Testosterone is a hormone responsible for important functions in both men’s and women’s bodies. Often associated with men’s libido, testosterone is actually present from birth. In males, testosterone is mostly produced in the testicles. It stimulates the beginning of sexual development during puberty and helps to maintain a man’s health throughout his life. Women’s bodies also produce testosterone. Made in the ovaries, it plays a part in women’s sexual drive, energy, and physical strength.
Though men’s testosterone levels peak in early adulthood, it continues to play an important role in sexual and physical health as men age. The hormone affects bone and muscle mass, fat storage, and even the production of red blood cells.
In most cases, a man’s body is able to produce enough testosterone. But sometimes it does not. Though testosterone levels begin to fall naturally after the age of 30, drastic drops or a stoppage in its production can lead to symptoms of low testosterone, also called low T. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 5 million American men have low T.
Drastically decreasing testosterone levels can lead to many symptoms, including:
- lower sexual interest
- difficulty achieving an erection
- increased body fat
- decreased muscle and strength
- loss of body hair
- swelling and tenderness of the breast
- sleep disturbances
- hot flashes
- feeling fatigued and tired more easily
- emotional changes, including loss of self-confidence
- problems with mental clarity
These unexpected changes can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:
- thyroid problems
- autoimmune diseases
- inflammation in the testicles
- genetic irregularities
- medication side effects
- excessive alcohol or drug use
Unlike traditional treatments—such as testosterone replacement therapies like injections, implants, and gels—herbs and supplements can boost testosterone levels naturally, helping the body make enough of the hormone to properly supply itself. Certain herbs and supplements that don’t increase testosterone levels can at least help ease symptoms of low T.
Researchers have studied a variety of herbs and supplements to determine if they’re beneficial and safe for patients with low T. In many cases, they are. But not every potential treatment has been rigorously tested for efficacy in clinical trials, so many medical professionals may be hesitant to advocate or support use of these substances. In this guide, you’ll find information on the most widely-studied herbs and supplements and how they can help ease low T symptoms.
Some of these herbs and supplements are packaged and sold as over-the-counter testosterone-boosting remedies at pharmacies and grocery stores. It’s important to note, manufacturers of dietary supplements are not required to get FDA approval. It is possible for a product to be unsafe, ineffective, or both.
If you’re interested in trying herbs, supplements, or other alternative therapies to treat your low T symptoms, talk with your general practitioner, urologist, or endocrinologist. These doctors are trained to identify the causes of low T and find the best treatments for you.
Also known as Malaysian ginseng or Tongkat ali, Eurycoma longifolia is a plant native to Southeast Asia, including the countries of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. In its native countries, extracts from the tall, slender shrub tree were traditionally used as an aphrodisiac and to help ease sexual dysfunction. It has been a popular medicinal treatment for centuries because of its antimalarial, anti-diabetic, antimicrobial, and anti-fever properties. (Natural Standard, 2013). Some populations have also used it to treat postpartum depression, high blood pressure, malaria, and fatigue (Talbott, S.M., et al, 2013).
Today, Eurycoma longifolia is sometimes used as a natural way to increase libido, enhance sports performance, and boost weight loss (Talbott, S.M., et al., 2013). It also holds potential for men with low testosterone. In men with low T, this herbal medicine stimulates the production of androgen hormones, such as testosterone. Research suggests this herb may help the body overcome other testosterone-related problems, including osteoporosis. One study found that the root was associated with an improvement in osteoporosis, though it’s uncertain if the effect was due to an increase in testosterone or direct activity of the root on men’s bones. (Effendy, et al., 2012).
Research of Eurycoma longifolia is limited in humans. Most studies have been conducted in rats. Furthermore, there is no standard for determining the exact chemicals in any preparation of the root. All of this together makes dosage information difficult to obtain. One study, however, found that people who took 600 milligrams (mg) of Eurycoma longifolia extract had no adverse effects on blood profiles and organ function (Talbott, S.M., et al, 2013). Larger doses have been studied in rats, but human studies remain limited. Your doctor can advise you on a proper dosage of Eurycoma longifolia.
Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) is a tropical plant that grows in America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. In traditional folk medicine, puncturevine was used to increase testosterone levels naturally. Research results, however, are mixed.
A study of the plant’s effects in rats, rabbits, and primates found that it may increase testosterone levels enough to help ease symptoms of erectile dysfunction (Gauthaman, K, et al., 2008). But human studies (Neychev VK, 2005), as well as additional animal studies (Martino-Andrade, AJ., et al, 2010), have not found that puncturevine can alter testosterone levels.
The plant’s fruit, leaf, and root can be crushed to make teas or added to capsules and tablets. Safe doses of Tribulus terrestris range from 85 to 250 mg three times each day (NYU, 2013). Some people may be able to take more, but anyone taking puncturevine should consult their doctor. Your doctor may want to supervise and check for possible negative interactions.
