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Plant Profiler
Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
(Lepidium Synonyms / Common Names / Related Terms
Acyclic keto acid, alkaloids, amino, Andean Viagra®, anthocyanines, aromatic
glucosinolates, ayak chichira (Quechua/Spanish), ayuk willku (Quechua/Spanish),
benzaldehyde, benzyl glucosinolate (glucotropaeolin), N-benzylhexadecanamide,
N-benzyloctadecanamide, N-benzyl octanamide, beta-ecdysone, Brassicaceae (family),
calcium, carboline, cardiotonic glycosides, campesterol, chicha de maca (Spanish),
Cruciferae (former family name), fatty acids, flavonoids, glucosinolate degradation products, glucotropaeolin,
imidazole alkaloids, iron, isopteropodin, Lepidieae (tribe), lepidiline A, lepidiline B, Lepidium apetalum,
Lepidium meyenii, Lepidium peruvianum Chacón, Lepidium sativum L., maca chicha, maca maca,
macaenes, macamides, macaridine, mace, magnesium, maino, maka, malic acid, matia, methoxybenzyl
isothiocyanate, 3-methoxyphenylacetonitrile, natural Viagra®, pepperweed, Peruvian ginseng, Peruvian
maca, phenyl acetonitrile, phosphorus, potassium, prostaglandins, protein, quercitin, saponins, sitosterols,
steroids, stigmasterol, tannins, uridine, vitamin B1, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, zinc.

Selected brand names: Maca Gelatinizada La Molina® (Laboratorios Hersil, Lima, Peru), MacaPure®
(Pure World Botanicals®, Naturex, South Hackensack, NJ), MacaSource® (Maca Source, Inc., Bentonville,
AR), MacaTonic® (Pure World Botanicals®, Naturex, South Hackensack, NJ).

Mechanism of Action

• Constituents: Through various lab tests, maca has been found to contain acyclic keto acid
(5-oxo-(6E,8E)-octadecadienoic acid)20, alkaloids11,2, amino acids (particularly arginine,
histidine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tyrosine), anthocyanines1, aromatic glucosinolates
(glucotropaeolin, m-methoxyglucotropaeolin, and p-methoxyglucotropaeolin)11,2,17,21,
benzaldehyde22, N-benzyl-(9,16)-dioxo-(10E,12E,14E)-octadecatrieneamide14, benzyl
glucosinolate (glucotropaeolin)11, N-benzylhexadecanamide23,20, N-benzyl-(16)-hydroxy-(9)
-oxo-(10E,12E,14E)-octadecatrieneamide14, N-benzyloctadecanamide23, N-benzyl-(9Z)
-octadecenamide23, N-benzyl-(9Z, 12Z)-octadecadienamide23, N-benzyl-(9Z, 12Z, 15Z)
-octadecatrienamide23, N-benzyl-5-oxo-6E,8E-octadecadienamide20, N-benzyl-(9)
-oxo-(12Z,15Z)-octadecadienamide3, N-benzyl-(13)-oxo-(9E,11E)-octadecadienamide3,
N-benzyl-(9)-oxo-(12Z)-octadecenamide3, N-benzyl octanamide14, N-benzyl-(15Z)
-tetracosenamide3, beta-ecdysone, calcium, campesterol14, carbohydrates, carboline1,
cardiotonic glycosides11, fatty acids, flavonoids1, glucosinolate degradation products
(benzylisothiocyanate and its m-methoxy derivative)2,17, glucotropaeolin1, imidazole alkaloids
(lepidiline A and B)24, iron, isopteropodin1, lepidiline A ((1,3)-dibenzyl-(4,5)
-dimethylimidazolium chloride)24, lepidiline B ((1,3)-dibenzyl-(2,4,5)-trimethylimidazolium
chloride)24, macaenes18, macamides (benzylated alkamides)23,2,18,20, macaridine (benzylated
derivative of 1,2-dihydro-N-hydroxypyridine)3,20, magnesium, malic acid (and its benzoyl
derivative)17, N-(m-methoxybenzyl)hexadecanamide3, methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate,
3-methoxyphenylacetonitrile22, (1R,3S)-1-methyltetrahydro-beta-carboline-3-carboxylic acid17,
phenyl acetonitrile22, phosphorus, potassium, prostaglandins21, protein, quercitin1, saponins11,
sitosterols14, steroids11,2, stigmasterol14, tannins11, uridine 17, vitamin B1, vitamin B12, vitamin
C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and zinc.
