Hormones are finnicky little things, aren’t they? They keep us asleep, they regulate our sugar levels, and they create massive changes in our bodies. Having even one hormone out of balance can throw off your natural rhythm, causing a break in its perfectly oiled system. As with most conditions of the body, hormone deficiencies can usually be supplemented to some degree. This can be done with a pill, hormone pellet injection, or a simple sublingual tablet… or, if you prefer a more natural, holistic approach, with a change in diet or lifestyle. Testosterone is one such hormone that can fall out of balance; but this balance can be restored with the right treatment.
Today I’m focusing on testosterone deficiency in the male sex specifically, as biological differences in female, male, and intersex people can have an effect on how herbs work. If you’re a transgender man, for example, some herbs can impact you differently than they would a biological male, and may not stimulate testosterone production. In the future, I’d love to delve into ways transgender and intersex people can use herbs to help their bodies present as desired, but I want to do more research before offering any information. Until then, I hope this article is enough to stimulate our interest in herbs and hormone therapy.
In healthy men, testosterone is produced at 280-1,100 ng/dL per day in the testes. During puberty, testosterone triggers the onset of several big changes; the growth of facial hair, voice cracking and deepening, and an increase in strength and muscle mass. (Leonard) After puberty, testosterone remains an important hormone in the body. It controls libido and sexual performance, and low levels can reduce sperm count in some people. Without sufficient levels of testosterone, men can experience changes in their mood, “loss of muscle mass and bone density, loss of facial and body hair, weight gain, and fatigue” (Dr. Natale). An imbalance of this hormone can be detrimental to the overall health and well-being of men, and the effects can be tremendous. In cases of elevated testosterone, male bodies tend to show an increase of oil production on the skin, acne, testicular shrinkage as the body tries to reduce the amount of testosterone in the body, hair loss, and an influx of red blood cells, which can create potentially fatal clots. If the body turns excess testosterone into estrogen, men can experience “mood swings, water retention, high blood pressure, breast sensitivity… [or even breast] growth”. (Steele) An imbalance of testosterone in either direction can be equally upsetting and potentially dangerous. Monitoring testosterone levels through a healthcare professional is the best way to ensure the body is producing the right amount of this vital hormone. As men age, their testosterone levels naturally taper, leading to these undesirable symptoms. Many men receive testosterone therapy in the form of injectable hormones to prevent an imbalance, and receive regular monitoring to ensure a safe level is maintained (Steele). However, some herbs have been used to naturally boost your body’s own ability to increase testosterone, and could work well for minor to moderate cases of testosterone deficiency. As always, I recommend consulting a professional before beginning a new supplement, and to have active monitoring routines in place to ensure your safety. Many functional doctors are able to monitor and treat hormone deficiencies, and are a great option for anyone interested in finding a holistic wellness doctor.
Four herbs used to increase testosterone in males are ginseng, ashwagandha, fenugreek, and garlic. They have all been used to supplement testosterone deficiency by herbalists and laymen alike, with many reporting great success in doing so. There have been several studies on how they affect testosterone production as well, offering quantitative data on how well they work. As with any herb, it is advised to keep an eye out for any unpleasant reactions you may have, particularly if you are sensitive to plants of any kind. This is especially vital if you are on any medications or have any other pre-existing health conditions. These herbs can be found online, or in-store in some cases; always research the provider you are purchasing herbs from to ensure their quality and safety. Based on personal experience, I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs, Starwest Botanicals, and Frontier Co-Op, but there are a plethora of local and global shops to explore.
Using Ginseng to Increase Testosterone
Panax Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) works to increase testosterone levels by balancing out stress levels and an overabundance of prolactin (Supplements in Review). High levels of prolactin can lead to lower levels of testosterone in men, meaning a decrease in prolactin could improve testosterone levels. It’s main active compound consists of saponins called ginsenosides, which are present in 2-3% concentrations (Khan S. et al.). These ginsenosides have antioxidant properties that can prevent free radical damage of various human cells, have verified cancer-killing properties, and can reduce fatigue (Molina, G. et al.). It is believed that these ginsenosides are the active component responsible for an increase in testosterone when ginseng is taken as a supplement.
Dosages vary depending on factors such as the patients age, height, and weight, the quality of the ginseng, and the concentration of ginsenosides in your supplement. Supplements in Review offers this guide as a common standard range:
It’s also worth noting that the way Ginseng is prepared and stored is important for preserving its overall effects. Red ginseng tends to be favoured over white ginseng, for example. I highly suggest reading Supplements in Review’s article about using ginseng to increase testosterone production if you’re interested in learning more, it contains some great information and includes links to studies that you may find useful.
