If you’re experiencing signs of decreased testosterone levels, testosterone-boosting supplements claim to alleviate some of the symptoms.
But do testosterone supplements work and will you get your money’s worth?
Whether or not any supplement works as advertised depends on the claims being made, the ingredients included in the supplement’s formula, and dosages.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through it all in a step-by-step manner. We will finish it off with a quick discussion about the role food and exercise play in boosting testosterone.
Along the way, we’ll include the insights of doctors with whom we spoke to verify and clarify exactly what testosterone-boosting supplements can and can’t do.
What Are Some Common Ingredients Found in Testosterone Booster Supplements?
With the help of websites like the Natural Medicines Database, WebMD, and Examine.com, the HighYa team has investigated more than six-dozen testosterone supplements over the years.
Based on this extensive experience, there are several common ingredients we frequently encounter:
Ashwagandha – An ancient plant used in traditional Ayurvedic treatments for everything from arthritis to hiccups.
B-Complex Vitamins – The vitamin B family (B1, B3, B5, B6, B12) plays many important roles in the body, and has been studied for its ability—in this specific instance—for suppressing estrogen production, improving testosterone production, and maintaining serum levels.
Boron – A mineral naturally found in the environment, which can help the body process other minerals like magnesium and phosphorus. It’s also been shown to increase estrogen levels in post-menopausal women, as well as healthy men.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) – functions as a precursor to testosterone. In other words, it’s not testosterone, but according to these same sites, it acts as a substance that can be converted by your body into testosterone.
D-Aspartic Acid – A natural amino acid often used to increase the absorption of other minerals.
Deer Antler Velvet – This substance covers the growing bone and cartilage that eventually develops into deer antlers.
Fenugreek – Fenugreek is a plant found in most semi-arid areas of the globe, and whose seeds have traditionally been used for cooking. However, in recent years, it has been touted as a natural remedy for sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction.
Ginger – A plant often used as a spice in food, but also to help address nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, osteoarthritis, and dizziness when taken as a supplement.
Ginseng (Panax) – Asian ginseng is another plant that’s been used for a very long time to address stress, improve mood, and reduce fatigue, digestive disorders, and cold and flu symptoms.
Horny Goat Weed – An herb used in traditional Chinese medicine for everything from joint pain and weakness to viral infections.
L-Arginine – Another amino acid, this time one that helps the body make proteins. Inside the body, it’s turned into a chemical call nitric oxide (NO), which can also help expand blood vessels and boost circulation.
Maca – This plant, which grows at high elevation in areas of Peru, is often taken by mouth for conditions like reducing fatigue, improving fertility, improving sexual dysfunction, and relieving menopausal symptoms.
Mucuna Pruriens (Cowhage) – A bean-like plant commonly found in areas of the Caribbean that’s often used as an Ayurvedic treatment for Parkinson’s, anxiety, and arthritis.
Oyster Extract – Contains high levels of zinc (see below).
Saw Palmetto – A fern-like plant that produces fruit, which is then frequently used for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), as well as asthma, migraines, and cough.
Selenium – A mineral naturally acquired from the environment through food—especially crab, liver, fish, poultry, and wheat—and water that’s often supplemented to address heart and blood vessel issues.
Stinging Nettle – A plant commonly supplemented to treat urinary-related issues, and used as a natural diuretic.
Tongkat Ali (Longjack) – An evergreen plant found in Southeast Asia that’s frequently used to make a tea consumed as a treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED), increasing libido and fertility, and reducing body fat.
Tribulus Terrestris – Tribulus terrestris is a flowering plant that grows in many parts of the world in a variety of soil types, and has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for sexual and strength-building purposes.
Vitamin K2 – A vitamin frequently taken as a supplement to treat everything from osteoporosis and bone loss to high cholesterol.
Yohimbe – An evergreen tree whose bark contains a chemical known as yohimbine, frequently used for sexual-related problems like erectile dysfunction and arousal.
Zinc – An essential trace element that’s necessary for human health and often supplemented for treating the common cold, ear and upper respiratory infections, asthma, diabetes, and macular degeneration.
Now that we know what specifically which ingredients we’re addressing, let’s get to the good stuff—the evidence.
Are Testosterone Supplement Ingredients Clinically Supported? Yes and No
WebMD, Examine.com, and the Natural Medicines Database collectively indicate that none of these ingredients—or any other OTC ingredients—have sufficient clinical evidence that they can meaningfully boost testosterone levels or impact the hormone’s function.
However, they report that a couple of these ingredients may help address symptoms often associated with low testosterone:
1,400 to 2,700 mg of Panax ginseng per day may help improve erectile dysfunction.
3mg may also help improve sexual arousal, and a cream containing the ingredient could help reduce premature ejaculation.