• Maca contains two classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids, the macaenes and macamides.1
The macamides, also called benzyl alkamides, are a distinct class of secondary metabolites
that have so far been found only in Lepidium meyenii.23,3 The main macamides have been
identified as N-benzylhexadecanamide, N-benzyl-(9Z)-octadecenamide, N-benzyl-(9Z, 12Z)
-octadecadienamide, N-benzyl-(9Z, 12Z, 15Z)-octadecatrienamide, and
N-benzyloctadecanamide. Total macamides in dried plant material has been found to range
from 0.0016-0.0123%.
• Another analysis of commercially available maca products showed that the percentage of
total macaenes and macamides in preparations varied from 0.15-0.84%.18
• The essential oil of maca contains at least 53 components.22 The major components of the
steam distilled oil are phenyl acetonitrile (85.9%), benzaldehyde (3.1%), and
3-methoxyphenylacetonitrile (2.1%).
• Antidepressant properties: The antidepressant activity of three ecotypes of maca was
evaluated using the forced swimming test.5 Mice that were fed each of three ecotypes for 21
days exhibited reduced times of immobility in the force swimming tests compared to controls
• Antioxidant properties: Aqueous extracts of maca have the capacity to scavenge free
radicals and protect cells from oxidative stress.25
• Antistress effects: A methanol extract of maca administered to rats reduced or abolished
several markers associated with stress: stress-induced ulcers, elevated corticosterone levels,
the reduction of glucose, and the increase in the weight of adrenal glands.34 Maca also
eliminated the decrease in free fatty-acids (FFA) in plasma produced by stress. Also, positive
results were observed in a forced-swimming test.
• Mice treated with maca for 15 weeks showed a lower score of neuroticism after they were
submitted to non-lethal electric discharges than did controls.35 The maca-fed mice also had a
more rapid recovery to normal.
• Central nervous system stimulant: The methanol extract of maca tuber contains a
carboline, (1R,3S)-1-methyltetrahydro-beta-carboline-3-carboxylic acid, a molecule which is
reported to exert many activities on the central nervous system.17
• Cognitive function: In a study of the effect of yellow, red, and black ecotypes of maca on
cognitive function and depression, ovariectomized mice that were fed each of three ecotypes
for 21 days exhibited reduced water finding latency (a measure of cognitive function and
learning) compared to controls (p<0.05), but those fed black maca showed the most latency
• Energizing properties: Different doses of aqueous extracts of maca (4, 10, 20, and 40g/kg)
have been shown to increase the swimming activity of mice.26 The extracts also aided
recovery from muscle fatigue after strenuous physical activity, as measured by lactic acid and
malonic acid production.
• Erectile dysfunction activity: A comprehensive review of the available experimental
evidence came to the conclusion that maca may be helpful for erectile dysfunction.12 The
authors suggest that improvements in penile endothelial L-arginine-nitric oxide activity appear
to be a unifying explanation for the actions of several naturally occurring agents, including
• After oral administration of a 10% ethanol suspension of a purified lipid extract of maca
(MacaPure® M-01 and M-02) for 22 days to male mice and rats, the latent period of erection
was reduced in mice and rats with erectile dysfunction.14 Additionally, there was an increase
in the number of complete intromissions and in the number of sperm-positive females.
• Estrogenic properties: Both methanol and aqueous extracts of maca have shown estrogenic
activity comparable with that of silymarin in a human breast cancer MCF-7 cell line.7 Maca
estrogenicity was exhibited in the range from 100-200μg of extract per mL.
• Fertility (female) effects: Administration of aqueous extract of lyophilized yellow maca (1g/kg
body weight) to adult female mice increases the litter size.6 This treatment also increased the
uterine weight in ovariectomized animals.
