Testosterone Boosting Supplements – The Facts
“Testosterone boosting” supplements/formulas have become a very popular category in the supplement industry of late. It seems everyone, boy or man, seems to want to “boost” their levels of the hormone that makes men men. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of this hormone, and readers can see that via my other writings on the topic found throughout this web site. Everyone, men and women, can potentially benefit from maintaining optimal levels of this essential hormone.
However, this write up is not going to cover the hormone per se, but to discuss the various over-the-counter (OTC) products/formulas claiming to increase it. As there are literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of products/formulas on the market at this point, all claiming to “boost” this important hormone, I am going to be talking in generalities about these products vs. a specific ingredient or formula.
A few ingredients in these formulas have been shown – via dubious “research” at best – to have a small impact on T, with the majority of them either having no research behind them or research that found they did nada for T levels.
To summarize this supplement category, the T booster supplements generally contain ingredients that:
• Have no data behind them – or –
• The data they do have is of very poor quality/ and/or taken out of context/not applicable – or –
• The doses used in the formula are far below what a study used to get the effect.
Obviously, the above can (and does!) apply to many products/formulas in the sports nutrition industry, but I find the “T boosters” worse then other categories in that respect.
OK, so lets give some T booster product the benefit of the doubt and say it does have some effects on T. That brings up a few important issues to consider.
Physiological Threshold Concepts
Here’s a simple thought experiment: If you take a small amount of testosterone, say 25mg per week of T- propionate•, will your testosterone levels go up slightly for a short time? Yes. Will your muscle mass increase and or your strength increase? Nope. Anyone who has ever taken any T – or knows the first thing about the topic – knows there’s a threshold dose at which one actually experiences changes in body composition and or strength.
The point being, it’s one thing to show formula/ingredient X has had some small impact on serum testosterone (and most have not…), quite another to show that change actually had any effects on body composition or other end points people using such products generally care about, such as increases in strength and muscle mass.
As with any hormone, there’s a physiological threshold that has to be met before it actually impacts muscle mass, strength, etc.
Anyone who has ever used T in the form of cypionate or enanthate (both long acting esters of T) knows that changes in body composition generally start at around 200mg per week at the least, with more being the norm.
The above assumes a person with “normal” testosterone levels vs. HRT/TRT therapy for those who are found to be medically low in T.••
So, with all that, do you really think that T booster supplement you are using – which already tends to lack any solid data to begin with – is really going to be the equivalent of 200mg per week of testosterone Cypionate? If so, I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell ya’…Hell, the sound of exotic sports cars can raise T levels. Do you think listening to the sound of a Maserati, Lamborghini and Ferrari before you hit the gym will result in more muscle mass? Me neither….Which brings us to the next section in expectation of the obvious question: how does one know if the T booster he’s using is having any effects on the production of T?•••
Do you put air in your tires without checking the pressure?
Do you put air in your tires without actually checking to see if you need any air or what the air pressure actually is before you add additional air to the tires? I know I don’t, but that’s exactly what you’re doing (assuming said T booster actually has any effects on T…) by using such a product without actually knowing what your T levels were when you started. Altering your T levels is not a minor undertaking, nor should it be done casually, and it can have long term effects, both positive and negative. As I indicated – and we will get more into depth on the topic shortly – I have no faith these products are actually impacting T either at all, or enough to actually cause any changes in body composition (e.g., increases in LBM and or decreases in BF) or strength anyway; but having no idea where you are starting from and if the product is doing anything, is just about as dumb as it gets.
I was going to say something more polite and PC like “it’s not logical” but screw that, it’s just stupid, not to mention a big waste of money in the long run.
If you want to go the Bro Logic/Bro Science/hopeful thinking/placebo-driven route, it’s your money, I guess. I know, I know, you’re that one person who is immune to placebo effects…
Interesting side note – and something I will blog about in the near future, is the fact that placebos are getting stronger! It’s vexing the pharmaceutical industry as we speak, in fact.
A very quick word on Non-T mediated Effects.
