What Is the Connection between Maca and Fertility?

Dan Harkins

A Peruvian plant called maca, or Lepidium meyenii, has been used for generations as an herbal remedy to boost sexual interest, vitality and fertility rates. Not until recent years, however, did mainstream science lend its stamp to the claims. Many scientists claim that with an increased consumption of maca fertility rates can be expected to rise — not just due to boosted sperm production but libido as well.

An adult woman's reproductive system.
An adult woman's reproductive system.

Maca resembles a fat radish and is consumed in a range of ways, often by couples hoping to conceive a baby. This is because, for centuries, a direct line has been drawn between maca and fertility optimization. Some slice it and add it to salads or boiled vegetable side dishes. Others extract a tincture from the roots and stems or grind dried roots into a powder for use in store-bought drinks or supplements. Still, others use the powder or tincture as an ingredient in liquor.

Guarana berries are thought to be a natural aphrodisiac.
Guarana berries are thought to be a natural aphrodisiac.

It is not just herbalists tying together maca and fertility-boosting. According to a 2009 review of maca studies by the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru, maca has shown success in boosting libido as well as sperm production and sperm motility in men — crucial ingredients for optimum procreation rates. The type of maca used is important, the report notes, since red and yellow varieties improve sperm production but red maca has no effect. All varieties, however, have proven to boost the mood and energy levels.

In all, the connection between maca and fertility is just one of several potential uses. Studies also show that maca improves the mood and lessens anxiety. It may also improve brain function, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), leading to better memory skills. Nevertheless, the mechanism that actually causes these reported changes is largely misunderstood in 2011.

Since studies as of 2011 are unclear about whether maca is safe to take once conception occurs, most medical institutions advise pregnant or breastfeeding women to abstain. This is true not just of maca but other homeopathic remedies used to boost fertility or libido. Other more-prevalent herbal supplements that are suspected of being natural aphrodisiacs include goat weed, basil, guarana, cardamom, chili peppers, ginger and aniseed. For fertility, some believe several other types of herbal supplements can be effective, from red raspberry leaf to primrose oil. Herbalists advise trying one alleged remedy at a time ;otherwise, it will be difficult to know which supplement was responsible for the success.

Maca is said to boost sperm production and libido.
Maca is said to boost sperm production and libido.

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