Testosterone boosters are one of the fastest growing supplement categories in the world right now. A few years ago, few people even knew what a testosterone booster was. Back in the the 1960’s, “testosterone booster” meant Dianabol tablets or Testosterone injections! Now, natural testosterone boosters are incredibly popular bodybuilding supplements – almost as popular as protein powders or pre-workouts.
Every week, a new supplement which claims to naturally elevate testosterone hits the shelves. Some of them claim to simply support your testosterone levels, helping to keep them within a healthy range while you subject your body to intense weight training.
Others bill themselves as natural alternatives to anabolic steroids. They claim to be able to deliver the same results as well-known anabolic compounds.
A small number actually borrow the names of widely-used performance enhancing drugs, making it clear to potential customers what it is designed to do.
It goes without saying that such tactics are cheap marketing gimmicks.
But it is worth asking the question; do natural testosterone boosters really work as advertised?
Are they safe? Do they pose similar risks to the compounds they claim to replace?
What proportion of the market is a scam, and what proportion is legitimate?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the ingredients commonly used in natural testosterone boosters on sale right now. We’ll talk about the ingredients that work, and those that don’t, using the available scientific data to guide us. At the end of the article, we’ll tell you whether or not we think any of these supplements are really worth using; whether the cost justifies the end results. One thing we will not do is deal with individual supplements – we’re going to stay general.
Do you use natural testosterone boosters? Do they work well for you? Or have you had any negative experiences? Please share in the comments section at the end!
Ingredients That Work
It might surprise you to learn that several ingredients regularly used in natural testosterone boosters do seem to have a positive impact on free serum testosterone levels in humans.
Let’s go through some of the ingredients that have the most robust scientific backing.
For example, D-Aspartic Acid is a staple in testosterone boosters today. Several clinical trials have shown that D-Aspartic Acid supplementation can increase testosterone levels in both older and otherwise healthy younger men.
One impressive and often-cited study found that D-Aspartic Acid supplementation is able to significantly increase sperm concentrations in men struggling with fertility problems. The study found that the number of pregnancies occurring in the treatment group was far higher than placebo. This alone would give us a clue that D-Aspartic Acid was able to boost testosterone levels. But fortunately, the researchers measured it directly.
The findings were pretty spectacular: “The only variation was observed in the LH and testosterone concentrations that were found to be increased between 1.3 – 1.6 fold compared to their basal levels in the Daspartate group. However, the increased levels of LH and testosterone observed in this study were in agreement with the previously reported results demonstrating that D-aspartate has the capacity to increase LH and testosterone blood levels.”
That’s a 30-60% increase in serum testosterone levels and serum LH levels, which in turn boost testosterone synthesis and release. That’s nothing to sniff at.
Upping your Vitamin D is perhaps the most reliable way to increase your own natural testosterone production. Vitamin D acts more like a hormone in the body than a vitamin. It seems to be intimately involved in the regulation of lots of hormones, testosterone first and foremost.
Supplementation with Vitamin D has been shown to significantly increase free serum testosterone levels. One study found that Vitamin D supplementation was able to increase testosterone in men over the course of 1 year (ref). As the study authors say: “Compared to baseline values, a significant increase in total testosterone levels (from 10.7 ± 3.9 nmol/l to 13.4 ± 4.7 nmol/l; p < 0.001), bioactive testosterone (from 5.21 ± 1.87 nmol/l to 6.25 ± 2.01 nmol/l; p = 0.001), and free testosterone levels (from 0.222 ± 0.080 nmol/l to 0.267 ± 0.087 nmol/l; p = 0.001) were observed in the vitamin D supplemented group. By contrast, there was no significant change in any testosterone measure in the placebo group.”
There is some compelling evidence that luteolin acts as a powerful aromatase inhibitor. Normally, excess free testosterone gets converted into estrogen in the blood. This is done by an enzyme called aromatase. The body needs to keep testosterone and estrogen in balance to remain as healthy as possible. However, excess aromatase – or too much aromatase action – leads to low testosterone in some men.
At least one study has found that luteolin, a flavanoid found in some foods – acts as a powerful aromatase inhibitor: “When comparing aromatase inhibitory activity within the flavone compound class, several trends become apparent. Hydroxyl groups at positions 5, 7, and 4′ generally increase aromatase inhibition activity [e.g., as in apigenin (8), luteolin (31), chrysin (11), and isolicoflavonol (27)], although hydroxylation at these positions is not always enough to provide strong aromatase inhibition [e.g., morin (33), quercetin (37)]. ” (ref).
