Tribulus Terrestris Review Does It Raise Testosterone or Make Muscles Stronger?

I like to surf  around at various health and fitness websites because it not only lets me help answer peoples questions but it also allows me get an idea of what people are curious about.  Over the last several months I’ve been noticing  online chatter about Tribulus terrestris as a testosterone booster.  I was a little surprised because tribulus terrestris was big in the early 1900’s and then fell out of favor when people realized it didn’t work.  But maybe things have changed since I last reviewed the research so let me now take a fresh look at the tribulus terrestris research and see if there is anything new going on.

Notice the amounts of tribulus used in the studies below. I’m telling you the amounts so you can compare it to what is in your tribulus supplement.  After reading this, you may want to check out what happened when I took tribulus for a few weeks.

What is tribulus?

Tribulus or tribulus terrestris (also called puncture vine), is a plant that is found throughout the world.  The term puncture vine stems from rumors that the plant’s thorns are able to puncture bicycle tires. Tribulus, likewise, is Latin for “to tear”, another reference to the plants ability to do damage.

Tribulus trivia: Tribulus also refers to a medieval weapon called a caltrop that was thrown on the grown during warfare to stop enemy horses from advancing. The caltrop was the forerunner of tire spikes, used by law enforcement agencies around the world to puncture car tires.

Does tribulus raise testosterone?

The theory behind tribulus is that it’s supposed to elevate luteinizing hormone, which in turn sends instructions to the testes causing them to make testosterone. More testosterone might mean more muscle growth if combined with proper exercise like weight lifting. In theory it all sounds plausible. Fortunately, there is published research on tribulus so let’s take a look at it.

One randomized, placebo controlled tribulus study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2007 tested tribulus in 24 elite rugby players. The players were split into 2 groups. One group got a placebo while the other received 450 mg of tribulus terrestris. All subjects performed the same weight lifting exercise program and the study lasted 5 weeks.

After the study, the researchers found that tribulus did not improve strength or muscle mass or decrease body fat any better than those who did not get tribulus. In addition, tribulus did not cause any change in the testosterone to estrogen ratio (T/E ratio). In other words, tribulus did not raise testosterone either.

In an earlier tribulus study published in 2001, researchers gave either tribulus or a placebo to 15 healthy weight lifters (18 – 35 years of age).  This study was published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. The amount of tribulus used in this study was 3.21 mg per kilogram of body weight.

Translation: A kilogram is 2.2 pounds. So, for example, if you weighted 180 pounds, this equals 82 kilograms. Based on this study, an 82 kg person would get 82 x 3.21 mg = 263 mg of tribulus terrestris.

All subjects performed a periodized weight lifting program (split routine) 3 days per week that worked all major muscle groups. At the end of this study tribulus did not cause any significant changes in body weight and it did not reduce body fat.  Both groups – placebo group and tribulus group – improved strength and endurance.

Ironically, those who got  the placebo experienced a greater amount of muscle endurance in the bench press and leg press than did those who received tribulus. Those getting tribulus did improved muscle endurance on the leg press only –  but it was less than those who got the placebo. This study did not measure testosterone levels.

In a study published in 2000 in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20 young men were given a supplement (called “Andro 6″)  that contained a variety of ingredients including 750 mg of tribulus. Subjects either received Andro 6 or a placebo. All subjects then lifted weights 3 days per week for 8 weeks.  The Andro 6 supplement did not raise testosterone levels or make people stronger.

Androstenedione however was elevated after Andro 6 supplementation.  This study did not specifically say that tribulus didn’t work. Rather, it found that the supplement Andro 6 didn’t work. Andro 6 contained several ingredients (Saw palmetto, DHEA, androsteinedione etc.) in addition to tribulus. In theory it could be possible that the other ingredients in Andro 6 suppressed tribulus but that is pure speculation.

Tribulus side effects

Tribulus terrestris doesn’t appear to have been studied very much in humans about what its side effects might be. Some lab rat research hints that it may increase the size of the prostate. This may be a problem for men who have prostate issues like BPH. This effect has not been proven in humans as far as I know. Other research –  again from lab rats  – hints that tribulus may lower blood sugar. In theory, this may be a problem for diabetics.

One case study also noted that a weight lifter developed gynecomastia (male breasts) after taking a tribulus supplement. It’s hard to say how likely this is given that the prevalence of gynecomastia among weight lifters who use tribulus is unknown.

11/7/11. Update.  I conducted an experiment with tribulus on myself to see if it worked. There was an effect – but it was not what I was expecting.

 

Tribulus and sex

Given the rep that Tribulus has for raising testosterone, it’s natural that this herb would be used in male enhancement supplements as well. I searched the National Library of Medicine for

  • Tribulus erection
  • Tribulus sex

I highlight the following studies as an example the types of research that is currently published.