Using Ashwagandha to Increase Testosterone
Much like ginseng, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a wonderful stress-reducing adaptogen. It contains compounds including “alkaloids, fatty acids and steroid lactones” (Fallon). These compounds have long been used by herbalist to treat stress-related conditions, lack of vitality, and to improve endurance. One of its main lactones, “withania”, and has even been shown to reduce cortisol levels by as much as 28%. (Fallon). It has been used most prolifically in Ayurvedic medicine.
Healthline notes that “one small study in 57 men found that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha extract increased testosterone levels by nearly 15% after 8 weeks compared to a placebo”; although this increase is small, it is not insignificant. It is believed that ashwagandha works by reducing cortisol levels in the body, which in turn puts less stress on all of the other body systems.
In reference to the aforementioned study, a standard dosage for ashwagandha is typically 600 mg daily. It can cause sleepiness in some individuals, and is therefore taken mostly at night. Many people make use of a blend of ashwagandha, passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), and/or scullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis, Scutellaria lateriflora, etc) for help in falling asleep and to aid in stress reduction; this may be a great option for someone with low testosterone and high anxiety or stress levels.
Using Fenugreek to Increase Testosterone
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), is used in athletic supplements to enhance performance through nutrition. In particular, fenugreek seed extract is usually the main component utilized.
According to an article by Wankhede et al., fenugreek seed extract was studied in healthy, young males that were all regularly exercising the same way. The study found that there was a significant decrease in body fat in individuals who were given the fenugreek seed extract opposed to the control group. The article continues by saying,
The main focus of fenugreek studies have revolved around its glycoside and saponin compounds, which have “Steroidal” qualities (Wankhede et al.). For more detailed information about the saponins and glycosides that make fenugreek effective, check out this article.
According to Healthline, a “study showed that taking 500 mg of fenugreek extract per day increased free testosterone levels by up to 46% in 90% of participants after 12 weeks”. In another study that lasted 8 weeks, participants took a fenugreek-derived supplement while completing a resistance training program. Their free testosterone serum levels increased by “98.7%… from baseline”, whereas the placebo group completing the same fitness program experienced a smaller increase of the same free testosterone serum level by 48.8% (Wankhede et al.).
In general, most studies conducted on the effects of fenugreek extract have used between 500 and 600 mg doses, typically taken twice daily with water.
More studies are needed to conclusively identify the best way to make use of these herbs and many others purported to boost testosterone levels. However, an increase in exercise, more relaxation or stress relieving, and a better diet are often key to leading a healthier life; these changes alone may reduce stress and lead to better testosterone levels in some men. Taking a look into the way these herbs seem to work has led me to conclude that stress is a major factor in testosterone deficiency. All cases are different, but perhaps some of these herbs could help lessen the effects of stress on their bodies.
Feel free to read through all of my sources below, and let me know if you have anything to add. This post wasn’t a pros and cons list of the herbs and their studies, but I’d love to hear any comments, concerns, or experiences you may have had individually!
Fallon, W. (2022, January 3). Ashwagandha Benefits to Increase Low Testosterone. Male Health & Testosterone Advice. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.smartglobalhealth.org/does-ashwagandha-really-boost-testosterone/
Khan, S., Tosun, A., & Kim, Y. S. (2014, September 29). Ginsenosides as food supplements and their potential role in immunological and neurodegenerative disorders. Bioactive Nutraceuticals and Dietary Supplements in Neurological and Brain Disease. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012411462300031X
Link, R. (2022, February 11). The 7 best supplements to boost testosterone levels in 2022. Healthline. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-testosterone-booster-supplements#our-picks
Mansoori, A., Hosseini, S., Zilaee, M., Hormoznejad, R., & Fathi, M. (2020, July). Effect of fenugreek extract supplement on testosterone levels in male: A meta-analysis of clinical trials. Phytotherapy research : PTR. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32048383/
Molina, G., Lima, E. A. de, Borin, G. P., Barcelos, M. C. S. de, & Pastore, G. M. (2017, September 15). Beta-glucosidase from Penicillium. New and Future Developments in Microbial Biotechnology and Bioengineering. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444635013000077
Steele, T. (2018, April 5). The side effects of too much testosterone – a patient’s perspective. Testosterone Centers of Texas. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://tctmed.com/resource/side-effects-much-testosterone-patients-perspective/
Supplements in Review. (2016, July 16). Ginseng for testosterone. Supplements in Review. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://supplementsinreview.com/testosterone/ginseng-testosterone/
Wankhede, S., Mohan, V., & Thakurdesai, P. (2016, June). Beneficial effects of fenugreek glycoside supplementation in male subjects during resistance training: A randomized controlled pilot study. Journal of sport and health science. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6191980/