This article is looking at two specific issues as it relates to the T booster products:
• The impact on T levels specifically
• That people are using them in an attempt to alter body composition and or increase strength
I am not looking at other potential uses, such as for libido and such, which may happen by what’s called “non-T mediated” effects. Meaning, they have an effect, but not via testosterone per se. For example, Horny goat weed contains biologically active compounds that may have Viagra-like effects that act via PDE 5 inhibition. There are other active compounds found in various herbs and such that show some promise in the areas of libido and others, but they are often not doing their “thing” via testosterone, and even if they are, that does not mean the effects it’s having on testosterone – be it to lower SHBGs, increase free T, or what have you – is adequate to impact body composition and or strength. And, as mentioned previously, many of these compounds are very dose specific, which may or may not exist in that dose in the product/formula in question. Finally, no place is the placebo effect stronger then is the area of libido, but we won’t go there…
An Open Offer….
I have made this offer via email (after being contacted by various manufacturers of some T boosting product usually asking why I’m being so hard on this category of supplements), and on various forums and such, but will put it out there for all to see:
To any seller/manufacturer of a “T Booster” type product/formula. If you wish to have the product tested to see if it truly does increase T levels, I will be all too happy to have it tested for you. Be it, a true double-blind placebo crossover trial, which could also test whether or not the product in question will alter body composition (in response to resistance training of course), or as a simple open label study.••••
For those who don’t know, the open label study is the weakest study design, which means its validity may be questioned. However, done correctly, it can at least give some decent info and it’s the least expensive study to do by far. In this case, it would simply be used to test for the effects on T levels, vs. any effects on the more important issue of changes in body composition and or strength.
I would simply send say 20 men, all of whom are approximately the same age, with approximately the same amount of time in the gym, and other variables of importance, and have their T levels tested before, during (mid way) and after using the product. Obviously, they would all be told not to alter their diet, training programs, or supplement intakes during the study period, which would be decided by myself and the company funding it.
The costs would simply be 3 blood draws 3 times X 20 men (as an example, but there may be more or less people in the study), my costs, and the cost of the product. I would personally tabulate the lab tests results, etc, and write it up. Not perfect, but a lot better then what most companies currently offer as “proof” their T-booster has any effects on T.
If there is a statistically significant effect on T,••••• I will of course eat my words that such formulas – or at least the formula tested – don’t generally do jack for T (much less body comp and/or strength, which would not be addressed by such an open label type study…), will post the results everywhere and anywhere I can (which is a lot of dang places!), and of course the company can use the results for their own marketing with my blessings. I will not, of course, withdraw my major point: even if said product actually does increase T, this result does not imply a change in body composition and/or strength unless that too (a much more complex and expensive undertaking to do correctly) is examined.
Of course, if the results show the product does nothing for T levels – or whatever else gets tested for – I will post that too…
That’s my open offer – call it a challenge if you like – to those manufacturers/sellers/proponents making some outlandish claims about T-boosting products.
I won’t be holding my breath waiting for anyone to take me up on the offer.
Finally, if you want to get your own T levels checked – whether you be using such a product or not – ask your doctor or simply do it with the Life Extension Foundation who will do it by mail using a local lab for the blood draw.
Wanna know what supplements actually have solid science behind then? What’s been shown to be worthless? What’s worth your hard earned money for supplements? This site has tons of free info, and my ebooks – BBR and FLR – cover the topic in great depth.
• = A fast acting ester of T
•• = Typical replacement dose for TRT/HRT is 100mg weekly of Cyp/enanth with doses adjusted up or down depending on blood work and other factors. There are also other methods: patches, gels, etc.
••• = There’s also additional issues that need to be addressed, such the total T/free T ratio, SHBGs, estrogen increases/decreases, possible impact on the HPTA, and other possible changes that are beyond the scope of this here write up and would be potentially specific to the ingredient/product/formula in question.
•••• = if you have such a study already done, and it has been published in a peer reviewed legit journal, by all means, send me a copy and I will be happy to read it, and if it passes the smell test, happy to recommend it!
••••• = Of course other things of importance can also be tested for, such as changes in free T/total T, E2, etc, but that will increase the costs.
You want the truth??!!
Will Brink is the owner of the Brinkzone Blog. Will has over 30 years experience as a respected author, columnist and consultant, to the supplement, fitness, bodybuilding, and weight loss industry and has been extensively published. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and pharmaceutical companies.
His often ground breaking articles can be found in publications such as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women’s World and The Townsend Letter For Doctors.
He’s also been published in peer reviewed journals.
You can also buy Will’s other books on Amazon, Apple iBook, and Barnes and Noble.