In a 2013 study titled , Effects and Mechanism of Action of a Tribulus terrestris Extract on Penile Erection, tribulus helped improve erections in rabbits (8 rabbits were used) both when the rabbits where given tribulus orally, as a supplement, as well as when isolated cells were incubated in tribulus solution.

In a 2012 study titled Evaluation of the aphrodisiac activity of Tribulus terrestris Linn. in sexually sluggish male albino rats, Tribulus improved sexual activity in lab “sexually sluggish” lab rats.

Other similar studies are also available, but since they don’t involve people, I won’t mention them.

What I did not see were any studies on humans. Given the general thinking online that tribulus helps erections, why isn’t there any human studies showing it works or doesn’t work?

Given the lack of human research, I don’t think anyone can say if tribulus helps erections or not.

 

Tribulus side effects

I think in most healthy people tribulus is probably safe. That said, I personally noticed a strange side effect when I took tribulus for a few weeks so see my experiment with tribulus for more info.

In a case report from 2004 a male bodybuilder was treated for gynaecomastia (male breast enlargement) after taking an herbal supplement containing tribulus. There is also some speculation that tribulus might raise blood sugar levels. This may be an issue for diabetics who use tribulus supplements.

Does tribulus work?

As I first told people in my book Nutritional Supplements: What Works and Why, I personally don’t feel that bodybuilders or strength trainers need tribulus. I made that statement based on the peer reviewed evidence and this revisiting of the tribulus research reinforces my opinion.

In all fairness, I must say however that the tribulus terrestris research  conducted so far is, for the most part, less than spectacular. Most studies either don’t last long enough or use far too few people for my tastes.  I would love to see a tribulus study that is at least 6 months long and had 100 or more people (who are familiar with strength training) and who receive amounts of tribulus greater than has been used in studies to date. To my knowledge this tribulus study has not been published.

Another reputed testosterone booster supplement is Pink Magic which has Massularia acuminata so see my review of that for more information.

Also, most the research about tribulus raising testosterone is based not on people but on lab rat studies.  While lack of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean something doesn’t work, based on what I see, I just dont think tribulus ready for Prime Time. There are many Tribulus products sold, but as of right now, none stand out to me as being superior to the rest. For those who are interested and want to compare prices, here is a Tribulus supplement on Amazon that has several high ratings.

What do you think?

Comments

  1. A says

    Apologies for lack of any lab data…

    I started taking a supplement with trib in it back in 2011 (at 41yo) and noticed similar to other comments here. I am a healthcare practitioner (not in the area of supplements). A practice where I worked sold this particular line of ‘practitioner only’ supplements. After a social conversation about lacking energy and feeling worn out, another practitioner gave me the supps saying “try these they might pick you up”…

    I’m saying this to communicate that I really had no idea what to expect. The supps stated they ‘may help with male sexual function’ etc. No claims of test increases etc.

    The before and after results were similar to others.
    Waking up with ‘diamond cutter’ morning erections, where previously there was none.

    Increase in libido – actually I felt like I was 20yo again.
    Sexual performance increase (erection strength, duration, volume of ejaculate number of times).
    In fact ejaculate volume was a source of amusement/shock for quiet a few girls.

    I was resistance training consistently both before and after starting the supplements. I must say that after being on the supps for 3 months there was a golden time for my training, with a lot of peaks in strength and lean muscle gain.

    The energy levels did improve. But I was shocked at the other sexual performance results. Feedback to the original practitioner caused a laugh and… “Yeah, that can happen”.

    Main points of my feedback:
    The practitioner told me about the effects after the fact, stating it can be hit and miss.
    The supplement had other co-factors etc added that can also assist if deficient.
    Hard to directly link but I can associate them with the best training cycles of my life.

    4 years later I still cycle this product occasionally during heavy training cycles and will hit it for a couple of weeks when the sexual aspect of a relationship needs a kick. Have recommended it to others and, again, it has been hit and miss. some good results, some so-so and others noticed nothing.

    This was the product:
    metagenics.com.au/products/tribulus-synergy-60-tablets

    • Joe says

      A, thanks for writing. I looked up the Metagenics tribulus synergy supplement on Amazon. While I could not see the entire ingredients label I was able to see that it contains more than tribulus. That means that whatever effects you said occured, cant be attributed to tribulus alone. It looked like the product also had Ashwagandha which has been in a few product Ive looked at before. Here is a list of all of them.

      • Scott says

        Have you heard about any scams on Amazon, people sell fake stuff through there, putting something else in the bottles. This makes me skeptical of going through Amazon. Have you or anyone else heard this?

