Lepidium meyenii, also called as Maca is a vegetable that is cultivated in the Peruvian Andes. Its hypocotyls come in various colors ranging from white to black with the commonest one being yellow. Traditionally, the dried hypocotyls have been used for social occasions as tea or juice. Maca has been for a long time used to improve fertility in men and women. It has effects on the sex hormones and antioxidant effects.
The three common varieties of Maca available are yellow, black and red. Each of these has different biological activities and has been considered not only for improving spermatogenesis but also for cancer protective effects. Studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of Maca for a shorter duration of time for improving fertility are known. The side effects if any after prolonged administration is a subject of research. One study evaluating the effects of prolonged intake of the three varieties of Maca has been published in the journal Andrologia in 2007 by Gasco et al.
This paper focused on testicular reproductive parameters along with the quantification of DNA in adult rats after administration of Maca for 84 days. An aqueous extract of Maca was prepared and administered to the rats in the dose of 1g/kg orally in 2ml of water. The control group rats received 2ml of distilled water for 84 days. The rats were killed after 84 days and the reproductive and non reproductive organs like spleen and liver were weighed. Other analysis done were daily sperm count, epididymal sperm count, vas deferens sperm count , quantification of DNA from the testis and histological study of all the dissected tissues.
The results of the study were as follows
Weight gain after 84 days of therapy with Maca
Yellow and black Maca increased the sperm count in the rats.
The number of sperms in the epididymal lumen also increased with yellow and black Maca as compared to the control group
About 25 to 75% of mature spermatozoa are lost during the process of spermatogenesis. The apoptotic mechanisms of spermatogenesis are delicately regulated by a large number of chemical agents like interleukins, hormones, reactive oxygen radicals etc. Phytogens are plant derived estrogens that are known to have an antioxidant effect. Maca has quercetin which is a flavonoid phytogen with potential antioxidant effects. These antioxidant properties may be responsible for preserving the sperms and thereby increasing their number in the testes.
DNA quantification studies in this report showed good quality DNA on gel electrophoresis. This also indicates that Maca has a role in protecting the sperms from oxidative stress thereby preserving the integrity of the DNA in the sperms. This study also evaluated the side effects of prolonged treatment with Maca which was found to be negligible on the basis of histological tissue analysis.
The results of the study by Gasco et al, have demonstrated that yellow and black Maca have a role to play in improving the reproductive ability of male rats when given for a prolonged duration without causing any adverse reactions.
Gasco M, Aguilar J, Gonzales GF. Effect of Chronic treatment with three varieties of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on the reproductive parameters and DNA quantification in adult male rats. Andrologia 39: 151- 158