Maca: Nootropic Benefits, Dosage, & Side Effects

Overview of Maca's cognitive benefits and considerations

Maca is a nutrient-dense root vegetable from Peru with ancient ties to increased mental stamina.

Rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds, maca can boost energy, reduce stress, and improve fertility.

Its mechanisms include neurotransmitter regulation, antioxidant activity, and hormonal balance.

Consumed as food or supplements, maca is generally safe but may cause side effects in some individuals.

Dosage typically ranges from 1,500 to 3,000 mg daily, but consultation with a healthcare provider is recommended.

What Is Maca?

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a nutritious root vegetable native to the mountains of Peru. Also known as Peruvian ginseng or Ayak chichira, this hardy plant thrives in the harsh, high-altitude environment of the Andes, growing at elevations of 13,000 feet or more.

The edible part of the plant is the root, which resembles a turnip or radish. It has been used for centuries as a traditional food and medicine, known for its energizing and adaptogenic properties.

Maca belongs to the Brassicaceae family, which includes other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. This superfood comes in several varieties, each with unique attributes and benefits.

Maca has been cultivated and consumed by indigenous Peruvian populations for thousands of years. Today, it’s gaining popularity worldwide as a nutrient-dense food and dietary supplement.

What Are the Different Types of Maca?

maca root

There are several types of maca, distinguished by the color of their roots:

  • Red maca: Known for its potential benefits for bone and prostate health
  • Black maca: Often associated with cognitive benefits and enhanced fertility
  • Yellow maca: The most common variety, linked to improved mood and energy levels
  • Purple maca: Rich in antioxidants and may support healthy aging

Each type of maca contains a unique blend of nutrients and bioactive compounds, which may contribute to their specific health benefits.

What Is the Nutritional Profile of Maca?

Maca is a nutrient-dense food, packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and health-promoting plant compounds.

Here’s a closer look at its impressive nutritional profile:

  • Proteins: Maca contains about 10-14% protein, including essential amino acids. Proteins are crucial for neurotransmitter function and brain health, facilitating the repair and growth of neural tissues.
  • Fibers: With approximately 8.5% fiber, maca aids in maintaining gut health, which is linked to cognitive function through the gut-brain axis.
  • Vitamins:
    • Vitamin B6: Essential for neurotransmitter synthesis, influencing mood and cognitive functions.
    • Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant that helps protect brain cells from oxidative stress.
    • Niacin (Vitamin B3): Important for energy production and DNA repair in brain cells.
  • Minerals:
    • Iron: Supports oxygen transportation in the blood, crucial for cognitive performance and energy levels.
    • Copper: Plays a role in brain development and neuroprotection by helping form myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells.
    • Zinc: Vital for neurotransmitter function and brain signal transmission.
    • Manganese: Supports brain health through its role in the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.
  • Fatty Acids: Although present in small amounts, the fatty acids in maca, including linolenic acid and palmitic acid, are important for maintaining brain cell membrane integrity and facilitating nerve transmission.
  • Glucosinolates and polyphenols: These compounds have antioxidant properties, helping to reduce oxidative stress in the brain, which is linked to improved cognitive functions and a reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

What Are the Cognitive and Health Benefits of Maca?

Maca has been traditionally used to enhance energy, improve fertility, and promote overall well-being.

Modern research is validating many of these traditional uses, revealing maca’s potential as a natural cognitive enhancer and adaptogen.

Can Maca Boost Energy Levels and Reduce Fatigue?

Yes, maca is well-known for its energizing properties. According to a study, maca supplementation significantly improved energy levels and reduced fatigue in adult men and women.(1)

The root’s high nutrient density and adaptogenic compounds are thought to support the body’s natural energy production and help combat physical and mental fatigue.

Does Maca Reduce Stress and Anxiety?

Maca may help reduce stress and anxiety thanks to its adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are substances that help the body adapt to stress and promote homeostasis.

A study found that maca extracts reduced anxiety and improved mood in mice subjected to stressful conditions.(2) While more human research is needed, anecdotal evidence suggests that maca may help promote a sense of calm and well-being during times of stress.

Does Maca Improve Fertility and Reproductive Health?

Maca has a long history of use as a fertility enhancer and modern research supports this traditional use. Several studies have found that maca supplementation can improve sperm quality and motility in men.

In women, maca may help balance hormones and alleviate symptoms of menopause. A review also concluded that maca can significantly enhance sexual desire in both men and women.(3)

What is Maca’s Mechanism of Action?

Maca root’s mechanism of action for cognitive benefits is complex and involves multiple pathways due to its diverse array of bioactive compounds.

Its rich content of amino acids, antioxidants, and minerals, promotes neurotransmitter regulation, reduces oxidative stress, and supports hormonal balance. It also boosts energy and mood with its flavonoids and vital nutrients, while protecting the nervous system by improving neuron integrity and facilitating neurogenesis.

Which Maca Components Contribute Towards Its Cognitive Benefits?

Maca’s diverse health benefits are attributed to its unique blend of nutrients and bioactive compounds. The root contains over 20 amino acids, 8 essential minerals, 20 free-form fatty acids, and a variety of phytonutrients.