It may not be a name you recognize, but ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a plant widely used by people who practice Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwagandha’s history as a medicinal treatment goes back centuries. It has been used in traditional Indian medicine to treat sexual dysfunction and infertility (Ambiye, V.R., et al, 2013).
Today, the plant’s roots and berries are used to make several supplements. Its dried berries can be crushed up and made into a tea. An extract from the plant can be added to capsules and taken orally.
One study conducted by researchers in India found that men who took supplements that contained Withania somnifera experienced improved semen quality. Additionally, the root supplement improved testosterone and other reproductive hormone levels of infertile men (Ahmad M.K. et al, 2010). The researchers determined the herbal preparation reduced oxidative stress, both decreasing oxidants and increasing antioxidants.
Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe), also known as yohimbine, is an extract created from the bark of the yohimbe tree, which grows in a very small area of western Africa (NIH, 2014). Africans used yohimbe bark as an aphrodisiac for centuries. Today, it’s still used as a traditional remedy for sexual and erectile dysfunction (ED) (NCCAM, 2012).
Research has determined that yohimbe can reduce episodes of organic ED. In organic ED, a physical issue is to blame for the ED, not a psychological one. One study found that men who took yohimbe supplements could achieve an erection more easily and maintain it long enough to have sexual intercourse (Guav A.T., et al, 2002).
Yohimbe may also be prescribed to people taking selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of depression medication. SSRIs impact a person’s sexual desire, but yohimbe has been shown to arouse sexual excitement successfully in men who take SSRIs and in those experiencing general erectile dysfunction (NIH, 2014).
Yohimbe bark can be ground up and made into a tea. Extracts of the bark can also be made into tablets or capsules (NCCAM, 2012). The recommended daily dose is 15 to 30 mg, but higher doses can cause serious, dangerous side effects (NIH, 2014). Unlike other items mentioned in this guide, Yohimbe is approved by the FDA as a prescription drug, mainly to treat erectile dysfunction
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone made by the body’s adrenal glands. The body converts DHEA into estrogen and testosterone.
The body can generally sustain an adequate level of DHEA on its own. But in some cases, it can’t make enough. Levels of DHEA are highest when a man is in his mid-20s (UMMC, 2013). But as the hormone’s levels begin to fall with age, a man may experience symptoms of low T.
People looking to maintain high levels of DHEA in their body can take a synthetic form of the hormone as a supplement. Men experiencing ED symptoms can take 20 to 75 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for six months. One study found that men who took 50 mg of DHEA for six months showed an increased ability to achieve or maintain an erection (Reiter, W.J. et al, 1999). According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, however, more research needs to be done to determine if DHEA actually increases testosterone levels (UMMC, 2013).
DHEA also comes with a number of warnings. The hormone may reduce HDL “good” cholesterol levels. It may also cause other hormone-related conditions to worsen. Make sure to check with your doctor before taking DHEA supplements.
Pine bark extract (Pinus pinaster) is derived from the bark of maritime pines. These trees grow in the western Mediterranean region, including Spain, France, Portugal, and Morocco. The bark of maritime pines contains natural compounds called proanthocyanidins (ACS, 2008). An extract made from these compounds is commonly sold under the brand name Pycnogenol.
Bark extract from P. pinaster has been used to lower cholesterol, enhance cardiovascular health, and improve blood flow. It’s also possibly effective at reducing symptoms of ED.
In some medical studies, pine bark extract is paired with a compound called L-arginine aspartate. Researchers have found these two compounds may have some effect on testosterone and ED when taken together. For example, one study found that people with mild to moderate ED who were treated with the combination versus a placebo for one month experienced restored erectile function. They also experienced an increase in testosterone levels in the blood (Stanislov, et al., 2008).
Suggested doses range from 200 to 300 mg. But more may be recommended, depending on your health history.
Scientists first isolated the amino acid L-arginine in the mid 1880s. In the 1930s, they discovered that L-arginine plays an important role in removing toxic waste from the body. The human body produces this amino acid naturally. The body usually makes enough of the amino acid, but some people may need a supplement to maintain their levels. L-arginine is also found in many foods, including red meat, dairy, poultry, and fish.
Research has shown that L-arginine does not boost a person’s level of testosterone. But it might have an effect on the symptoms of low T, as well as many other health conditions.
Inside the body, L-arginine is converted to nitric oxide, a vasodilator. Vasodilators help relax and widen the walls of blood vessels. This increases blood flow throughout the body, which can help symptoms of erectile dysfunction (Mayo, 2013).
One study found that men who took 1.7 grams of L-arginine per day in combination with pine bark extract were able to achieve an erection more easily than men taking a placebo (Stanislavov, R., et al., 2003).