• A study in mice treated with maca for 30 days did not demonstrate a difference in the rate of
embryo implantation.27 However, the study did not control for the amount of maca consumed
by each subject.1
• Hepatoprotective activity: Methanol and aqueous extracts from dehydrated hypocotyls of
maca did not exhibit cytotoxicity in hepatocyte primary cultures up to 10mg/mL as measured
by the MTT viability test, and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and aspartate aminotransferase
(AST) leakage.7 In fact, after 72 hours the extracts inhibited LDH and AST leakage from the
hepatocytes. However, when hepatocytes were intoxicated by t-butyl hydroperoxide, neither
extract prevented oxidative damage and both extracts showed weak antioxidant activity in the
DPPH radical scavenging test with IC50 values of 3.46 ± 0.16 and 0.71 ± 0.10mg per mL, for
aqueous and methanol extracts, respectively. These findings indicate that maca does not
display in vitro hepatotoxicity. In contrast, maca may have a slight cytoprotective effect,
probably not mediated by antioxidant capacity.
• High altitude testicular disturbance effects: Exposure to high altitude (4340m) results in a
reduction in epididymal sperm count after seven days in adult male rats, and lower sperm
values are maintained for up to 21 days.28 This altitude also reduced spermiation (stage VIII)
to half and the onset of spermatogenesis (stages IX-XI) to a quarter on days 7 and 14.
Treatment with an aqueous extract of maca (666.6mg per day) prevented these changes in
spermiation and spermatogenesis. The maca treatment was also able to prevent the altitude-
induced reduction in sperm count. In the maca-treated group exposed to high altitude,
epididymal sperm count was higher than in a non-treated group at sea level.
• Immunostimulant effects: Fish fed diets supplemented with maca meal for 15 weeks
demonstrated increased leukocyte counts, with no observed differences in hemoglobin
• Joint disease effects: Vincaria (cat's claw) and maca have been studied in vitro for their
ability to limit cartilage degradation by respectively suppressing catabolism and activating
local insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) anabolic pathways.9 A maca extract was shown to
enhance basal IGF-1 mRNA levels in human chondrocytes by 2.7 fold, an effect that was
further enhanced to 3.8 fold by co-administration with vincaria. Enhanced basal IGF-1
production by the maca extract alone and together with vincaria was confirmed in both
explants and in primary chondrocytes (p<0.05). As expected, IL-1beta exposure completely
silenced IGF-1 production by chondrocytes. However, in the presence of IL-1beta both the
maca extract and vincaria protected IGF-1 production in an additive manner (p<0.01), with
the combination restoring chondrocyte IGF-1 production to normal levels. Cartilage nitric
oxide production was dramatically enhanced by IL-1beta. Both vincaria and the maca extract
degradation of cartilage matrix was quantified as glycosaminoglycan release. Individually the
maca extract or vincaria, prevented this catabolic action of IL-1beta. These agents activate
the autocrine production of IGF-1 in cartilage, even in the face of suppressive pro-
inflammatory, catabolic cytokines like IL-1beta. In vitro chondroprotection associated with
prevention of the catabolic events and the potential for sustained anabolic activity suggest
that maca may hold promise in the treatment of joint diseases.
• Nutritional supplement activity: Supplementation of maca (both 10% and 15%) for eight
weeks in aquaculture diets improved growth rates and survival of rainbow trout
(Oncorrhynchus mykiss) adults and juveniles.29
• In a controlled study in two generations of albino Swiss mice (parents and breeding), groups
fed raw maca, cooked maca, and a control diet exhibited similar growth curves in the first
generation.10 However, in the second generation the cooked maca group demonstrated the
best growth curve (p<0.05) and the raw maca group demonstrated the worst growth curve.
Additionally, the serum values of total proteins and albumin were higher for the cooked maca
treatment group than that of the raw maca or control groups.
• Osteoporosis (postmenopausal) effects: An ethanol extract of maca administered at 0.24g
per kg for 28 weeks was effective in the prevention of estrogen deficient bone loss in female
ovariectomized Sprague-Dawley rats.8 The findings were derived from bone mineral density,
biomechanical, biochemical, and histopathological parameters.
