Natural Herbs Vs Testosterone Boosters: A Scientific Guide To Testosterone

James Occhiogrosso December 2, 2021

Contents

Considering taking a testosterone enhancer but unsure of the side effects?

You came to the right spot. 

If you’re like millions of aging men out there, you may find yourself encountering problems you never knew existed in your youth–like less muscle strength and an inability to perform sexually. 

My name is Dr. Occhiogrosso and I have been helping men understand when it does and doesn’t make sense to supplement for low testosterone for many years now–and that’s what I’ll be teaching you here today.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What testosterone is and how it works synergistically with other hormones in your body
  • The dangers of testosterone supplementation and its side effects
  • When it makes sense to supplement with testosterone boosters, when it makes sense to take a natural herb, like Ashwagandha, and when it makes sense to do something different entirely

Negative Effects Of Low Testosterone

In our society today, advertisements about low testosterone, AKA low-T, bombard us daily. 

Thus, regardless of the reasons, men are channeled to start thinking about testosterone problems before anything else. 

Testosterone is an extremely important hormone for the overall health of the human body and is particularly critical for male sexual ability, libido, and satisfaction. 

Aside from sexual problems, recent studies have shown testosterone deficiency contributes to reduced muscle mass, reduced bone mass, male breast enlargement, depression, atherosclerosis, increased risk of development of Alzheimer’s disease, anemia, and diabetes, and increased overall mortality from all causes. 

Adequate testosterone is essential for a man to have normal energy levels, muscle strength, as well a satisfactory sex life. However, the media bombards men with misleading ads trying to convince a man that all of his aging problems are due to low testosterone. 

If there is one take-away from this article, it should be the realization that with hormones, balance is critical, and more is definitely not better. 

The result of the media blitz is that many men are coerced into believing that the best way to improve their lives is to see a doctor and start supplementing with testosterone hormones. 

The problem with this is the misleading advertising. 

If a man′s testosterone level is low, there are many natural ways to improve it without resorting to chemicals, and, low testosterone is not the source of all sexual problems.

Many herbs can either boost or help maintain testosterone and other critical hormone levels in the body, but it is wise to review the science on those you choose to take rather than the promotional ad copy they present. 

hormone balance quote

Understanding Testosterones & How It works Synergistically With Other Hormones

Before I get into actual ways to boost testosterone levels, it is prudent that the reader understands the rules and guidelines. First, testosterone is one of several members of the sex steroid hormone family. 

All of the hormones in this family interact. Artificially raising the level of anyone, typically affects the others. 

Hormones are the chemical messengers of the body, conveying a chemical message to virtually every organ of the body. 

Too much or too little of a single hormone will typically result in a lowering or raising of associated hormones in the family. 

This is especially true of testosterone.

Two Kinds Of Testosterone: Free & Bound

Testosterone, like many other hormones in this family, is found in the blood in two forms: free and bound. 

Most blood tests measure the total level of testosterone found in a blood sample. 

This is the sum of free and bound forms. 

However, the body only utilizes the free form, which is typically about 3 percent or less of the total value. 

The rest of the hormone is unavailable since it is bound to a protein called SHBG for Sex Hormone Binding Globulin. 

Thus, when a man has his testosterone level checked by a doctor, the result is typically the total of both types. 

The conversion of the total to free depends on multiple processes in the body. Some men will convert a higher percentage than others. 

Typically, conversion levels sag as age increases. 

Thus, it is a frequent occurrence for an older man to have a normal total testosterone level, but yet, have a low level of free testosterone. 

For some men, this causes problems, such as; lack of libido, erectile dysfunction, and others. 

Free and bound testosterone quote

How Doctors Try To Raise Patients’ Testosterone Levels

One solution is to raise the free testosterone level. 

Medical doctors usually do this with testosterone supplementation via injection, which is a poor attempt at solving the problem. 

Injecting testosterone raises both the bound and free forms. 

Naturopathic doctors try to raise sagging levels using natural herbal substances like Ashwagandha or Tribulus, as well as dietary modifications.

Most men that feel they are having low testosterone levels, visit a medical doctor to rectify what they believe is their problem. 

Often they are disappointed. 

Side Effects Of Testosterone Injections

In many cases, patients will still walk out of the doctor′s office with a prescription for testosterone injections. This unnatural way of boosting a man′s testosterone level often leads to some undesired and dangerous repercussions.

effects of testosterone injections quote

Many men, bodybuilders, in particular, are of the belief that increasing their testosterone via injection is a viable way of increasing fitness. 

It is not! 

While it does increase muscle mass, increasing levels using injectable testosterone is subject to many drawbacks, some (but not all) of which are detailed below.

