Ginseng vs. Maca: Comparison, Benefits, and Side Effects

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Ginseng (Panax ginseng) and maca (sometimes called Peruvian ginseng) are often compared as similar health-promoting herbs.

Both Panax Ginseng and Lepidium meyenii (maca root) are a special class of herbs known as adaptogens. Adaptogens create non-toxic, nonspecific effects that help the body properly respond to the every day stresses of life. 

Both offer support for 3 types of “stress:”

  • Environmental (pollution, radiation)
  • Physical (wound healing, integumentary)
  • Psychological (emotional, situational)

Both of these adaptogens also promote a healthy immune system, enhance cognitive function, support mental health, and help with metabolic function.

Let’s take a look at how both compare, what they are, and the benefits they offer.

Comparing Both

Mental Health

As adaptogens, both help to improve a person’s overall response to stress. Evidence shows that maca, in particular, may help to improve mood when taken over time.

Cognitive Function

Both help protect against age-related cognitive decline. Both should be considered as part of a comprehensive Alzheimer’s prevention plan

Energy & Endurance

Maca offers increased energy levels along with improvements in mood. Ginseng supports positive responses to prolonged stress (including exercise-induced stress) and may support better athletic endurance.

Related: How to Fight Anxiety With Physical Exercise 

Sexual Function

Both support better reproductive health. 

Ginseng may boost testosterone levels, increasing sex drive and overall sexual function (particularly in men). Maca has successfully treated erectile dysfunction (ED), sexual dysfunctions from SSRI medications in women, and reduced sex drive due to menopause. Limited research also suggests maca can increase sperm concentration.

While ginseng creates no notable difference to menopause symptoms, maca root does reduce some of these symptoms (like hot flashes, sweats, and mood problems).

Which is better for sexual dysfunction? Ginseng may be better for sexual dysfunction in men, while maca seems to work better for women.

Metabolic Health

Both support better metabolic health by:

  • Curbing chronic inflammation
  • Improving insulin sensitivity
  • Supporting heart health, including cholesterol levels and high blood pressure
  • Reducing oxidative stress
  • Improving immune function

Can you take both at the same time?

Yes, you can take both together. No adverse effects have been reported as a result of taking these adaptogens at the same time.

Because the effects of both increase the longer you take these supplements, you may want to stagger when you begin taking them. This can also help you identify which, if either, of these herbs has the most significant impact.

What Is Panax Ginseng?

Panax ginseng, or Asian ginseng, is an adaptogen most often taken in supplement form to enhance memory and cognitive function. It’s grown most often in China, Russia, Korea, and Siberia.

Ginseng supports positive and negative feedback signaling between your adrenal glands to the pituitary and hypothalamus. This increases your resilience to stress and increases your overall well being and alertness.

Benefits

The primary health benefits of Panax ginseng include:

  • Cognitive health: Regularly taking ginseng supplements may help regulate cognition and support sustained mental stress. Animal studies suggest ginseng may even lead to marked improvements in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Sexual function: Some studies have investigated a link between ginseng and improved sexual health. Animal models suggest ginseng may be beneficial to male sexual function, possibily, by increasing testosterone levels. Despite many studies on the topic of female sexual enhancement (specifically for menopausal symptoms), it seems that ginseng doesn’t have any impact beyond that of a placebo.
  • Heart health: Ginseng may have positive effects on overall cardiovascular health, including cholesterol management, preventing hypertension, and more. Some research suggests regular ginseng consumption might help prevent strokes, though this is not extensively confirmed.
  • Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects: Panax ginseng may help reduce oxidative stress on cells and keep chronic inflammation at bay. As an extension of this, there is some limited lab evidence that it may help prevent the formation of some cell mutations that lead to cancer.
  • Hair growth: Taking ginseng regularly may help prevent some hair loss and promote natural hair growth.
  • Skin health: Ginseng root may support brighter, younger-looking skin by increasing moisture and protecting against sun damage.
  • Glucose metabolism: Research suggests ginseng may help protect against type 2 diabetes by supporting the breakdown of sugar.

Side Effects

Ginseng supplements are generally well-tolerated with few side effects. Rarely, people taking Panax ginseng may experience:

  • Nausea/diarrhea
  • A feeling of euphoria
  • Insomnia/trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) or low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Breast pain (mastalgia)
  • Vaginal bleeding

Ginseng’s ability to stimulate cortisol release may not be best for patients who report feeling “wired”, or hypertensive, or normally high strung. As Panax ginseng is estrogenic, it’s best to avoid for people at risk of breast cancer.

What Is Maca?

Maca, also called Peruvian ginseng, is an adaptogenic herb native to the Andes mountains of Peru. 

The most researched constituents in Lepidium meyenii (maca root) are macaenes and macamides. Aphrodisiac-like effects are provided by p-methomoxybenzym isothiocyanite. Like Panax, maca supports the nervous system support via aromatic glucosinolates, also contributing to an overall sense of wellbeing and vitality.

Benefits

The most well-known benefits of taking maca root powder include:

  • Cognitive health: Maca supplements may help protect against age-related cognitive decline. However, this research has only been confirmed in animal studies.
  • Sexual function: Several studies suggest maca may enhance sexual wellness. It boosts sexual desire in men and women, improves sexual performance in men with erectile dysfunction, and increases sperm concentration (but not sperm count or motility).
  • Menopause relief: According to small studies, maca root may help relieve some menopause symptoms. In addition to improving sex drive in menopausal women, maca can help relieve psychological symptoms of menopause. These effects are not related to increases in estrogen, androgen, or other sex hormones.
  • Mood and energy: Taken over several weeks, maca supplements result in general mood improvements and an energy boost. The double-blinded study showed a significant effect of both red and black maca compared to placebo.
  • Immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory effects: In lab studies, maca creates positive improvement in immune function and chronic inflammation in the gut.
  • Cancer prevention: Lab studies show that the glucosinolate in maca may prevent cancer growth in liver and colon cancer cell lines. However, high-quality studies in humans are needed.

Related: 9 Foods That Help Relieve Depression 

Side Effects

Most people experience no side effects from taking maca extract or other maca supplements. 

In thyroid disorders, especially Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, maca taken in large amounts may complicate symptoms due to possible goitrogenic actions.

Need More Information?

Looking to improve your mental health, cognitive function, or even your sexual health? Colorado residents, set up a consultation with PrimeHealth for a better healthcare experience.

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