        • Joe says

          Scott I’ve never heard of fake stuff being sold on amazon. Distributors of several products I’ve looked at have made this claim but show me no proof. While I’m sure there are knock off brands out there for most popular things, since I hear it so much, I wonder if it is talking points for the most part.

  2. whoiswho says

    This will be quite a story, but read it please :)
    So:
    I`m originally from an eastern european country not too far from Bulgaria, but i live in Germany. Before trying tribulus, i`ve heard and read that only bulgarian grown tribulus has an actual effect (soviet and eastern european athletes and researchers used bulgarian tribulus only), but i didn`t take that serious, since by my logic was tribulus is tribulus, finish. So i tried various pretty expensive products from german, american and polish companies. The price ranged from 15 – 25€ for like 60 pills with 600 – 900mg extract (the polish one had even 1200mg). The american company (it`s the product on the picture above) even claims that their tribulus is from bulgaria, but the effect fo all three of them was absolutely zero.

    I then decided to get a product directly from Bulgaria. The obvious choice would be Tribestan by Sopharma, because this is the product that was actually used by eastern european athletes as well as for research back in communist times, but that one was too expensive after all the disappointment before (like 25€ for 60 tablets with 250mg). So i searched bulgarian pharmacy sites (i`m a russian speaker so this was no problem) for alternatives and finally found one. .The Price directly from the company was 6€ per can (60 pills, 250mg each) which means it was DIRT-CHEAP in comparison, and contrary to my expectations that stuff did absolutely everything that tribulus is supposed to do.

    2 – 3 pills a day (i wasn`t taking anything other than these at that time) gave me the following effects:

    – skyrocketed libido and sperm production + constant spantaneous boners. I was feeling like a 15 years old teenager.

    – energy level and endurance was much higher than usual.

    – I was sweating like a bull when working out and feeling great afterwards. It gave me a general good feeling, i don`t even know how to describe it.

    – I can`t tell with guarantee that i raised my testosterone since i did no test, but going by the feeling after taking it for a few days, it probably did. Like i said, i was feeling like a teenager.

    You can believe it or not, but the difference between the bulgarian stuff and the chinese/indian tribulus extracts (along with fillers and other bullshit) that are used by all the common western supplement companies is like day and night.

    The smell and taste alone is enough to tell that the bulgarian ones are completly different. I once opened one pill to compare the look, smell and taste of the extract with 2 of the useless products i bought before, and again, it`s like day and night. The Bulgarian extract is dark brown, it is almost black, and the smell is really strong. The taste is so extremly bitter that you won`t be able to keep it in your mouth longer than a few seconds because it hurts. It is also extremly hygroscopic and since the bulgarian one doesn`t have any fillers in it, it had already drawn moisture and was a hard mass instead of a powder.
    Now first one that i compared it with was a dry powder (it had fillers in it) and the extract was much brighter, kinda greyish-brown with a much weaker and different smell. The taste was by far not as bitter as the bulgarian one (tribulus is supossed to be extremly bitter).

    The second one was also a powder which was not as dry as the other one, but still dry enough to tell that they had fillers in it. The colour was brown, but still lighter than in the bulgarian one and the smell and taste was again much weaker. As i said before, they were both completly useless, just trash.

    If you now ask how the same plant can have different characteristics and effects (or no effect at all) think about apples for example: There are hundreds of sorts, and every each is different from the other when it comes to the content of sugar, vitamines etc. Hemp is also a great example. You won`t get any effect from smoking industrial hemp, and even the ones that are used for smoking all have huge differences in the amounts of the working ingredient (THC).

    It all depends on the conditions in which these plants are grown, the soil, the climate, the air and many many other things.

    So what i want to tell you is: If you want tribulus that actually works, get it DIRECTLY from Bulgaria.

    Bulgarian tribulus is grown in the specific climatic conditions of Bulgaria (this is probably why it actually works) instead of industrial chinese greenhouses, and this is also exactly the reason you`ll find it in Bulgarian products ONLY. They just don`t have the capacity to provide the whole world with their product, since it`s naturally grown.

    Also, don`t believe all the bullshit statements about astronomic amounts of like 90% saponines/protodioscine and all the other nonsense which the supplement companies use for selling their crap. Serious bulgarian brands (not speaking about stuff like “Trybest” which seems dubious to me) have always the same writing on their products, which is: 40 – 45% FUROSTANOL Saponines. You won`t find anything about protodioscine etc and no claims of 90% saponine content, which is nothing more than a scam.

    And at last a short look on the leaflet of the Sopharma product. Sopharma is an actual pharmaceutical company.

