Maca Lepidium meyenii Walp is the only cruciferous vegetable native to the Americas that grows in the suni and puna ecosystems of Peru (altitude > 3500 m above sea level). The tuber of the plant is used for human consumption because of its nutritional value, and phytochemical content. Maca has been claimed to help alleviate altitude-related compromises in fertility, enhance sexual drive of domestic animals, and promote vitality for humans. Peruvian researchers have been investigating Maca for its fertility-enhancer capacity, especially in livestock raised at high altitudes where fertility is compromised. Results from these experiments, indicate that Maca helps to improve fertility performance of sheep and guinea pigs, through actions on both the male and female reproductive systems.
During the past 5 years several developed countries from North America, Europe and Asia have shown interest for Maca, particularly for its aphrodisiac effects. Zheng et al. (2000) has reported that oral administration of a lipid extraction of Maca increased the sexual function of mice and rats. The researchers assessed number of complete intromissions, number of sperm-positive females in normal mice, and decrease in the latent period of erection in male rats with erectile dysfunction.
Recently, Maca has been introduced to developed societies and is available in several processing forms, such as micropulverized (powder, tablets), freeze-dried and hydro-alcoholic extracts. It is claimed by the nutraceutical industry that Maca has the ability to improve energy and modulate the response against oxidative stress but these assertions have not been scientifically substantiated. In our continuous effort to study medicinal plants from the Andes we decided to investigate Maca. There is a wide interest to know if Maca consumption could promote health, especially in developing countries where the emerging of chronic diseases due to nutrition transition and oxidative stress is prevalent.