• Prostate cancer/enlargement: Epidemiological studies have found that consumption of
cruciferous vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. 11 This effect
seems to be due to the antiproliferative and proapoptotic actions of glucosinolates. The
absolute content of glucosinolates in maca is relatively higher than that reported in other
cruciferous crops. Therefore, Maca may have proapoptotic and anti-proliferative effects on the
prostate. An aqueous extract of the red ecotype of maca, but not yellow or black maca,
significantly reduced ventral prostate size in rats. Red maca administered for 42 days
reduced ventral prostatic epithelial height and was also able to prevent testosterone
enanthate-induced increases in prostate weight. Serum testosterone or estradiol levels were
not affected by any of the ecotypes used in this study. The different effects of the three
ecotypes correspond to measured difference in putative (evaluated by IR spectra) benzyl
glucosinolate content.
• Sex hormones (female) effects: Progesterone levels increased significantly in mice that
received maca.27 However, there were no marked changes in blood levels of estradiol-17beta
or the rate of embryo implantation.
• Sex hormones (male) effects: Sex differentiation in fish is very sensitive to the effects of
phytochemicals with steroid-like activity. However, in a study of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus
mykiss) fed with maca up to 15% of their diet, no changes in sex ratios were noted.29
• Testosterone levels increased significantly in mice that received maca.27
• Sexual function effects: Both acute and chronic oral administration of maca can improve
sexual performance parameters in male rats.13 It was observed that both 15mg per kg and
75mg per kg doses of maca acutely decreased first mount latency, first intromission latency,
and intercopulatory interval significantly (p<0.05), while only the 75mg per kg dose decreased
the post-ejaculatory latency (T=29, p<0.05). This effect seems to be the only one that is
dose-dependent. After 15 days of treatment, both doses were able to significantly decrease
first mount latency, first intromission latency, ejaculation latency and post-ejaculatory latency,
First intromission latency, ejaculation latency, and postejaculatory latency variations seem to
be dose-related after chronic treatment. Chronic maca treatment also induced an increase in
rat locomotion, which was not dose-dependent. Due to the timing of the maca-induced
locomotion change, the authors concluded that improvement of tested sexual performance
parameters was not simply related to a general increase in rat activity. A follow-up study of
hexane, methanol, and chloroform extracts of maca indicated that administration of the
hexane extract improved sexual performance parameters most effectively.15
• Spermatogenesis effects: A dose-response study was performed to determine the effect of
seven days oral administration of an aqueous lyophilized extract of maca at 0.01-5g/kg
(corresponding to 0.022-11g dry hypocotyls of maca per kg) on body and different organ
weights, stages of the seminiferous tubules, epididymal sperm count and motility, and serum
testosterone and estradiol levels in rats.19 In doses up to 5g extract per kg, no toxicity was
observed. Almost all organ weights were similar in controls and in the maca treated groups.
Seminal vesicles weight was significantly reduced at 0.01 and 0.10g extract per kg. Maca
increased in length of stages VII-VIII of the seminiferous tubules in a dose-response fashion,
with highest response at 1.0g/kg, while caput/corpus epididymal sperm count increased at the
1.0g dose. Cauda epididymal sperm count, sperm motility, and serum estradiol level were not
affected at any of the doses studied. Serum testosterone was lower at 0.10g extract per kg.
Low-seminal vesicle weights correlated with low-serum testosterone levels (R2=0.33;
p<0.0001) and low-testosterone/estradiol ratio (R2=0.35; p<0.0001). Increase in epididymal
sperm count was related to lengths of stages VII-VIII. Highest effect on stages VII-VIII of the
seminiferous tubules was observed at 1g maca extract per kg.
• A dose-response study was performed at sea level to determine the effect of maca given to
male rats at doses of 0, 6.6, 66.6 and 666.6mg per day for seven days on body weight,
seminiferous tubule stages and epididymal sperm count.28 The length of stage VIII and the
epididymal sperm count were increased in a dose-dependent manner in maca-treated rats bu
treatment reduced the length of stage I. At the highest dose, sperm count increased 1.58
times, the length of stage VIII increased 2.4 times and the length of stage I was reduced 0.48
times compared with the value at dose 0.