    Product is used for:
    – Lack of libido and infertility in men and women
    – climacteric syndrome in women
    – dyslipoproteinemia

    Contraindications:

    – heavy heart and kidney disease
    – prostate adenoma
    – Children under 16 years
    – pregnancy and lactation

    Interactions/precautions
    – Tribulus and medications for ovulation stimulation increase each others effect
    – could increase effects of diuretics
    – could increase the effects of blood-pressure lowering medications

    • Joe says

      whoiswho, interesting stuff. I took a look at this after reading your comment. Since Sopharma is a pharmaceutical company figured they had a website. I did see “Sopharma.com” listed in google so that’s good.

      I then looked up sopharma.com in Whois.com, a website that sometimes can give useful info about websites. Whois.com said that the website name, sopharma.com, was registered in 1999 by someone named VASSIL LOUTCHEV of the BULGARIAN PHARMACEUTICAL GROUP LTD. Here’s the the thing. The address of the Bulgarian Pharmaceutical group is Las Vegas, Nevada! Why isn’t the Bulgarian Pharmaceutical group in Bulgaria?

      Here is the whois.com file for the company http://www.whois.com/whois/sopharma.com

      For those who want to check it out, here is Tribestan on Amazon.

      • whoiswho says

        Hi,

        never heard of Sopharma.com. Maybe they tried to establish themselves on the US-market with that website, or maybe it`s a fake at all, i don`t really know. It doesn`t look quite up to date. Anyway, The original website is http://www.Sopharma.bg
        http://www.whois.com/whois/sopharma.bg

        I mentioned their product just as an example since it`s the most famous in eastern europe, but like i said, i bought another one from Bulgaria which was much cheaper. It was this one: http://apteka.framar.bg/30025329/%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B1%D1%83%D0%BB%D1%83%D1%81-%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%BF%D1%81-250-%D0%BC%D0%B3-60-%D0%BF%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%BA%D1%81%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BA%D1%82

        The producers had some cheap website which seems to be not more avaible, so i contacted them directly and they agreed to send it to germany. Like i said before, it was satisfying and the price was awesome.
        I`ve also tried the one from Sopharma later (got it from Moldova while visiting my grandmother) and since it has the same effect but is much more expensive, especially when you have to buy it from Germany or generally western europe, i didn`t bother to buy it again.
        I think all the products from Bulgaria use the same extract so it doesn`t really matter which one to buy.

        I`ve also found some interesting information about Tribulus here:
        http://examine.com/supplements/Tribulus+terrestris/#summary1-2

        Under “Variability” for example it says that the eastern european and western asian (mainly Bulgarian, Macedonian and Turkish) species have more than double the amount of Protodioscin compared to the Indian/Chinese ones.
        It also says that “the Bulgarian Tribulus is the only extract to possess sulphated spirostanol and furostanol saponins[18] and chinese tribulus seems to be the only compound with cisA/B ring junctures in their saponins”

        Please don`t ask me what that means, i don`t have a clue…

        The “Interactions with hormones” and “Interactions with sexuality” part is also an interesting read. It seems to interact somehow with the androgenic receptors in the brain (again the bulgarian tribulus) but there is no evidence that is raises testosterone or other hormones in the body. But then again “In persons with low sperm count given 6g of tribulus root daily for two months (where almost half of participants reported erectile problems) there was significant improvements in the loss of erection (6.03%), rigidity (9.41%), premature ejaculation (6.12%), and lack of orgasm (9.76%)”.

        It`s all very confusing, but i can only speak about myself. The sexual effects and the effects on my energy level were pretty distinctive while taking it and did go away as soon as i stopped taking them. Since i didn`t take anything other with the tribulus and didn`t change anything in my lifestyle while taking them, the effect was clearly coming from the tribulus. I didn`t notice any significant changes in muscle mass/building though and i don`t really believe that it has an anabolic effect.

        • Joe says

          WhoisWho, well now, that is a different company then! I guess what threw me off is that Tribestan is mentioned on the “.com” sopharma website. I dont know if they are the same company or not and I agree it all can be very confusing. If it helps you I’m really happy. I do wish there was better research on tribulus (including the Tribestan version).

          I do think men should get their testosterone levels checked anyway before starting any tribulus supplement. this will at least give them a baseline idea of what their T levels are and, I hope, open up a conversation with their doctor because ED is not just about testosterone levels. It can be an early sign of heart disease.

  3. says

    The common mistake people (and researchers) make with supplements like this is that they CANNOT be prescribed unversally. Gokshura is mostly used in the Ayuvedic formulary and the principles of ayurvedic pharmocology do not support a one-size-fits-all approach. Herbals are not only prescribed for the presenting symptoms but for the patient’s unique physiology. Consequently, even identical twins presenting with the same symptoms–let’s say a flu–might be given different medicines.

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