L-arginine by itself has not shown much benefit to people with ED, but there is one exception. Men who have low nitric oxide levels experience significant ED improvement if they take L-arginine. In one study, men with low nitric oxide and symptoms of organic ED who received five grams of the amino acid each day for six weeks experienced a significant improvement in ED symptoms (Chen, J., et al., 1999).
A suggested tolerable dosage limit for L-arginine has not been established. Most recommendations range between 400 and 6,000 mg. For treating erectile dysfunction, 5 grams of L-arginine each day for six weeks is safe and possibly beneficial (Mayo, 2013).
Zinc is an essential micronutrient. Because the body doesn’t produce zinc on its own, you have to consume it in order to maintain healthy levels. The body’s cells use zinc to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. It also helps produce DNA and genetic material.
Sometimes zinc levels are too low for the body to keep up with your needs. If you are zinc deficient, you may need a zinc supplement. Zinc is commonly available as a supplement, but it’s also found in many foods, including red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts, dairy products, and breakfast cereals (NIH, 2011). The body can absorb 20 to 40 percent of the zinc found in food (UMMC, 2011).
Zinc deficiencies are associated with low levels of testosterone in men. One study found that restricting dietary zinc was associated with a decrease in testosterone levels in normal young men. The same study found that supplementing zinc in marginally deficient normal elderly men resulted in an increase in their serum testosterone. The researchers concluded that zinc may play a role in changing testosterone levels in normal men (Prasad, A.S., et al., 1996).
The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests adult males over the age of 19 get 11 mg of zinc each day (NIH, 2013). Many daily vitamins and supplements contain more than the daily value of zinc. Various other forms of zinc supplements are available, including lozenges, sprays, and artificial supplements. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, however. Zinc toxicity is a dangerous possibility. Excessive zinc intake can lead to both short and long-term effects. Short-term effects of zinc toxicity include nausea, cramps, and headaches. Chronic toxicity can lead to reduced immune function, copper deficiency, and more. Anyone taking zinc supplements needs to be monitored closely by a doctor.
In terms of herbal medicines and alternative treatment discoveries, vitamin D is a relative newcomer to the scene. It wasn’t discovered until the early 1900s when researchers began identifying individual vitamins and nutrients (DeLuca, 2014).
Vitamin D, also called cholecalciferol, is important to the body. It helps fight off bacteria and viruses, protects bones against osteoporosis, and helps your bones absorb calcium (NIH, 2011). It might also help increase testosterone levels.
Currently, the research is divided on vitamin D’s real potential in boosting testosterone levels. One study, for example, found that men who took 3,332 International Units (IU) of vitamin D daily for one year had a significant increase in testosterone levels (Pilz, S., et al., 2011). But this increase might only be the case in men who are severely vitamin D deficient. Another study found that healthy men who didn’t have a vitamin D deficiency showed no increase in testosterone levels after taking 20,000 to 40,000 IU per week (Jorde, R., et al., 2013).
Because vitamin D has been receiving a lot of medical press lately, supplements are widely available. The recommended daily allowance for children and adults up to the age of 70 is 600 IU each day. The recommended amount for people over 70 is 800 IU. If you live in a sunny climate, you only need ten to 15 minutes of sunlight three days a week to get the amount you need. (UMMC, 2013). If you’re trying to treat low testosterone, you may need more. Your doctor can recommend a specific dose.
The body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. As little as 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine three times a week will help your body produce the body's requirement of vitamin D (UMMC, 2013). Of course, sun exposure increases a person’s risk for skin cancer, so it’s important to limit your total exposure. Vitamin D is available in food sources as well, including beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, and mushrooms.
D-aspartic acid, also known as D-aspartate, is an amino acid made naturally in the body. It’s also found in foods, including beef, shrimp, salmon, eggs, dairy, lentils, nuts, and beans.
Research has shown that D-aspartic acid may improve memory and enhance neurotransmission. D-aspartic acid may also help a man’s body produce and release adequate testosterone. One small study found that men who were given a daily dose of D-aspartate for 12 days had a slightly increased testosterone level compared to men who took a placebo during the test (Topo, E., et al, 2009).
Garlic (Allium sativum) may be associated with vampires and bad breath, but the tasty herb has been linked to several healthy benefits for thousands of years, even back to the days of the Egyptian pyramids. During France’s 18th century plague outbreaks, gravediggers would crush garlic into their wine and hope it would protect them against the plague. Soldiers in World Wars I and II took garlic to prevent gangrene.
