Does 'Natural Viagra' Really Work?

'Natural Viagra': Our man tests it against the real thing.

Illustration by Christoph Niemann
Illustration by Christoph Niemann

I have a sex problem--it's called parenthood. I wouldn't trade being a dad for anything in the world, mind you, but 3-year-old son Matthew is 37 pounds of pure energy. A day with him and my wife and I are too drained to, well, get romantic on school nights. So when I heard about maca, a new dietary supplement touted as "nature's Viagra," I had to try it.

I soon discovered that maca, a radish-like vegetable that grows above 13,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, isn't new at all: Inca warriors consumed it to enhance strength and stamina. Only in the past two years has it gained a foothold in health stores and on Web sites--mostly because of a study in the journal Urology suggesting it increases the mating frequency of mice. The gap between mice and humans, however, is enormous, and since maca doesn't fall under the FDA's jurisdiction, obtaining hard evidence (sorry) is difficult. Not one of its ingredients--complex carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins like thiamin and riboflavin, and such minerals as iron and calcium--is known to affect erectile tissue. According to John Mulhall of the Loyola University Medical Center, maca's reputation is most likely due to the placebo effect.

After finishing a one-month supply of Royal Maca (from wholeworldbotanicals.com), I second the good doctor's opinion. The pale-brown capsules went down easily enough, but they boosted neither my stamina nor my carnal desire. Maca, it turns out, is no match for Matthew. Viagra, which increases blood flow to the penis, was a different story. The 50-milligram tablets made weeknight romps a reality. But while the little blue pill did provide an almost automatic arousal, I couldn't help but feel like I was cheating.

Viagra is available only by prescription, so we're on our own again. But I'm not worried--we'll always have weekends.