Side Effect #1: Raise Blood Pressure

Testosterone injections can raise blood pressure. Long-term increased blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart attack, stroke, or death. 

Side Effect #2: Gynecomastia

Higher than normal testosterone levels in a man can cause gynecomastia (enlargement of breast tissue in men or boys) This is described in more detail below.

Side Effect #3: Rhabdomyolysis

High testosterone levels have been observed in bodybuilders that use testosterone injections. Compartment syndrome, which is a swelling of muscles and tendons in a specific compartment of the body, is a side effect attributed to such injections. 

It can lead to rhabdomyolysis, a condition where damaged muscles release protein and electrolytes into the blood. These released proteins force the kidneys to work harder than normal, increasing the potential for kidney damage

Side Effect #4: Heart & Kidney Damage

Long-term use of injectable steroid hormones is known to damage the heart and kidneys and can cause permanent disability or even death. 

The bottom line is that testosterone is a very powerful hormone with many important purposes in the human body. 

If a man has low levels, especially of free testosterone, it is worthwhile to evaluate the cause of the low level and correct it. However, simply raising testosterone to build muscle is likely to cause some severe health issues. 

How The Body Handles Excess Testosterone In The Body

Converting Testosterone Into Estrogen

A process in the body known as aromatization is designed to convert excess testosterone into the female hormone, estrogen, and the more powerful testosterone analog, DHT. Both of these hormones can contribute to excessive prostate growth, and, in older men, are strong contributors to the development of Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH). 

The increase in a man′s estrogen to androgen ratio is also a major player in the development of gynecomastia. 

Aging tends to increase aromatization, especially in adipose (fat) tissue. 

Thus, in addition to the normal decline in testosterone with aging, dietary habits that increase the amount of fat tissue in the body cause increased conversion of androgens to estrogen. 

Overweight and obese individuals thus have more active aromatization, as well as higher estrogen to androgen ratios. 

Gynecomastia

For “gym rats,” this out-of-balance estrogen to androgen ratio often causes an increase in breast tissue growth. When there is a long-term disruption in hormone balance, the stage is set for a condition called gynecomastia. (See figure)  

Gynecomastia illustration

Testosterone injections cause an immediate spike in testosterone level which the body detects. This causes the body to increase the process of aromatization, effectively lowering the excessively high testosterone level within a few days. 

Estradiol Levels Increase

However, while the testosterone level spikes immediately after injection, it takes a while for the body to respond and increase conversion. During this interval, levels of estradiol increase substantially. 

This repetitive fluctuation in the androgen vs estrogen levels sets the stage for gynecomastia. 

In addition to total body fat increases with age, aromatization takes place in the adipose tissue already present, increasing the circulating ratio of estrogen to testosterone even further. 

In addition, SHBG increases with advancing age, and testosterone binds to it better than estrogen. 

Effect Of Medications

Medications can also play a large role. 

Multiple medications can also affect hormone balance. Some are associated with lowered testosterone levels as well as with gynecomastia.

Typical medications used to treat symptoms of Benign Prostate Hyperplasis (BPH) such as; the 5α-reductase inhibitors, finasteride, and dutasteride, affect the body’s hormone conversion mechanisms and are associated with the development of gynecomastia, osteoporosis, and various other conditions. 

Other drugs used for treating BPH, such as finasteride (flomax) are associated with abnormal ejaculation, including anorgasmia, which is defined as an inability to have an orgasm regardless of stimulation. 

Impacts of Low Testosterone Level – Why Low-T Is Not Always The Problem

Almost every man starts thinking about a lowered testosterone level immediately after encountering a lack of energy or any kind of sexual issue. While increasing age can cause hormonal problems, such problems are rarely severe enough to warrant supplementation. 

Issues with testerone injections quote

Nevertheless, many medical doctors tend to write prescriptions for testosterone to many of their older male patients, simply because patients request it. 

This can be counter-productive for a healthy man, especially if the testosterone prescription is in the form of synthetic testosterone injections. 

As explained above, testosterone injections cause an immediate disruption of hormone balance, which, in turn, can cause long-term problems. 

The level at which testosterone deficiency becomes relevant in a man is not well defined. 

Reference levels used by labs vary considerably and provide a wide margin for normal levels. Thus, it is difficult for a man to conclusively know his testosterone level is causing whatever problems he is experiencing. 

And, many men, bombarded by media ads for “Low-T”, automatically assume this is their problem.

Normal testosterone levels vary widely in men. 

In my practice, I have had many men looking for testosterone supplementation simply because they thought it would be good for them. 

Unfortunately, this widely held belief is a myth. 

