Testosterone is a hormone that’s important for sex drive, muscle development, bone strength, and the production of red blood cells. It’s the principal sex hormone among men. Women also produce it, but in smaller quantities.
The levels of testosterone in your body typically peak in early adulthood. As you age, it’s natural for your testosterone levels to decline. Symptoms of lowered levels of testosterone can include:
- sexual dysfunction
- reduced muscle mass
- emotional changes.
Many products on the market promise to increase vigor, sex drive, and muscle building ability by boosting testosterone levels. But before you reach for one of these so-called natural testosterone boosting supplements, get the facts on what testosterone powders contain and whether or not they’ll benefit your health.
Declining levels of testosterone can cause unpleasant and disruptive symptoms. But opinions are mixed on whether a low testosterone level should be treated and how it should be treated.
There are risks associated with testosterone supplementation that include:
- increased chance of developing heart disease
- sleep apnea
- prostate growth
- high red blood cell counts, which could increase the risk of clotting
- breast swelling or tenderness
- ankle swelling
Because of these risks, supplements that contain actual testosterone are considered controlled substances, and are available by prescription only.
As an alternative to prescription testosterone supplementation, some people turn to over-the-counter options. These products promise to improve naturally decreasing testosterone levels. They’re often called “testosterone boosters,” and typically come in powdered form.
These supplements don’t contain actual testosterone or other hormones. Instead, they contain herbs and other substances that are supposed to increase your natural production of testosterone. But the evidence that these products are effective is limited.
Always consult your doctor before taking testosterone boosting products or other dietary supplements. It’s also important to look at the ingredients and evaluate their safety before you try one of these products.
One common ingredient found in testosterone boosters is an herb called Tribulus terrestris, or puncture vine. This herb has long been used to treat impotence and female infertility.
Proponents claim that it increases your body’s production of several hormones, including testosterone. Some athletes turn to this herb in an attempt to enhance performance.
According to a research review published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, current evidence suggests that T. terrestris is ineffective for boosting testosterone in people. The researchers looked at 11 studies on the herb.
Only three of those studies found an increase in testosterone after supplementation with T. terrestris. All three of those studies were conducted on nonhuman animals, rather than human subjects.
More research is still needed to learn how T. terrestris impacts people.
DHEA stands for dehydroepiandrosterone. It’s a hormone that your body makes naturally. It’s available as a supplement and is a common ingredient in testosterone boosters.
One study reported in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that DHEA supplementation could increase levels of free testosterone in middle-aged men. But the research on how DHEA supplementation impacts the body is limited.
DHEA also comes with safety concerns. Possible side effects include hair loss, upset stomach, and high blood pressure. It can also interact with certain medications and supplements. Be sure to discuss DHEA with your doctor before trying it.
Creatine is made naturally in your liver and kidneys. It has long been used as a supplement for building muscle. According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s strong evidence that it can increase muscle mass and strength. However, it doesn’t appear to significantly improve aerobic endurance.
Creatine is often included in testosterone boosters because decreased muscle mass is a side effect of naturally declining testosterone levels. Yet there’s currently no evidence to prove this.
HMB stands for hydroxymethyl butyrate. It’s another substance that your body makes naturally. It’s also often used in testosterone boosters.
There’s no real evidence that HMB can increase testosterone levels. According to the Heart Center at St. Mark’s Hospital, some studies suggest it may improve muscle mass and strength when combined with weight training. However, the research findings are mixed.
HMB appears to be safe as a supplement when taken in recommended doses. Clinical trials haven’t shown any significant adverse side effects from short-term HMB use. But it’s important to note it hasn’t been fully evaluated for health risks.
L-arginine is an amino acid that your body makes naturally. It acts like a vasodilator when used as a supplement. In other words, it helps to widen blood vessels. It’s been used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, and erectile dysfunction (ED).
Testosterone boosting products sometimes include L-arginine. Some people believe it can improve ED and athletic performance, but the evidence is very limited. According to the Mayo Clinic, more research is needed to learn how L-arginine affects ED and exercise performance.
L-arginine may be toxic in doses greater that 30 grams and may also interact with certain medications. There are also other safety concerns with using L-arginine that include:
- increased risk of bleeding
- affected blood sugar levels
- abnormally high levels of blood potassium
- low blood pressure
Over-the-counter testosterone boosting products make tempting promises to restore muscle mass, sexual function, and overall vitality. But proceed with caution if you’re thinking of using one. Most of the ingredients don’t actually increase testosterone levels, and some carry serious health risks.
A better solution is to see your doctor for a testosterone level test. Your doctor can help you identify the treatment options that are best for you.