It’s particularly rich in:

  • Glucosinolates: Sulfur-containing compounds that are thought to be responsible for maca’s adaptogenic properties. They help the body adapt to stress and maintain homeostasis.
  • Polyphenols: Powerful antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. Maca contains several types of polyphenols, including flavonoids and phenolic acids.
  • Alkaloids: Nitrogen-containing compounds that have been shown to have various physiological effects, including improved mood and cognitive function. Maca contains unique alkaloids called macaridine, lepidiline, and lepidine.

These compounds work synergistically to support the body’s natural balance and promote optimal functioning of various systems, including the nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems.

How Does Maca Improve Neurotransmitter Regulation?

Maca contains amino acids like phenylalanine, tyrosine, and histidine, which are precursors to neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are crucial for mood regulation, alertness, and cognitive functions.

By boosting their levels, maca may help enhance mood, reduce anxiety, and improve cognitive clarity and focus.

How Does Maca Improve Antioxidant Activity?

Maca is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, manganese, and glucosinolates. These compounds help neutralize free radicals in the brain, preventing oxidative stress that can damage brain cells.

Oxidative stress is associated with cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. By reducing oxidative damage, maca can improve cognitive longevity.

How Does Maca Improve Hormonal Balance?

Maca has been shown to influence the endocrine system, which could indirectly impact cognitive functions.

By modulating hormone levels, including stress hormones like cortisol, maca might help maintain a healthier hormonal balance, thus promoting better mental health and cognitive performance.

How Does Maca Enhance Energy and Mood?

Maca contains flavonoids known for mood-enhancing properties. It also includes important B-vitamins and minerals like iron and copper that are essential for metabolic health and energy production. Enhanced energy levels can lead to improved mental clarity and endurance in cognitive tasks.(4)

How Does Maca Protect The Nervous System?

Some studies suggest that maca can improve neurogenesis and help in the maintenance of healthy brain function. Its mineral content, including zinc and copper, is vital for maintaining neuron integrity and synaptic plasticity, which are essential for learning and memory.

How Is Maca Consumed and What Are Typical Dosages?

maca supplement bottle

Maca can be consumed as a food or taken as a dietary supplement. The root has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and can be incorporated into various dishes and beverages.

How Is Maca Consumed as Food?

Traditionally, maca is roasted or boiled, then mashed, dried and ground into a powder. The powder can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, or used to make a nutrient-rich beverage called “maca coffee.”

In Peru, maca is also used to make a fermented drink called “maca chicha.”

How Is Maca Taken as a Dietary Supplement?

Maca supplements are available in several forms:

  • Powders: Raw or gelatinized (pre-cooked) maca powder can be mixed into smoothies, juices, or other beverages.
  • Capsules: Convenient for those who prefer not to taste the maca powder or want a pre-measured dose.
  • Tinctures: Liquid extracts that are taken sublingually or added to water or juice.

What Are Typical Dosages for Maca Supplements?

The optimal dosage of maca depends on factors such as age, health status, and desired benefits.

However, most studies have used daily doses ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 mg of maca powder. It’s best to start with a lower dose and gradually increase as needed, following the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Are There Any Side Effects or Precautions with Maca?

Maca is well-tolerated and considered safe for most people. However, some individuals may experience side effects or need to take precautions.

What Are Potential Side Effects of Maca?

Possible side effects of maca may include:

  • Digestive discomfort: Some people may experience bloating, gas, or diarrhea, especially when first starting to consume maca.
  • Insomnia: Due to its energizing effects, taking maca late in the day may interfere with sleep in sensitive individuals.
  • Hormonal changes: While maca does not contain hormones, it may influence the endocrine system and alter hormone levels in some people.

Who Should Avoid or Use Caution with Maca?

Certain individuals should avoid maca or use it with caution:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: Due to limited safety data, it’s best to avoid maca during pregnancy and lactation.
  • People with hormone-sensitive conditions: Those with conditions like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or certain cancers should consult a healthcare provider before using maca.
  • Individuals with thyroid disorders: Maca contains goitrogens, which can interfere with thyroid function in some people.

Are There Any Drug Interactions with Maca?

Maca may interact with certain medications, including:

  • Hormonal birth control: Maca may decrease the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives.
  • Blood thinners: The vitamin K content in maca may interfere with the action of anticoagulant drugs like warfarin.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Maca contains tyramine, which can cause a dangerous increase in blood pressure when combined with MAOIs.

It’s always best to consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition or are taking medications.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Zhu, Hongkang, et al. “Anti-fatigue effect of Lepidium meyenii Walp.(Maca) on preventing mitochondria-mediated muscle damage and oxidative stress in vivo and vitro.” Food & Function 12.7 (2021): 3132-3141.
  2. Tang, Ruying, Linyuan Wang, and Aimin Lib. “Antianxiety and anti-depressant effects of Maca.” L. meyenii.
  3. Gonzales, Gustavo F., et al. “Effect of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a root with aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties, on serum reproductive hormone levels in adult healthy men.” Journal of endocrinology 176.1 (2003): 163-168.
  4. Gonzales, Gustavo F., Carla Gonzales, and Cynthia Gonzales-Castañeda. “Lepidium meyenii (Maca): a plant from the highlands of Peru–from tradition to science.” Forschende Komplementärmedizin/Research in Complementary Medicine 16.6 (2009): 373-380.

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.