• In Holtzman rats, maca alcoholic extract (5%) was given by oral route at doses of 48mg per
day or 96mg per day for seven, 14, and 21 days.30 The ethanolic extract of maca increased
the length of stages IX-XI of seminiferous epithelium at treatment day 7, day 14 and day 21.
Progression of spermatogenesis was evident only after day 21 when lengths of stages XII-
XIV of seminiferous epithelium were increased; at day 7 and day 14, no important change in
spermatogenesis was observed. Epididymal sperm count was increased with 48mg per day a
all times. With 96mg per day an increase in sperm count was observed at day 7, but it was
reduced at day 14 and day 21 of treatment. Serum testosterone levels were not affected.
Thus, the ethanol extract of maca activates onset and progression of spermatogenesis at
48mg or 96mg per day in rats.
• Male rats received an aqueous extract of maca root (66.7mg/mL) twice a day for 14
consecutive days.31 Treatment with maca resulted in an increase in the weights of testis and
epididymis but not the seminal vesicle weight. The length and frequency of stages IX-XIV
seminiferous tubules, where mitosis occurred, were increased and stages I-VI were reduced
in rats treated with maca.
• Spermatogenesis effects (ecotype variation): A study was conducted to test the hypothesis
long-term (42 days) treatment affect spermatogenesis differentially in adult rats.16 After seven
days of treatment with yellow and red maca, the length of stage VIII was increased (p<0.05),
whereas with black maca stages II-VI and VIII were increased (p<0.05). Daily sperm
production was increased in the group treated with black maca compared with control values
(p<0.05). Red or yellow maca did not alter daily sperm production, and did not affect
epididymal sperm motility. After 42 days of treatment, black maca was the only ecotype that
enhanced daily sperm production (p<0.05) and that increased epididymal sperm motility
(p<0.05). In relation to the control group, red maca did not affect testicular and epididymal
weight nor epididymal sperm motility and sperm count; however, prostate weight was reduced
(p<0.05). Black or yellow maca did not affect prostate weight.
• Spermatogenesis effects (prevention of lead-induced infertility): Lead acetate treatment
(0-24mg per kg, intraperitoneal; for 35 days) of rats resulted in a dose-response reduction of
lengths of stages VIII and IX-XI of the seminiferous epithelium, and serum testosterone
levels.32 The lead acetate treated rats also showed a low number of testicular spermatids, low
daily sperm production, and low epididymal sperm count. Co-administration of maca from day
18 to day 35 resulted in greater lengths of stages VIII and IX-XI compared to rats treated with
only lead acetate. The maca treated group had lengths of stages VIII and IX-XI similar to the
control group. Co-administration of maca also reduced the deleterious effect on daily sperm
production caused by lead acetate treatment. This study suggests that maca may be potentia
treatment of male infertility associated with lead exposure.
• Spermatogenesis effects (prevention of sperm damage by organophosphates): An
experiment was conducted to observe the effect of the aqueous extract of maca on
spermatogenic damage induced by the organophosphate insecticide malathion in mice.33 Mice
were treated with 80mg per kg of malathion in the presence or absence of an aqueous
extract of maca, which was orally administered seven, 14 or 21 days after injection of the
malathion. The administration of maca increased significantly the length of stage VIII of the
semniferous epithelium on days 7, 14 and 21 of treatment compared with the controls. An
increase in the length of stage IX occurred on day 14 of treatment. Malathion affected
spermatogenesis by reducing the lengths of stage IX on day 7, stages VII and IX-XI on day
14 and a recovery of stages IX-XII on day 21. The magnitude of alteration in the length of
stage IX produced by malathion was significantly reduced by maca on days 7 and 14. The
length of stage VIII was increased when maca was administered to mice treated with
malathion. Assessment of the relative length of stages of the seminiferous epithelium showed
that maca treatment resulted in rapid recovery of the effect of malathion.
• Steroid hormone (androgens) activity: Maca extracts (obtained with methanol, ethanol,
hexane, or chloroform) were not able to regulate glucocorticoid response element activation
in vitro.4


• Insufficient available evidence.

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