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What is Testosterone?

Testosterone, it’s what makes men…men and is probably one of the most important anabolic hormones out there. Many of you would have already seen or heard about the massive potential that increasing testosterone in your system can do to enhance performance and physique. From the East German Olympics team to well known sprinter Ben Johnson, testosterone is definitely a compound which can help improve in the sports and bodybuilding arenas. However, the stigma, safety concerns and legality attached to doping with testosterone and other potent androgenic substances such as anabolic steroids as well as a return to natural substances means athletes and bodybuilders are finding new and more natural ways to boost endogenous testosterone levels. This 2-part article will examine some of the most common ingredients used in testosterone boosting supplements today and see what works and what still needs more research.

Testosterone 101

Before we look at the ingredients, we should probably introduce briefly the compound of interest; testosterone. Testosterone is a steroid hormone produced in both males and females however men produce almost 10 times more than women. It is the primary male sex hormone responsible for male characteristics such as facial hair, voice tones, bone and muscle structure and the development and maintenance of the male reproductive organs. As such, it is considered essentially a male sex hormone, however, women do still require it, however to a lesser extent. The majority of testosterone is produced by special cells in our testes called Leydig cells. In women, they are produced in parts of the ovaries and also the placenta during childbirth. The production of testosterone is controlled by two other hormones known as luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) produced in our pituitary glands. Finally another hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) produced in the hypothalamus controls LH and FSH production. Theoretically then, any of these pathways can be targeted in order to increase or decrease testosterone levels in the body.

Test Support Supplements

The most effective way to boost body testosterone levels in the body is through the use of actual testosterone and other steroids. However, due to the fact that they are banned from several sporting and bodybuilding institutions as well as the dangers of side effects from chronic use of hormones, a whole host of supplements derived from natural ingredients have been created over the years. These supplements, commonly referred to as ‘Test Support Supplements’ contain one or several ingredients said to help support endogenous levels of testosterone within the healthy range through safe, natural and effective means. The rest of this article will examine several of these ingredients and examine the ingredients used in these supplements.

Tribulus Terrestris

Tribulus terrestris is a flowering plant common in warm and tropical environments, but is resilient enough to also thrive in desert climates. It is essentially a weed, but is also a well known ingredient found in many testosterone boosters due to their traditional use as aphrodisiacs and as a treatment for sexual dysfunction. As testosterone is a hormone known to affect libido, researchers thought that the consumption of tribulus may somehow affect testosterone levels in the body. Studies involving animals have indeed shown this. Gauthaman et al (2008)1 performed a study on tribulus terrestris and erectile dysfunction  looking at several hormone levels. In primates (baboons and rhesus monkeys), doses of tribulus of 7.5, 15 and 30mg/kg resulted in rises in testosterone of 52%, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) levels. DHT and DHEA are both steroid hormones which have ergogenic potential. Rises in hormones were also seen in rabbits and rats given tribulus. Unfortunately, several human studies have failed to show any positive effects of tribulus on androgen levels, body composition or exercise performance.2,3,4 The mechanism by which tribulus is able to contribute to rises in testosterone in animals is still unknown, but it is believed that tribulus might only be effective in older men and men with lowered testosterone levels to begin with.

D-Aspartic Acid

D-aspartic acid is one of the two forms of the amino acid aspartic acid, the other being L-Aspartic acid. Animals studies have shown that the amino acid is in high concentrations in the testes as well as other endocrine tissues. It was thought that it was able to affect the creation of sperm. Rat studies have also been able to show that d-aspartic acid can help release GnRH from the hypothalamus, LH and GH from the pituitary gland and testosterone for the testes.5 As a result of several other animal studies, it is thought that d-aspartic acid may have roles to play in the biosynthesis and release of sex hormones.6,7 Topo et al (2009)8 was able to show that 3g of oral d-aspartic acid given to 23 men was able to increase levels of LH by up to 33% compared to 20 controls and this effect was time dependent. That is, consumption over 12 days produced a greater increase in LH levels than with only 6 days. Similar results were shown with testosterone levels. The increase over 12 days of supplementation was around 42% with a similar time dependent increase. The experiment also observed that testosterone levels were still high even after 3 days of discontinuing supplementation. Furthermore, aspartate derived from aspartic acid may also offer extra ergogenic benefits as it is involved in gluconeogenesis, that is the creation of glucose from non carbohydrate sources. While the number of studies are low, current studies hold promise for the testosterone boosting abilities of d-aspartic acid.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is a plant cultivated primarily in India which has been a common ingredient in several nutrition and sports supplements. Traditionally used more in cuisine, latest research has shown fenugreek as being beneficial for some common modern day ailments such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity. Research has also been conducted on potential ergogenic properties of Fenugreek. One study by Poole et al (2010)9 examined Fenugreek’s potential effect on body composition, strength, power output and hormonal profiles. While there was statistically significant effects of Fenugreek on upper and lower body strength and body composition, these effects came about exclusive of any noticeable changes in hormone levels such as testosterone and DHT. However, there has been very little research regarding fenugreek to warrant any conclusive recommendations for or against fenugreek on hormone levels in the body. A recent animal study was able to show rises in growth hormone levels released from the pituitary after consumption of fenugreek seeds.10 So while fenugreek may not be able to increase testosterone levels thus far, it may offer other ergogenic benefits.

More About Test Support Supplements…

So we’ve had a taste of some of the ingredients used in test boosters so far. Tune in for part 2 for a closer look at some other common and also lesser known ingredients which may be able to help you.

1 Gauthaman K, Ganesan AP. ‘The hormonal effects of Tribulus terrestris and its role in the management of male erectile dysfunction--an evaluation using primates, rabbit and rat.’ Phytomedicine. 2008 Jan;15(1-2):44-54.
2
Rogerson S, Riches CJ, Jennings C, Weatherby RP, Meir RA, Marshall-Gradisnik SM. ‘The effect of five weeks of Tribulus terrestris supplementation on muscle strength and body composition during preseason training in elite rugby league players.’ J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May;21(2):348-53.
3
Antonio J et al. "The effects of Tribulus terrestris on body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males". International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism. 10.2 (2000):208-15.
4
Neychev VK and Mitev VI. ‘The aphrodisiac herb Tribulus terrestris does not influence the androgen production in young men.’ Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 101.1-3 (2005):319-23.
5
D’Aniello A, Di Cosmo A, Di Cristo C, Annunziato L, Petrucelli L, Fisher G. Involvement of D-aspartic acid in the synthesis of testosterone in rat testes. Life Sci. 1996;59(2):97-104.
6
D’Aniello A, Di Fiore MM, D’Aniello G, Colin FE, Lewis G, Setchell BP. Secretion of D-aspartic acid by the rat testis and its role in endocrinology of the testis and spermatogenesis. FEBS Lett. 1998 Sep 25;436(1):23-7.
7
Nagata Y, Homma H, Matsumoto M, Imai K. Stimulation of steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) gene expression by D-aspartate in rat Leydig cells. FEBS Lett. 1999 Jul 9;454(3):317-20.
8
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.
9
Poole C, Bushey B, Foster C, Campbell B, Willoughby D, Kreider R, Taylor L, Wilborn C. ‘The effects of a commercially available botanical supplement on strength, body composition, power output, and hormonal profiles in resistance-trained males.’ J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Oct 27;7:34.

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