DO TESTOSTERONE BOOSTERS WORK?
Ok, first off, low testosterone is not a disease, it’s a natural part of the male aging process like hot flashes and menstrual cessation is for women. Abnormally low testosterone is rare, yet according to the commercials, any mature man who isn’t able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or make love every night suddenly has a disease. This is just a case of pharmaceutical and supplement companies pushing pills, trying to sell a product, trying to make a dollar or rather billions of dollars.
There are supplements that promise to increase your libido or boost your testosterone or act as aphrodisiacs. Some supplements even tout to have developed a testosterone pill that accomplishes all three. Some of these companies will even claim their pills can increase fertility or muscle gain. All of this sounds amazing, like a miracle pill tailor made for men, but do they actually boost testosterone?
The majority of the market for testosterone boosters is supplements that tout themselves as libido enhancers. Unfortunately, the majority of them also have no effect on testosterone levels, but still sell like crazy.
Why? Because you think they’re working. When your testosterone levels go up, so does your libido. However, the inverse is not true — your libido levels can go up without your testosterone levels increasing. Most of these testosterone boosters work by making you feel ornery, leading you to think that your testosterone levels are higher, when they actually aren’t. In rare cases, supplementation will result in a 20% testosterone increase. This kind of improvement may sound impressive, but is irrelevant for practical purposes.
If you truly are just looking for a supplement to help with your libido, these may work well for you.
Let’s be honest, we’re talking about fitness here. We want energy and muscle. We want gainz! Can I get gainz and go all beast mode or not? Legitimate, working testosterone boosters do exist, but they’re not what you expect. They’re not gonna turn you into the Hulk overnight, or at all because, at most, they’ll increase testosterone levels by 20-50%. Compare that to a low-dose steroid cycle, which offers at least a 300% increase. I’m not recommending steroids, but rather putting it in perspective, it’s a negligible testosterone increase.
Do you put air in your tires without checking the air pressure? You may not be able to tell whether or not a supplement is working without getting a blood test. Even then, blood tests only take your testosterone levels at that exact moment, which can fluctuate based on a lot of different variables. It’s easy to promise a testosterone boost when very few people are actually checking their testosterone levels.
Popular Testosterone Boosters Examined
Tribulus Terrestris is the top selling testosterone booster. It’s also the best example of a supplement that increases libido, but has absolutely zero effect on testosterone.
Simply put, tribulus terrestris doesn’t work. And there is plenty of research to prove that it doesn’t work; we have direct and repeated evidence that tribulus terrestris doesn’t increase testosterone in athletic males. In other words, if you’re taking tribulus terrestris to become stronger or add more muscle, don’t expect much.
That’s not to say tribulus terrestris is useless. In fact, it could have potential benefits to the cardiovascular system and organ health. It just doesn’t boost testosterone. This is a very important point. You see, tribulus terrestrius most likely remains on the market and appears to work because it can be an effective libido enhancer. Usually, libido-enhancing herbs are used in testosterone boosters to make the users ‘feel the effects’ of testosterone. The unfortunate reality is that while higher testosterone tends to cause an increase in libido, these herbs increase your libido without affecting your testosterone.
In theory, supplementing with D-Aspartic Acid (D-AA) should increase testosterone levels by improving the messaging system between the brain and testes. Scientists in Italy found that subjects who consumed roughly 3 grams of D-AA for 12 days observed a 42 percent increase in testosterone levels. The researchers also noted that the D-AA group still had 22 percent more testosterone than the placebo group three days after they stopped supplementing. Conversely, another study was done that spanned a longer time period found that after about a month of D-AA supplementation, testosterone levels returned to normal. A month isn’t long enough for elevated testosterone levels to have an effect on muscle growth and development.
D-AA has been found to provide increased fertility and testosterone when supplemented by infertile men, but it has no effect on athletes and people with normal testosterone levels.
Zinc and Magnesium
Zinc and magnesium (both part of the ZMA formula) are frequently recommended as testosterone boosters for athletes. These minerals are lost through sweat during exercise.
In one a double-blind placebo-controlled study conducted on 27 college football players suggested an increase in muscle gains by 11.6%, more than double the 4.6% gains by placebo. Additionally, testosterone levels increased by 30% compared to the placebo’s 10 percent increase.
However, another study performed took a larger sample size of 42 resistance-trained males to reveal that “ZMA supplementation during training does not appear to enhance training adaptations (i.e. muscle & strength gains) in resistance trained populations.” ZMA did not work here.
How is this so? In theory, participants of the second study had higher initial zinc & magnesium levels. In other words, ZMA’s benefits are conditional on initial zinc & magnesium levels. ZMA-users who already have sufficient zinc & magnesium levels won’t experience ZMA benefits, because, well… in a sense, they already are. So, again, if you’re deficient, supplementing with zinc or magnesium can take your testosterone levels to your normal baseline. Additional zinc or magnesium will not increase testosterone above normal levels.
The libido boosting compound in Maca was first observed in a 2010 study where the researchers identified a compound called “p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate” from the root and found out that it had aphrodisiac like activity.
Soon few human studies followed where Maca was able to significantly increase libido and erectile quality in athletes, healthy men, and in subjects who had SSRI (anti-depressant) induced sexual dysfunction. Based on those results the clever marketers of the bodybuilding industry started selling Maca as a natural testosterone enhancer, and claimed those studies as a “solid proof”.
However not too long after that, several human studies found out that Maca had no effect on male testosterone (T), luteinizing hormone (LH), or follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, even though it increased libido and erectile quality in all of studies. The results suggest that Maca increases libido and sexual appetite through some other pathway, but not via increased testosterone levels. So as you can clearly see, Maca is not – nor has it ever been – a legitimate testosterone supplement.
Initial studies (sponsored by a fenugreek manufacturer) showed very promising results, as fenugreek supplementation increased testosterone levels and improved body composition in resistance trained males. Since the herb has compounds such as apigenin, luteolin, protodioscin, magnesium, and calcium – all of which can contribute to increased testosterone production – it was all but plausible that fenugreek would become the next big thing in the supplement industry (and it certainly did).
The thing is that fenugreek extracts haven’t always performed this well on scientific studies. Although in rodents, the extract increased muscle growth, it failed to have any impact on circulating testosterone levels. In an effort to replicate the first human study sponsored by Indus Biotech, Bushey et al. found that in their trial, fenugreek did not increase either free or total testosterone levels, but it ended up lowering DHT due to 5-a reductase inhibitory effect. Lastly, a study using 600mg/day of fenugreek extract called “Testofen” on healthy male subjects, failed to show any increases in testosterone levels.
So what we have here is an herb that likely doesn’t do anything to testosterone levels, may slightly improve body composition, and disrupts DHT synthesis. This isn’t something most men looking for anabolic androgenic benefits would want.
There Is No Magic Pill
While it would be nice to buy a testosterone pill from the local supplement store and have your testosterone levels go up, such a magic pill does not exist. As you can see from the above rundown, while a few supplements may be somewhat effective if your testosterone levels are already low, none will significantly raise your testosterone above a baseline level.