Today, garlic is used as a natural treatment for hardened arteries, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Some people take it to prevent cancer and boost the immune system (UMMC, 2011). It may even help boost a man’s testosterone. In one study conducted in rats fed on a high protein diet, a garlic supplement increased the level of testosterone released by the testicles (Oi, Y., et al, 2001). Another rat study, however, showed the opposite: crude garlic actually reduced testosterone levels (Hammami, I., et al, 2008). Research in humans is too limited to make a definitive statement, but a little extra garlic in your food might not be a bad thing.
Most garlic supplements are made using fresh garlic, dried, or freeze-dried garlic. Some use garlic oil and aged garlic extracts. A typical dosage depends on the form of the garlic you’re using. For example, two to four cloves of fresh garlic added to your food each day is a typical dose. If you’re using aged garlic extract, research suggests 600 to 1,200 mg each day in divided doses. Take 200 mg of freeze-dried garlic tablets two to three times a day (UMMC, 2011).
Korean red ginseng is an unprocessed form of ginseng that grows in Asia. It has been used for centuries as a natural treatment for numerous conditions, from fatigue to cancer (UMMC, 2011). Korean red ginseng is known by several other names, including Chinese ginseng and Asian ginseng.
The ginseng plant’s taproot is used to make supplements. But it cannot be harvested and used as medicine until the plant is at least six years old (UMMC, 2011). Unprocessed ginseng taproot that is dried and then peeled is called white ginseng. It’s available in several liquid extracts and in powders and capsules. Ginseng that is first steamed, and then dried and processed is called red ginseng. It, too, is available in several liquid extracts and tinctures and in powders and capsules (UMMC, 2011). Dried root is also available for use in teas.
One systemic review of several studies found that red ginseng might be effective at treating erectile dysfunction, a common symptom of low T (Jang, D., et al, 2008). However, the same review concluded that the scientific data is not conclusive enough, and the relationship between ginseng and ED merits more research. Another study showed that taking 900 mg of Korean red ginseng three times a day could significantly help alleviate symptoms of ED (Hong, 2002).
Chrysin is a flavonoid extract found in Passiflora incarnate, or blue passionflowers. Different species of passionflower grow across the globe. Some species are native to the United States; others grow mainly in Central and South America, Asia, and Europe. The flavonoid is also found in honey and propolis. Passiflora incarnate was used by early Americans and Europeans as a natural sedative. In the 21st century, research suggests the extract has anti-anxiety benefits (Brown, E. et al, 2007).
Dried passionflower leaves can be used in teas. Dried leaves and stems may be crushed and encapsulated for supplements. Most chrysin supplements available today range in dosage size from 500 mg to 900 mg.
Chrysin has a history as a natural testosterone booster (Walle, T., et al, 2001). Studies in rats have shown that chrysin can increase sperm motility, sperm concentration, and testosterone levels (Ciftci, O., et al, 2012). However, studies in humans have been less conclusive. Some have even shown that foods with chrysin do not benefit men with low T or its symptoms (Gambelunghe, C., et al, 2003). Also, the human body may not absorb chrysin very well, which could reduce the flavonoid’s benefit. In one study, researchers found that as much as 99 percent of chrysin passed through the body unabsorbed (Walle, T., et al, 2001).
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a small, short palm tree. It grows in the West Indies and in the southeastern United States. The plant has been used for centuries as an alternative medical treatment. Early Americans consumed saw palmetto berries as a treatment for urinary tract problems. They also ate the berries to boost libido and increase sperm production.
A study conducted in 2002, found that around two and a half million Americans use saw palmetto (Bent, S., et al, 2006). Available as a tablet, capsule, extract, and tea, it’s used primarily as an alternative treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) (UMMC, 2013).
A definitive cause for BPH is unknown. But researchers suspect testosterone may play an important role. There are two theories on the relationship. The first states that dihydrotestosterone, a byproduct that’s made when the body breaks down testosterone, may cause the prostate to grow. The second is that as men age, their testosterone and estrogen ratio changes. This change can cause the prostate to grow (UMMC, 2013).
A 2006 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that saw palmetto was no more effective at easing symptoms of BPH than a placebo (Bent, S., et al, 2006). According to the National Institutes of health, evidence of the herb’s effectiveness is mixed. Researchers studied the effect of taking 320 mg per day. They found that the herb might modestly help BPH symptoms, such as having to use the bathroom at night. But, citing this report, the organization called for higher quality research (NIH, 2013).
Research and studies into natural remedies for low T are not always conclusive, and some herbs and supplements have greater support from the medical community than others. A positive result in one study is not an indication that the herb or supplement should be widely recommended or used. On the whole, use caution when considering any of these alternative treatments.
Before you begin taking any herbs or supplements, consult your doctor or healthcare professional. Many alternative low T treatments hold promise for helping to increase testosterone or reduce symptoms of ED, but they can be risky. Your doctor can help you decide what treatments are best for you and your condition.