Herbal testosterone-boosting supplements: Are they effective? By Jerry Brainum
An example of a typical herbal-based testosterone-boosting supplement.I do not endorse, nor do I advocate the use of this particular product.
Bodybuilder, athletes, and those who are experiencing hormonal declines related to the aging process are often keenly interested in anything can provide a safe hormonal boost. The word “safe” is key here, since many of the potential users of over the counter supplement products don’t want to resort to actual hormonal therapy or use because of fears of possible side effects. Most physicians are still reluctant about prescribing testosterone and other hormones such as growth hormone that provide anabolic effects. Such fears stem from the notion that these hormones are related to such serious problems as prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease in the case of testosterone. Indeed, as this is being written, the Food and Drug Administration just announced that all testosterone-based drug preparations must now come with a warning about the possibility of promoting cardiovascular disease (CVD). This controversy was discussed in a recent issue of Applied Metabolics, where it was noted that the preponderance of published studies show that, if anything, testosterone exerts protective effects against the onset of CVD. Since then, a number of other studies have confirmed the safety of testosterone replacement therapy in relation to cardiovascular disease onset. The FDA warning is based on two highly flawed studies that have been severely criticized by a number of professional medical organizations and physicians.
This leaves open the possibility of obtaining a herbal testosterone-booster supplement that is sold over the counter (OTC) in supplement form. Such supplements do not require a doctor’s prescription, although until recently, many of them were actual drugs.
For about the last 10 years, many of the supplements sold as “testosterone boosters” were in fact, old, discarded anabolic steroids that were developed 50 years ago by major pharmaceutical companies, but were never released, usually because of issues involving adverse side effects shown in preliminary animal tests. But that didn’t stop unscrupulous entrepreneurs from resurrecting the discarded old steroids and producing them as OTC herbal testosterone booster supplements.
When the FDA became aware of this, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Control act of 2004 that sought to ban the sale of many of the OTC prohormone and steroid supplements. This action led to the development of entirely new steroid preparations, which were known as designer steroids. In actuality, however, most of these so-called designer steroids were usually again old steroids brought back from obscurity. They just weren’t on the list of the substances banned by the 2004 Steroid act. Others were old steroids that were structurally manipulated to resist premature liver breakdown, which is precisely how all common oral anabolic steroid drugs work. There is no question that such designer steroids were effective. Indeed, in some cases they were far more potent than existing legal, prescription oral anabolic steroids. But it’s also unquestionable that they were highly toxic, especially in the liver. Several cases of liver failure requiring a liver transplant procedure were reported in the medical literature for those who used the “supplements.” In most cases, the herbal testosterone booster supplements were used according to label directions, but still caused severe health problems. This shouldn’t be surprising considering that they were deemed toxic in animal experiments done a half century ago.Eventually, the designer steroids caught the attention of lagging FDA investigators, and once again, Congress was prodded into producing another law with the intent to do away with these drugs masquerading as supplements.
Thus, the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2014 or H.R 4771, came into being. This new law attempted to specifically list every known designer steroid on the market, and even included a few that were already banned from the passage of the 2004 law. The law easily passed through the House of Representatives, then slid though the Senate vote, winding up on the desk of President Barack Obama on December 18,2014, when he signed it into law. The penalties included in the new law were severe, including up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $2.5 million for corporations found guilty of selling any of the newly banned substances included in the law. Manufacturers and Distributors of the banned compounds were subject to fines of $500,000 for each product sold, and retailers selling the products were fined $25,000 for each product sold. The new law also added the ability to add new designer drugs to the banned list within 30 days, thus effectively banning any future sale of the drugs. But there was a notable exception made in the new law. The law only banned synthetic or chemical-based compounds, such as the designer steroids. But it also specified that herbal-based supplements were still legal.
What this means is that the designer steroid industry is officially dead (not really, since they will no doubt still be sold on shady Internet sites based out of the United States), and now the only choice of OTC supplements legally available to boost testosterone will be herbal-based supplements, along with the weak androgen, DHEA. They’ve been around the whole time, but with the availability of the much more potent designer steroids, such herbal products took a back seat to the drug versions. But with the passage of the new steroid law, these have come to the fore as the mainstay of OTC testosterone-boosters. The salient question,however, is whether they actually work and are safe. But one thing is certain, they are without question a lot safer than the previous chemical-based supplements.
Various herbal preparations have been used for years to treat a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, liver disease, eye diseases, and prostate problems (Saw Palmetto). They vary in their degree of effectiveness, but it would be wrong to suggest that they just exert a placebo effect. In truth, over 40% of the pharmaceutical drugs on the market have their origins in a plant or herbal-based product. Most herbal supplements do contain ingredients that are active in the human body. The main problems related to herbal supplements involve a lack of standardization. This means that there is often a lack of quality control in the production of these supplements to the extent that one pill may contain far more of the active ingredients than then next pill. This is in marked contrast to pharmaceutical preparations, where each pill must contain the exact same dosage. But even with drugs, there is some controversy that generic drugs, which are far less expensive than brand-name versions, may not contain the full stated doses of the active ingredient in some cases.
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