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Testosterone is the key to the kingdom of masculinity (such as it is). It’s an androgen, or male sex hormone, which is present from birth and is what makes a fetus male. It’s produced by the testicles and adrenal glands. During puberty, surging testosterone levels produce secondary sexual characteristics like muscle growth, body hair, and sperm production. And testosterone plays an important role in men’s health throughout life, regulating key functions like libido, erectile function, bone density, muscle mass, and mood.
- Testosterone is a crucial, multi-functional male sex hormone that naturally declines with age.
- Testosterone boosters are supplements that claim to increase testosterone levels, potentially improving sexual performance, libido, and muscle mass.
- Some studies have found that certain supplements may increase testosterone levels, but overall more research is needed.
- You can also support testosterone naturally via diet and exercise, or via provider-prescribed testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
Your testosterone level is measured with a blood test. A normal blood testosterone level in men can range from 270–1,070 ng/dL. According to the American Urological Association (AUA), a value below 300 ng/dL indicates low testosterone (AUA, 2018). However, these exact values vary depending on the lab or resource you go to.
Low testosterone (or testosterone deficiency) tends to appear as men get older. One study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that low testosterone levels affected 20% of men in their 60s, 30% of men in their 70s, and 50% of men over 80 (Harman, 2001).
The symptoms of low testosterone can include erectile dysfunction (ED), low sex drive, decreased muscle mass, changes in sleep patterns, and hair loss (Urology Care Foundation, n.d.). Read more about the ten most common symptoms of low testosterone here.
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What are testosterone boosters?
The terms “testosterone booster” and “natural testosterone booster” mainly refer to herbal supplements and other compounds that are touted to increase sex drive or improve sexual function, muscle mass, sperm count, and body composition.
They’re sold in various forms, including pills, powders, and capsules.
Some herbal and natural supplements purported to boost testosterone include:
- DHEA: Some studies have found that taking a DHEA supplement can boost free testosterone levels along with exercise, while other studies have found no difference (Liu, 2013).
- Fenugreek: A 2016 study found that men who took a fenugreek supplement increased their testosterone levels, had more sex, and had more frequent morning erections than men who were given a placebo (Rao, 2016).
- D-aspartic acid: Supplementing with this amino acid, which is naturally found in the endocrine system, has been found to boost testosterone in some trials (Roshanzamir, 2017).
- Tribulus terrestris: This is an Ayurvedic herb that some research has found may boost testosterone levels (Pokrywka, 2014).
- Ashwagandha: In one 2019 study, overweight men who took this supplement for 16 weeks experienced an average 15% increase in testosterone levels versus men who took a placebo (Lopresti, 2019).
There’s another class of testosterone boosters, and if you’ve been inside a vitamin or health-food store, you can’t miss them: That group of brightly colored bottles whose names include words like Power, Andro, Monster, and Stack. They promise muscle growth, an increase in testosterone, and things like “anabolic” and “prohormone” effects. They may claim to contain some of the herbal ingredients above, along with various other substances.
There is little to no evidence that these products do what they claim, and taking them can be dangerous, resulting in liver or kidney injury (Almaimian, 2018).
Potential risks and side effects of testosterone boosters
As with many supplements, testosterone boosters have risks that could outweigh their potential benefits.
Unlike prescription drugs, supplements are only loosely regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. Because of this, they could contain dangerous or unreported ingredients.
In addition, boosting testosterone with “anabolic” boosters or using testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) without a prescription could actually lower the natural amounts of testosterone your body makes—doing the opposite of what was intended. The testosterone boosters that are most likely to do this are the ones that mimic testosterone or testosterone precursors in the body, such as prohormones.
This is because testosterone production is a negative feedback loop—that’s when a product of a reaction actually causes a decrease in that reaction. By taking certain testosterone boosters, you’re making your body think it doesn’t need to produce its own anymore. (Supplements like vitamin D and zinc don’t have this effect, because they support your natural testosterone production; your body doesn’t think they’re trying to hijack it.)
Testosterone boosters are not recommended for use by everyone. There’s little to no evidence they work. Substances like “prohormones” can actually cause significant side effects like acne, gynecomastia, liver or kidney damage, and mood problems.
People who don’t have low testosterone don’t need to use testosterone boosters. If you do have low testosterone, it’s a better idea to address it with lifestyle modifications and TRT via a healthcare provider.
Ways to safely boost testosterone
It may be possible to boost your testosterone levels by making lifestyle changes like improving your diet, getting regular exercise, ensuring you’re getting quality sleep, and avoiding excessive alcohol use.
Read more about 8 ways testosterone can be boosted naturally.
TRT is an option for men who have actually been diagnosed with low testosterone. Also called androgen replacement therapy, TRT is available in several forms: topical gels (brand names AndroGel, Testim, and Fortesta), patches (brand name AndroDerm), solutions (brand name Axiron), injections, buccal (cheek) testosterone systems (brand name Striant), implanted testosterone pellets (brand name Testopel), and oral testosterone tablets (brand name Andriol, Restandol).
Read more about TRT here.