Maca (Lepidium meyenii Walpers), is an Andean crop that grows between 3,800 and 4,500 m a.s.l. The persistent interest in this plant is based on its assumed effects on fertility of male mammals due to the prevalence of certain, partially specific, secondary compounds. The present study aimed at evaluating the effect of maca supplementation on quality and quantity of semen, mating behavior, and clinical status of peripubertal breeding bulls. The experiment followed a cross-over design lasting for 23 wk with 3 wk of adaptation and baseline measurements, and 2 x 10 wk of treatment feeding thus covering two times the complete 8-wk spermatogenic cycle. Seventy-eight 55 wk to 84 wk old breeding bulls received either no maca (control) or maca (233 mg dried hypocotyls/kg body weight/day) for 10 wk followed by 10 wk without maca (maca early) or maca only in the last 10 wk (maca late). Measurements were always made in the last 2 wk of each period. Apart from standard analyses, ejaculates were analyzed by flow cytometry. Data was evaluated by analysis of variance considering the repeated measurement structure of the data. Significant treatment by measurement period indicated direct or carry-over effects of maca. Maca supplementation had no direct effect on body weight, testes circumference, rectal temperature, mating behavior, and ejaculate volume. However, supplementing maca in the first 10 wk period increased the number of sperms in the second 10 wk period, i.e., when the animals no longer received maca. The DNA fragmentation index and the visually assessed motility of the sperms of bulls, that initially showed a borderline sperm quality, were significantly improved with early maca supplementation, while no such effect was observed in the two other groups. No effects occurred in the proportion of intact sperm plasma membranes or acrosomes or both. In conclusion, maca supplementation seems to improve sperm quantity and quality of bulls to a certain degree, while mating behavior appears unaffected.
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