But How Well Do These Ingredients Work?
The results found by the studies mentioned above are often neither particularly impressive nor consistent.
While D-Aspartic Acid has been found to elevate testosterone in some trials, others have found that large doses actually decreases free serum testosterone in men. One clinical trial found that (ref).
Likewise, Vitamin D has been found to perform very inconsistently in clinical trials. Some report that it did absolutely nothing to hormone levels (ref).
What are you to make of this?
A positive result is quite powerful; it shows that there may be something there, a relationship that warrants further investigation. But when researchers fail to replicate those results, we should begin to seriously doubt those results. At the very least, we should look for further evidence and consider the very real possibility that we will get nothing out of the substance in question.
Ingredients That Don’t Work
Sadly, the number of ingredients that don’t work in your average testosterone booster far outweigh the ingredients that do work. The substances typically used in natural testosterone boosters today are, by and large, useless for elevating free testosterone in otherwise healthy men. Most of them appear to be useless for even treating the symptoms of low testosterone, although that is how a small number of them ended up being used in these supplements.
A very interesting study published in a 2005 edition of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that tribulus terrestris supplementation failed to influence testosterone levels any more than placebo (ref): “The findings in the current study anticipate that Tribulus terrestris steroid saponins possess neither direct nor indirect androgen-increasing properties.”
Another study looked at how tribulus terrestris supported testosterone levels in rugby players going through some grueling pre-season training.
The results pretty much shatter any notion that tribulus helps keep testosterone levels nice and high: “A T. terrestris extract (450 mg.d(-1)) or placebo capsules were consumed once daily for 5 weeks. Muscular strength, body composition, and the urinary T/E ratio were monitored prior to and after supplementation. After 5 weeks of training, strength and fat free mass increased significantly without any between-group differences. No between-group differences were noted in the urinary T/E ratio. It was concluded that T. terrestris did not produce the large gains in strength or lean muscle mass that many manufacturers claim can be experienced within 5-28 days.” (ref).
Fenugreek is a popular addition to testosterone boosters these days. It is actually a widely used herb; every time you eat Indian food, you are more than likely eating fenugreek.
While there are some studies showing that fenugreek improves libido in men suffering from an unnaturally low sex drive, there is no evidence that this is the result of increased testosterone levels.
Indeed, there is very good reason to doubt that. This study used a highly refined, potent fenugreek extract and measured how effective it was at increasing free serum testosterone in 60 healthy men aged between 25 and 52. The researchers found no difference between the groups treated with fenugreek and those given placebo. They did find an increase in libido, but no effect on testosterone.
Like tribulus terrestris and fenugreek, this is a favourite among supplement manufacturers. And just like fenugreek and tribulus, supplementation with maca root has absolutely no demonstrable effect on testosterone levels in healthy men. That is true whether you take a powder or a more refined extract.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Endocrinology couldn’t be clearer on this matter: “Data showed that compared with placebo Maca had no effect on any of the hormones studied nor did the hormones show any changes over time. Multiple regression analysis showed that serum testosterone levels were not affected by treatment with Maca at any of the times studied (P, not significant). In conclusion, treatment with Maca does not affect serum reproductive hormone levels.” (ref).
Maca root has been shown to increase sexual desire and sexual performance in men, even when fairly large sample sizes have been used. However, as this paper notes, this effect is entirely independent of any increase in testosterone. We don’t understand why this effect occurs, but we know for certain that it is not due to sky-high test levels.
So Do Testosterone Boosters They Work?
The answer from us here has to be a qualified “no”.
The vast majority of supplements out there claiming to naturally increase testosterone production are full of substances that do diddly-squat for your free serum testosterone levels. Nothing.
It isn’t even that they have not yet been studied but they have a lot of anecdotal evidence behind them. No. They have been demonstrated in good quality clinical trials to be ineffective at elevating testosterone levels in healthy men, young and old.
Some of the ingredients in there may well work for some of you. Vitamin D seems to boost testosterone levels quite reliably, especially in people with low baseline levels. The increase is modest but statistically significant, and it is enough to make a different physiologically. However, this effect is unreliable. Some studies show good results from Vitamin D supplementation. Others show very poor results.
The same is true of the likes of luteolin (under-studied) and D-Aspartic Acid (highly unreliable across populations).
All-in-all, if you want to increase testosterone naturally, the best thing to do would be to get more exercise, lose body fat, get plenty of sleep, and get plenty of sun!