Did you know that there’s been a steady decline in testosterone levels in American men since the late 1980s? In fact, an observational study1 in 1532 men found that levels declined by 1.2% every year or a total of 17% when the measures were last recorded in 2004. That is, men in 2004 had 17% less testosterone than the same age men in 1987. While this alarming figure can only really apply to a sample of American men, it wouldn’t be all that impossible if Australian men and men of other developed countries were experiencing similar declines. So if this is the case, what’s the cause and how do we fix it?
Ageing & Testosterone Levels
It’s long been thought that testosterone levels in both men and women decline with age2. Indeed, if you were to examine older men, the majority of them would have low levels of the hormone. Decreased testosterone levels as well as growth hormone levels (another hormone that has associated decreases with age) result in some very undesirable effects. This includes a reduction in metabolism rates, sex drive, appetite, bone density, levels of muscle mass and the ability to maintain and build lean muscle. New research3 however, has taken a different view on the matter and has even suggested that age related declines in testosterone aren’t inevitable. What can you do then to help support optimal levels of testosterone in the body?
Steroids, Prohormones & Natural Test Boosters
Supplements are one of the most sought after options when it comes to boosting testosterone levels. When it comes to supplements options, you can split them up into pharmaceutical options and natural or herbal options. Pharmaceuticals include anabolic steroid and prohormones, which are precursors to the hormones, but have little hormonal activity itself. These days, legally speaking, prohormones are just as restricted as steroids without a prescription.
As a result of these factors, research and interest in natural test boosters or herbal and botanical supplements have increase dramatically in the last two decades. The two key benefits of using these natural and herbal ingredients is the potential for less side effects and rather than simply applying a bandaid solution of providing extra testosterone, these natural testosterone boosters may support and improve the body’s natural ability to produce its own testosterone.
Natural Testosterone Boosting Ingredients
If you’ve ever picked up a natural testosterone boosting supplement, you’ll probably find a list of ingredients and compounds you’ve probably never heard of. So rather than scratching your head trying to figure out what they are, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best ingredients you should be on the lookout for:
1. D Aspartic Acid
One of the most common and favoured ingredients utilised in natural test boosters is D Aspartic Acid or simply DAA. Derived from arginine, DAA was first discovered in asparagus juice and is thought to regulate and stimulate the synthesis of testosterone in both the pituitary and the testis. While human studies for DAA’s effect on testosterone are scant, current studies4 suggest that there may be significant positive effects on testosterone levels with 3g or more of DAA per day and a potential dose response relationship. That is, the more you take, the better its effect. Although another study5 found no difference after 28 days of supplementation, it is believed that effects are more prominent in those with already lowered levels of testosterone. The evidence may still be inconclusive, but DAA is considered one of the more promising ingredients currently. It should be noted that there are two forms of aspartic acid and you should be looking for D Aspartic Acid and not L Aspartic Acid.
2. Longjack or Longifolia
Also known popularly as Tongkat Ali, longjack root has been traditionally used in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam to boost libido and as a therapy aganst malaria, high blood pressure, fatigue, migraine, fever and arthritis. One of the key active compounds of longjack is eurycomanone which may have testosterone boosting and oestrogen reducing qualities with supplementation. Studies6 have shown not only benefits to testosterone levels, but also improvements to lean mass, fat mass and muscle circumferences. Effective in both women and men, studies have often utilised doses of about 100mg per day.
3. Tribulus Terrestris
Tribulus Terrestris also known as TT is a herb that has long been used traditionally to promote sexual desire and urinary health and has also been included in herbal testosterone supplements for many years. The use of TT in animal studies6 has proven to be quite effective in increasing serum testosterone levels, however human studies on tribulus have not been so positive, with many finding a lack of significant effect. However, it should be noted that many of the human studies performed with TT have been with younger subjects. Although current studies aren’t as positive, one can’t discount completely the use of TT just yet as an effective test booster and more research needs to be conducted on supplements which feature larger amounts of key active compounds of tribulus such as protodioscin, which may just be the key.
Commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, fenugreek can be used as either a herb using the leaves or a spice using the seeds. It has been studied for its ability to help with blood glucose issues related to diabetes as well as potentially boosting testosterone levels. While both the studies utilised resistance trained males, one7 found positive influences with 500mg of a fenugreek supplement while another8 found insignificant effects with 600mg. Still other studies has shown positive effects of fenugreek on libido and overall quality of life in healthy men. Although the data is still limited, fenugreek is one of the other more popular ingredients choices found in natural testosterone supplements.