While the past belief that testosterone supplementation causes prostate cancer has been proven wrong in multiple reports, there is little to convince a man that testosterone supplementation can be harmful. 

Numerous athletes and bodybuilders misuse this drug in the mistaken belief that it will boost performance or improve their physical appearance. Below is a listing of some of the deleterious effects of anabolic steroid use for muscle building:

  • Kidney problems 
  • Liver damage 
  • Heart problems
  • Increased risk of stroke, heart attack and blood clots
  • Shrinking testicles
  • Increased risk of abnormal breast or prostate growth

Primary hypogonadism, a condition where a man has a low testosterone level that causes him various symptoms, is the only real justification for the use of supplemental testosterone in prescription form.

Throughout this article, I have discussed using testosterone supplementation via injecting it into the body. 

A better way to use supplemental testosterone is to apply it via a transdermal cream or gel. In this manner, the dosage is more controllable and the periodic peaks and valleys of hormonal imbalances and triggering of the aromatization process in the body are avoided. 

In addition, while the goal of most bodybuilders is to increase muscle mass for cosmetic appearance, a high percentage of men use testosterone supplementation because they believe it will improve their sexual performance. 

While testosterone supplementation will generally improve a man′s sexual ability, certain adaptogenic herbs can have a far greater (and safer) effect. 

3 Natural Herbs To Boost Testosterone: Ashwagandha, Tribulus, & Epimedium 

Men that suffer from lower testosterone levels, especially those of advancing age, or those that are primarily concerned about sexual ability, can improve their situation naturally without incurring the risk of serious side effects. 

Adaptogens are plants that are marketed (usually in concentrated or extract form) to help restore or enhance a process that has been depleted in the body by some kind of stress. 

Herbs classified as adaptogens to increase testosterone quote

This can be physical stress induced by life, chemical stress induced by medication, or biological stress from a recent illness or condition. 

Adaptogenic herbs have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing medicine. 

Western use of herbal medicine has been seriously discouraged by conventional and pharmaceutical interests, but it is having a renaissance today. 

More and more Western citizens are recognizing that herbal medications can be as or more effective than pharmaceuticals. 

Natural adaptogenic herbal supplements, like ashwagandha and maca powder, typically lack the undesired side effects found in prescription medications. 

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen plant whose extracts have been shown to help increase testosterone levels. 

Several other plants are known in herbology as adaptogens because they are able to bring a body system back to a homeostatic balance. 

According to experts in the field, there are about 10 herbs currently classified as adaptogens; Ashwagandha is one that has been shown in studies to have a high degree of activity for increasing testosterone levels in men. 

However, while Ashwagandha has a documented history for increasing testosterone levels, the herbs Tribulus (puncture vine) and Epimedium (horny goat weed) have a well-documented history of increasing sexual libido and performance, especially for aging men or men with low sexual drive. 

Some reports seem to suggest that both Tribulus and Epimedium increase testosterone levels, but there seems to be a paucity of agreement on this. 

However, In Chinese medicine, Epimedium is used to support sexual vitality. In Western herbology, Tribulus is used similarly. 

Both have additional activity in the body and may improve blood sugar control and cholesterol. In my practice, I have noted that combining these three herbals–Ashwagandha, Tribulus, and Epimedium–has a significant effect on a man′s sexuality and performance. 

Conclusion – What Is Best For You

Many men with sexual performance issues are swayed by media advertisements and locker-room misinformation into believing that a low testosterone level is the cause of their problems. 

Disappointment sets in when they realize, after several months of prescription testosterone therapy, that while the testosterone may have raised their libido, their sexual performance has not changed significantly. 

And, they may be experiencing some detrimental symptoms due to the excess testosterone supplementation altering normal hormone levels in their body.

Before you consider taking testosterone supplementation, consider the side effects and whether you would benefit from low testosterone in the first place.  

References:

  • 12 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha, Healthline.com 
  • Eduardo Freitas Ferreira, et al, Acute Compartment Syndrome in the Anabolic Steroid using Bodybuilder: A Case Report, International Journal of Sports and Exercise Medicine, Volume 6 Issue 6, December 31, 2020
  • Grant Tinsley, PhD.  Does Tribulus Terrestris Really Work? An Evidence-Based Look, Healthline.com, Oct. 5, 2017
  • Adrian L. Lopresti, et al, A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males, Am J Mens Healthv.13(2,), Mar 10, 2019

James Occhiogrosso

Dr. James Occhiogrosso, ND is a natural health practitioner, master herbalist, nutritional consultant and author of more than 15 books. When he isn′t writing or researching, you can find him playing 4-wall Racquetball. Connect with him at DrJim@HealthNaturallyToday.com.

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