I’ve always had terrible anxiety, so in 2013, I made an appointment with a mental health professional, who prescribed me an antidepressant called Lexapro.
For the most part, Lexapro worked well for me. But like many other SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), it comes with a slew of potential side effects, including diminished sex drive. So when my libido went from Pepé Le Pew to whoever the least sexual cartoon is (Goofy, probably), I wasn’t that surprised. But I wasn’t happy about it, either.
That’s where maca came in.
Maca is a plant native to the Andes that has a light green color and vaguely bready smell. It’s often ground into powder form, and while researchers still don’t know much about it, it’s been reported to improve sexual function, increase erection frequency in men, reduce anxiety in postmenopausal women, and improve SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction.
Because I’m typically a stickler for FDA approval, I initially discounted these claims. But then I went down a Reddit wormhole. Reddit is full of firsthand accounts of taking maca on r/Nootropics, a subreddit devoted to drugs that are purported to enhance cognitive function. After an hour or so of reading testimonies like, “I feel incredible energy, anxiety gone, super social, sex drive sky high,” I decided to try maca myself for a month.
At first, I was wary: I didn’t know how maca would react with the other medications I was on (though I did read a study indicating that it’s OK to take maca if you also take SSRIs). I’d also read a Washington Post article from 2015 saying that herbal supplements from GNC and Target may contain other ingredients, such as “mustard, wheat, radish and other substances.” While the article didn’t specifically mention maca root, there was no way for me to know whether there were any foreign substances in the supplement itself.
On the other hand, I couldn’t find many negative side effects associated with maca: even the certified alarmists on WebMD didn’t have any dirt on the stuff. While I probably should’ve consulted with my own physician right off the bat (and would recommend that anyone considering taking any kind of supplement talk to their doctor beforehand), my peep was on the fritz, so I was desperate. So I consulted with Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD, a urologist and sexual health expert.
Brahmbhatt said that while it was likely safe to take maca, he was skeptical that it would actually be effective at improving my sex drive. “There are several studies looking at maca vs. placebo where they have found links between taking maca and improvement in sexual function and libido in both men and women,” said Brahmbhatt. “[But] as with a lot of other supplements we don’t know the exact mechanism of how it works.”
Still, he added, “if I have patients that take maca and they say it’s working, I will support their decision to take the herb.”So I went down the street to my grocery store (yeah, that’s how easy it is to get this stuff) and bought a bottle of Only Natural Maca Pure 1,400.
The first day I took maca, I didn’t notice any immediate side effects. But I didn’t experience any adverse symptoms, either, which was a good sign.
It wasn’t until day three that I felt the maca taking effect, though contrary to my expectations, it took place in my head rather than in my crotch. Surprisingly, I felt more level-headed and calm than I had been in months. I felt I could concentrate more while I was reading, and my trademark rapid speech patterns became calmer and slower.
There was one caveat, however: when I told Brahmbhatt about my increased focus and calmness, he said it may very well have been in my head. “Some studies have shown maca may decrease symptoms of depression or anxiety in women, but in men the results were not significant,” Brahmbhatt says. “So yes, your improved concentration may be placebo.”
Nonetheless, I kept taking the maca every morning, anticipating the perceived effects would wane over time. What I found was quite the opposite: Not only did my head remain clear, but that fancy-shmancy libido increase I kept hearing about actually started happening. Usually, my Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder is so bad that I can’t even think about having sex on an overcast day. But on one gloomy, maca-fueled Sunday, I wanted to have sex. Lots of it. And when I did have sex, I found that it was better than usual. If a normal session of sex is a 9 out 10, Maca bumped it up to 9.75 — a small increase, but definitely a noticeable one.
By the end of the month, I couldn’t have cared less whether maca actually worked, or if I was experiencing a placebo effect. I could only focus on the noticeable difference in my head and pants. That’s why I’m still taking maca every morning.
I realize there’s a risk in taking any non-FDA-approved supplement, and I will say that you should talk to your doctor before deciding to take maca. But I can only speak for myself and my own experience, and to quote Redditor edefakiel, maca made me as “hard as El Peñón de Gibraltar.”