5g of daily l-arginine is classified as possibly effective for improving sexual function in men with ED
Doses of tongkat ali could help improve the quality and concentration of sperm in infertile men
Tribulus might also improve sperm count (no dosing information provided)
Even for those ingredients with some relevant clinical support, it’s important to emphasize that they’re often contained in a supplement’s proprietary blend. Consumers often don’t know how much of each ingredient they’re actually ingesting.
Your Overall Health Can Limit the Effectiveness of a Testosterone Supplement
Dr. Elke Cooke, a functional medicine specialist based in Sacramento, told us that the biggest misconception is that higher testosterone levels gained from supplements equal a decrease in symptoms.
That’s just not true, no matter what your supplement’s labels or commercials say.
“Taking one supplement and not addressing lifestyle issues like stress reduction and food is not enough. You can’t expect a single supplement to take care of the issues,” Cooke told us during an interview. “There’s no wonder drug. Supplements can increase your testosterone levels, but that doesn’t always translate into improvement.”
Cooke even went as far as to vouch for several ingredients listed above, noting that she recommends that some of her patients take them because they work – tongkat ali, boron, and zinc were a few she mentioned.
However, as she pointed out, there are other factors in your life that can temper the any good done by a supplement.
Dr. Greg Sommer, founder and chief scientific officer at Trak Fertility, said a man’s body is all one system; everything is linked.
So, while you can take testosterone-boosting supplements that boost your T levels, a lack of sleep exercise and the presence of fat could temper the good done by your pills.
“As men get healthier and improve their overall fitness, your testosterone levels increase,” Sommer said.
The common recommendation is for men to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week.
But it’s not just supplements and exercise that work in concert to boost your testosterone, he said. Your diet plays a big part in that.
“Nutrition is a big part of it – eating the right foods and maintaining a healthy weight,” Sommer said. “Extra fat isn’t good. Fat is an estrogen factory, it leads to man boobs and tiredness.”
In other words, you could be taking the world’s most effective testosterone-boosting supplement but, as that new testosterone flows through all that fat, it will be converted into estrogen and negate the work that your supplement was doing.
Here’s how certified strength and conditioning specialist Myatt Murphy put it in a 2012 article for Men’s Health:
“Body fat contains aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogens, the main sex hormones in women. Having extra estrogens floating around your system triggers your body to slow its production of testosterone. And the less testosterone you make, the more belly fat you accumulate and the more estrogens you spew.”
Can Testosterone Booster Supplements Cause Side Effects?
These authoritative sites indicated that, for the most part, these ingredients likely won’t cause side effects worse than mild digestive upset.
However, in some instances (no specific circumstances noted), taking more than 20mg of boron per day could harm a man’s ability to father a child, DHEA could lead to acne, hair loss, and high blood pressure, and fenugreek can lower blood sugar.
The most common side effect reported for ginseng is insomnia (as is cowhage), and long-term use may be unsafe due to the ingredient’s hormone-like effects.
WebMD tells us that in some instances, yohimbe “has been linked to reports of severe side effects including irregular or rapid heartbeat, kidney failure, seizure, and heart attack.”
Finally, the side effects and overall safety for ashwagandha, deer velvet, and tribulus are reported as unknown.
Bottom Line: Are Testosterone Booster Supplements Effective?
While low testosterone is a common problem, the fact of the matter is that you’re not guaranteed to be diagnosed with it.
In fact, some numbers report that only 35 percent of men aged 70 or older have lower levels than younger men.
According to WebMD, most men’s testosterone levels range between 300 and 1,200 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), so if your levels fall below this range, you may be diagnosed with low testosterone.
But if you’re experiencing one or more of the common side effects and the natural suggestions above aren’t doing the trick, the first person you should speak with is your doctor.
They’ll run the appropriate tests (such as a serum testosterone test) and then recommend science-backed treatments based on your diagnosis.
Should your treatment regimen involve over-the-counter supplements? Again, this is a question only your healthcare provider can fully answer.
But we’ve learned organizations like the US Preventive Services Task Force, Heart Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the National Institutes of Health (to name just a few) emphasize that, unless you’re deficient in the ingredients they contain, taking dietary supplements isn’t necessary.
Specifically, regarding the topic at hand, the Cleveland Clinic adds, “There are currently no pills available in the United States that provide adequate levels of hormone replacement.”
That being said, both Cooke and Sommer said you can increase the changes that a supplement will work by leading a healthy lifestyle that includes aerobic exercise and healthy levels of fat in the body.
» For Further Reading:
- 10 Foods That Can Affect Your Testosterone Levels
- 7 Ways to Naturally Increase Testosterone Levels
- Before Buying a Dietary Supplement, Follow These Steps to Understand Its Claims