When it comes to adaptogens (plants that are used to help the body cope with stress), some are pretty out-there. (Including a fungi that grows on a caterpillar. Um, what?) But others, like maca, are so mainstream that you can find them in most grocery stores. But what does this Andean plant actually do and why has it earned the nickname “nature’s Viagra”? We tapped holistic nutritionist Lorraine Kearney to find out.
Is maca like matcha? Uh, no. Matcha is the bright-green powder that makes the best ever latte. Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable that looks similar to a radish and is typically ground down to powder form.
What’s in it for me? “Maca is nutrient dense and contains vital polyphenols that protect the body from cellular damage and oxidative stress,” says Kearney. Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca can help balance hormones by decreasing androgens (male sex hormones that, in excess amounts, can hinder optimal functioning of the female body). “Some women who experience symptoms associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), such as oily skin, acne, hirsutism, android obesity and androgenic alopecia have found that incorporating maca powder into their diet has decreased the excess production of male hormones, thus decreasing the excess hair growth and eliminating acne,” Kearney tells us.
And what about the sex stuff? Proponents claim that maca can rev up your sex drive; and while there is some research that may support this, it’s by no means conclusive. A few small studies have shown that daily consumption of maca can boost the libido, in both men and women. And other research published in the Asian Journal of Andrology found that maca may even improve sperm count in men. But again, these are limited studies—one review showed that maca had no effect in increasing sex drive at all.
So how should I use it? Unlike some other adaptogens (we’re looking at you, ashwagandha), maca tastes pretty good—sort of like a nutty butterscotch. But you’re still going to want to consume it with other foods. Try adding a teaspoon to oatmeal, salads, granola, smoothies or yogurt.
Bottom line: There’s no harm in trying maca to boost your energy, balance your hormones or, heck, rev up your libido (just check with a doctor before adding adaptogens into your diet). But if you’re really concerned about a noticeably low sex drive, the best thing to do is address the problem with a professional.