Maca and tribulus are plants used as the basis for alternative medical treatments, primarily to increase sexual desire and performance. The key differences between maca and tribulus center on the type of plant each is, where each grows best and the reported effectiveness of medicines derived from them. Maca is a Peruvian tuber-type plant with a bulbous edible root, similar to a radish, which grows best in higher, colder conditions. Tribulus is a flowering vine-like plant that grows best in arid climates, even in desert regions. Limited clinical studies appear to indicate that maca may be more effective than tribulus in increasing sexual desire.
Peruvians have cultivated maca for about 2,000 years. The plant grows particularly well in the high reaches of the Andes mountains. It was long used both as a food staple and a crop for trade. Local legends say Incan warriors would take maca prior to battle because it enhanced their strength, and the warriors then had to be kept away from the women of conquered cities because the root also increased their sexual desire and virility. Extract of the maca root is now widely available commercially in capsule form.
Tribulus is a low-growing vine with a spiny fruit used in making a medicinal extract. Also known as Tribulus terrestris, the plant contains a naturally occurring steroid-like substance thought to enhance a range of physical activities, including sexual performance. Popular for centuries in China, it has gained wider use in the West along with rising interest in alternative medicine. It is widely available in tablet form.
Both maca and tribulus have been the subject of limited clinical studies. Two studies, for example, using control groups taking maca and a placebo appeared to indicate an increase in sexual desire, with one of the studies showing an increase in sperm count. A study of Bulgarian athletes reportedly documented enhanced athletic performance from taking the herb; however, those results have not be confirmed by additional testing.
Maca and tribulus exhibit limited but different side effects. Tribulus is said to cause enlarged breasts in men and can cause increased menstrual bleeding in women. It is not recommended for pregnant women or nursing mothers. The stimulant properties of maca can produce anxiety. It is a good idea to check with a knowledgeable health practitioner before using either substance.
Both maca and tribulus are known by alternative names. Maca often is called the Ginseng of Peru, although it is not related to that plant. The technical name for maca is Lepidium meyenii. Tribulus is known as the puncture vine, due to the small spines on the fruit.