What Are Some Other Natural Test Boosting Compounds?
While the above four represent some of the most common test boosting ingredients found in natural supplements today, there are plenty more that you’ll find, some of which have benefits and some of which don’t seem to, at least currently. These include, but are not limited to:
- Horny Goat Weed or Epimedium
- Holy Basil
- Bulbine Natalensis
- Saw Palmetto
- Gingko Biloba
- Velvet Bean Extract
- Stinging Nettle
Essential Nutrients for Testosterone Support
Testosterone levels in the body as well as its production capacity can be influenced by a range of factors. Notably exercise, smoking and nutritional intake are some of the biggest factors which can affect it. Without going into too much detail, your ability to produce testosterone in your body is closely related to your dietary fat intake. In fact, studies9 have shown that the amount as well as the types of fat you eat may impact on testosterone levels in the body. In general, you want a relatively higher fat intake coming from saturated and monounsaturated fats. While this might seem to go against a lot of what you’ve been told about diets, fat is no longer the demon it used to be and is definitely not a problem if you have no underlying health issues.
In addition, a couple of micronutrients are considered important for healthy testosterone production including vitamin D and Zinc. This is because people with deficiencies in either of these micronutrients appear to have impacted testosterone levels and production. With respect to supplementation, try to aim for 3000 IU of vitamin D and 30mg of zinc. You can use either a multivitamin, a single ingredient supplement or the ever popular ZMA supplement to provide some or all of that recommended dose.
Do Test Booster Supplements Really Work?
The short answer is: it can. As with any supplement though, even notably well researched and scientifically valid ones such as creatine, you will have non-responders. These are the trainers who seem take the supplement, but don’t experience any significant beneficial effects. However, just as many, if not more trainers can find some sort of positive advantage with the use of a test booster.
To keep your testosterone production capacity and levels at optimal levels, don’t shy away from fat and make sure you have plenty of zinc and vitamin D. In addition, when looking for test boosters, aim to find ingredients such as D Aspartic Acid (DAA), Longjack, Fenugreek or Tribulus. Remember that so many other factors can affect testosterone levels, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket and maintain good training intensity and a healthy diet for best results.1. Travison TG, Araujo AB, O'Donnell AB, Kupelian V, McKinlay JB. ‘A population-level decline in serum testosterone levels in American men.’ J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Jan;92(1):196-202.
2. Harman SM, Metter EJ, Tobin JD, Pearson J, Blackman MR; Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. ‘Longitudinal effects of aging on serum total and free testosterone levels in healthy men. Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.’ J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Feb;86(2):724-31.
3. Shi Z, Araujo AB, Martin S, O'Loughlin P, Wittert GA. Longitudinal changes in testosterone over five years in community-dwelling men. Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Aug;98(8):3289-97.
4. Topo E, Soricelli A, D'Aniello A, Ronsini S, D'Aniello G. ‘The role and molecular mechanism of D-aspartic acid in the release and synthesis of LH and testosterone in humans and rats.’ Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2009 Oct 27;7:120. doi: 10.1186/1477-7827-7-120.
5. Willoughby DS, Leutholtz B. ‘D-aspartic acid supplementation combined with 28 days of heavy resistance training has no effect on body composition, muscle strength, and serum hormones associated with the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis in resistance-trained men.’ Nutr Res. 2013 Oct;33(10):803-10.
6. Gunnels TA, Bloomer RJ (2014) Increasing Circulating Testosterone: Impact of Herbal Dietary Supplements. J Plant Biochem Physiol 2:130.
7. Wilborn C, Taylor L, Poole C, Foster C, Willoughby D, Kreider R. ‘Effects of a purported aromatase and 5α-reductase inhibitor on hormone profiles in college-age men.’ Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Dec;20(6):457-65.
8. Steels E, Rao A, Vitetta L. ‘Physiological aspects of male libido enhanced by standardized Trigonella foenum-graecum extract and mineral formulation.’ Phytother Res. 2011 Sep;25(9):1294-300.
9. Volek JS, Kraemer WJ, Bush JA, Incledon T, Boetes M. ‘Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise.’ J Appl Physiol (1985). 1997 Jan;82(1):49-54.