead levels went up but returned to normal after she stopped consuming the supplement.
Johnson-Arbor said the woman did not experience lead poisoning and for most people, occasional maca consumption may only lead to mild lead exposure. However, lead has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage so pregnant people may want to avoid maca.
“We really don’t want pregnant people or people who are intending to become pregnant to use maca because it certainly could raise your lead level to an extent that could be potentially dangerous for pregnancy,” she said.
While maca root is safe for most people, pregnant people and children should avoid using this supplement.
“As long as you know about those risks and take the appropriate precautions, I don’t think it’s necessarily unsafe for people to take,” Johnson-Arbor said.
What This Means For You
Maca root is said to support energy, libido, and sexual function, but research is limited. Consider speaking with a trusted healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.