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Tribulus Terrestris and Prostate Enlargement

When you’re looking for a supplement to boost your testosterone levels, you’ll come across a range of vitamins, minerals and herbs.

It can be hard to know which ones will enhance your hormones and which ones will simply cause more issues than they’re trying to solve.

Some will work and others will leave you feeling flat, tired and out of pocket.

You might have come across tribulus terrestris during your research – a plant that is popular in east Asian alternative medicine.

In this article we give you the lowdown on this adaptogen herb and tell you what effects it has on testosterone and prostate enlargement.


What is Tribulus Terrestris?

Tribulus is an east Asian creeping herb used commonly is traditional Chinese medicine.

It has also been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years, and whilst its few health benefits have yet to be validated by clinical trials, tribulus is still a popular alternative medicine in those regions.

It has previously been used to treat a range of inflammatory illnesses as well as for fatigue, sperm quality and high blood pressure.

Again though, many of the claims that the herb can improve these disorders are unsubstantiated. The only one that appears to hold any weight in human trials is its ability to regulate cholesterol levels.

Otherwise referred to as ‘goat’s head’ and ‘devil’s weed’, this flowering plant is used as a herbal supplement for those who wish to boost their strength, muscle mass and testosterone levels. 

This more than likely stems from the fact that steroid hormones such as testosterone are formed using the conversion of cholesterol.

Steroidal saponin content in tribulus

Tribulus contains a number of bioactive ingredients.

The most potentially useful of these are steroidal saponins – naturally occurring chemical compounds that makes up around 40% of the herb itself, in some cases much more.

Steroidal saponins in tribulus terrestris are said to have a testosterone-boosting effect.

But do they really? 

Let’s take a look at what the research says…


Close up photo of the yellow leaves of the tribulus terrestris plant

Key Point: Tribulus terrestris is a perennial herb used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic alternative medicine.


Does Tribulus Boost Testosterone Levels?

The first thing you’ll notice with tribulus is that there’s very little available clinical research on how it links to testosterone.

Unfortunately, hundreds of years of folk medicine just doesn’t cut it when it comes to evidence-based research.

Tribulus doesn’t boost testosterone, lean mass or muscle strength

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research [1] found that 450 mg of tribulus each day over a 5-week period had no effect on lean mass, strength or testosterone levels.

In the study, researchers recruited a group of elite rugby players who were undertaking a heavy strength training program. The team of scientists wanted to see if the herbal supplement would have an effect on any markers of sports and physical performance.

Even at a high dose though, tribulus was found to have no significant effect on any performance parameter, including testosterone.

Tribulus terrestris has no effect on androgen production in young men

Another study, this time from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology [2] saw 21 healthy young men recruited and asked to take part in either a 10 mg of tribulus per kilogram of body weight intervention, or double the amount at 20 mg.

They did this each day for 4 weeks to give the supplement long enough to have any effect.

The results showed that whether the young men received a small or large dose of the herb, it had no significant outcome on any androgen marker, either directly or indirectly.

Tribulus terrestris didn’t boost testosterone, nor did it elevate any other androgen markers such as luteinizing hormone or androstenedione either.


Smiling attractive grey-haired man standing alongside a receding exterior wall looking at the camera

Key Point: There is little evidence that tribulus terrestris boosts testosterone, strength or muscle mass.


The Tribulus and Prostate Enlargement Link

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a condition where your prostate gland becomes swollen.

It isn’t harmful as such in the short-term, but may be linked to an increased risk of urinary infections, prostate cancer and infertility.

Prostate enlargement is characterized by frequent trips to the toilet, continence issues, problems urinating or pain in your hips and back.

This is because when your prostate increases in size it puts pressure on your urethra.

From the age of 40 onward, you are at a considerably higher risk of developing BPH.

Prostate enlargement and tribulus – what’s the connection?

There is a tentative link showing that the Ayurvedic herb could reduce the effects of BPH, however the evidence is currently extremely weak and relates mostly to animal studies.

For example, a study on guinea pigs [3] found that an extremely large dose of 5 grams per kilogram of body weight could have diuretic effects, helping to relieve urination.

This may be due to its anti-inflammatory benefits.

But at that sort of dose, the average human man would need to consume around 400 g each day!

Human studies are confounded

One of the only reliable human studies available [4] showed that combining tribulus with nutrients from the sub-tropical curry tree ( Murraya koenigii) over 12 weeks was able to reduce symptoms of prostate enlargement in comparison to a placebo medication in men aged over 50 years.

The issue is though that when nutrients are combined during clinical trials it can be difficult to conclude which chemical or compound is responsible for an effect.

A trial just using tribulus would have given much more reliable results.

The study was also criticized for using a poor-quality placebo drug that would have been easy to beat in a head-to-head.


Key Point: Although tribulus has been suggested as a possible treatment for prostate enlargement, there is minimal evidence in human trials that it can improve symptoms.


Summary

Tribulus terrestris is a perennial shrub famed for its use in Chinese and Ayurvedic traditional medicine for hundreds of years.

Whilst it may show some anti-inflammatory benefits, this herb has no effect on physical performance. It won’t improve your muscle mass or strength, and it won’t boost your testosterone levels.

There is some tentative evidence that tribulus might have a beneficial effect on prostate enlargement, however the current evidence is unreliable.


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References

  1. Rogerson, S et al. 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; 21(2): 348-53
  2. Neychev, VK et al. The aphrodisiac herb Tribulus terrestris does not influence the androgen production in young men.J Ethnopharmacol. 2005; 101(1-3): 319-23
  3. Al-Ali, M et al. Tribulus terrestris: preliminary study of its diuretic and contractile effects and comparison with Zea mays. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003; 85(2-3): 257-60
  4. Senqupta, G et al. Comparison of Murraya koenigii- and Tribulus terrestris-based oral formulation versus tamsulosin in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia in men aged >50 years: a double-blind, double-dummy, randomized controlled trial. Clin Ther. 2001; 33(12): 1945-52


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