Testosterone, for those that don't know, is the male androgenic hormone responsible for all male characteristics and for growth of muscles, amongst other functions. It is released primarily form the testes, but a small amount is also produced from the adrenal cortex, hence females also have a small natural testosterone level. It is a lipid, i.e. it's a fat-like substance, and has a four-carbon ring. All anabolic steroids are derived from testosterone.
Testosterone boosters are natural substances, classified as pro-hormones, which, in theory, raise natural testosterone levels 2-3 times, and are said to be 'natural' alternatives to anabolic steroids. Testosterone boosters are very controversial and some will probably be banned in most countries in the very near future; in fact laws have recently changed in the USA whereby products containing testosterone boosters must be labelled with proper warnings. When they do get banned, I think you can say 'goodbye' to testosterone boosters altogether, as consumers currently use them because they view them as 'natural'. If they are banned they will be viewed as 'unnatural', so why use them when other 'unnatural' substances, like anabolic steroids, are more effective?
"When they do get banned, I think you can say 'goodbye' to testosterone boosters altogether."
I've noted them in this chapter because they do 'work', but are not as effective as anabolic steroids (besides being marketed so) and are definitely not without side effects (in fact side effects are similar to those of anabolic steroids).
Let's examine some testosterone boosters:
- Dehydroepiandrostenone - DHEA
DHEA is naturally an androgenic hormone made in the adrenal cortex gland, and is two steps in the chemical pathway up from testosterone; i.e. it is a pro-hormone for testosterone. Other than being involved in testosterone manufacture, it has other direct functions including energy production, sexual maturation and muscle growth.
Clinically, DHEA is used to improve deficient immune systems. It is sold by lots of supplement companies, who report it to have numerous functions in sport. Its use has mixed reports in bodybuilding. Females and older athletes may benefit from it more, as natural DHEA levels diminish after 25 years old in males, and are much lower in females. As a supplement, it is only effective in people who have a lower level of natural DHEA, in which case it may lead to increased natural testosterone production, and has little use in subjects who use anabolic steroids.
I could find no proper evidence examining the direct effects of DHEA on improving muscle growth, but some bodybuilders claim it has had an effect. It is advised to be used with caution, and has reported side effects.
What positive evidence I have heard about DHEA has not been that amazing, but it may have a role in female bodybuilders and the over 40s. Quality research is definitely needed here for me to be convinced it has a role in bodybuilding.
Androstenedione is the next step up from DHEA in the chemical synthesis of testosterone. It has also been found naturally occurring in the pollen of Scotch pine trees, so may be classed as a dietary supplement. Reasonable amounts of androstenedione in the liver will be converted to testosterone, hence the theory that this supplement works. Clinical trials have shown raised testosterone levels with supplementation of androstenedione (Benendonk 1993), but there are no trials showing a direct link between androstenedione use and an increase in muscle strength or size, nor athletic performance in humans. People who I have known to use it have reported no notable effect, though many supplement 'gurus' report it to be better than its precursor DHEA.
- Tribulus Terrestris
Tribulus terrestris is plant which grows in some moderate and tropical climates of the world. It is being marketed as a testosterone booster, but works in a very different way to DHEA and androstenedione which provide the raw materials for testosterone production. I think this is the only testosterone booster that may get away without being banned, as it is a herbal supplement.
Tribulus terrestris raises natural testosterone levels by increasing the gonadotrophic hormone, luteinizing hormone (LH). LH is secreted from the pituitary gland in the head as part of a negative feedback mechanism to control testosterone release. Some scientific studies have demonstrated tribulus terrestris may have the potential to increase LH production. The studies have looked at increased sperm production, testosterone production and testicular maturation, and libido, in response to taking tribulus terrestris (Zarkova 1981; Dimitrov, et al 1991-1992). There are no studies which have found benefits to athletic performance or muscle building form taking tribulus terrestris, but some athletes have claimed an effect.
Many supplement companies have made wild, exaggerated claims about this product, unsubstantiated, including reduced risk of diseases and disorders, in the same way that claims are made about many 'alternative' products. It has been said, though that tribulus terrestris alone will not lead to any notable results in muscle gains, but as part of a stack with DHEA and androstenedione it may be more effective. DHEA and androstenedione provide the raw materials for testosterone production, whilst tribulus terrestris raises LH levels to promote their conversion to testosterone.
- Chrysin / Flavone X
This supposedly works through yet another mechanism to boost testosterone levels; it minimises the aromatisation of testosterone into oestrogen. Aromatisation is a natural process in the body, whereby the more testosterone that is present, the more is converted to oestrogen. This reduces testosterone levels, and with the raised oestrogen, some female- like side effects like gynecomastia (formation of breast tissue in males), water retention and increased fat deposition my be apparent. Theoretically, products which block aromatisation are therefore advantageous. It has also been said that Chrysin may work well with the other testosterone boosters in a stack to give a synergistic effect.
As I have already said there have been mixed reports on the effects of these 'natural' testosterone boosters, and it is doubtless that their effects are in no way nearly as strong as anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are given such bad press, and if the testosterone boosters do work as well as is claimed, their effects will be similar, therefore they may too be reported in such a negative way.
I have never personally met anyone who has used these very expensive testosterone boosters and been pleased with results. In fact, I have spoke to many who have made no gains over and above what they were making without their use. Despite this, some clinical trials do suggest they may work to a degree, and I have read a few positive anecdotal reports. The claim is that they work better synergistically in a stack, which obviously works out very expensive, and if the side effects are the same as anabolic steroids then it would be much cheaper to use drugs!
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Ever since the fitness craze in the 1980’s, we have become a nation increasingly aware of our health and physique. Millions of dollars are spent every year in the quest for a perfect body. Gyms are big business, personal trainers are making a tidy living helping people stay fit, and body building supplements are at an all-time level of performance.