Lepidium meyenii (Maca): A Plant from the Highlands of Peru – from Tradition to ScienceGonzales G.F. · Gonzales C. · Gonzales-Castañeda C.
Instituto de Investigaciones de la Altura, and Faculty of Sciences and Philosophy, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru
This review summarizes the current state of knowledge on Lepidium meyenii (maca), a cruciferous plant (Brassicaceae family) which is cultivated exclusively at an altitude of 4,000–4,500 m in the Peruvian Central Andes. Maca is traditionally used for its nutritional and presumed medici-nal properties. Over the past 20 years, interest in maca has increased in many parts of the world, and since 2005 maca is considered one of the seven Peruvian flag products. Maca is exported as powder, capsules, pills, flour, liquor, and extracts. There are different types of maca with differ-ent colors ranging from white to black. We have studied the pharmacological effects of 3 types; yellow, black, and red maca. Evidence from experimental studies indicates effects of maca on nutrition, fertility, memory, and mood. Black maca has better effects on sperm production than yellow maca which has only moderate effects. Red maca, however, has no effect on sperm production. However, red maca has been shown to reduce prostate size in rats in which prostate hyperplasia had been induced with testosterone enanthate; yellow maca has shown moderate effects here, whereas black maca has not shown any effects. Randomized clinical trials have shown that maca has favorable effects on energy and mood, may decrease anxiety and improve sexual desire. Maca has also been shown to improve sperm production, sperm motility, and semen volume. Serum levels of testosterone, estradiol, LH, FSH, and prolactin were not affected. The exact mechanisms of action are still unclear, but so far research clearly indicates that various bioactive constituents contribute to the clini-cal effects reported.