As a man, testosterone levels are a major driving force in your overall quality of life. Maintaining testosterone levels above a particular range (>650 ng/dL) is a signal that your body is lean and muscular, and that you’re getting adequate amounts of the required vitamins and minerals through your diet.
In other words, your T level is a solid biomarker for overall health. The problem is, modern society has developed in a way that has led to a complete downshift in our hormones. From the processed foods we eat to the plastics and chemicals in our products, everything around us is robbing us of our natural testosterone production.
Testosterone levels in American men have been steadily declining over the past few decades. Supplement companies are well aware of this downward trend, and are marketing the solution in the form of testosterone booster supplements that are “scientifically proven to work.” I put that in quotations because in many cases, the ingredients are only scientifically proven to work in animal and test-tube studies. The same effects often don’t carry on to affect us humans in the same way.
In this article, I will cut through the nonsense and get right down to the vitamins, minerals, and herbs that are actually proven in human research to have a positive influence on testosterone.
Proven Testosterone-Boosting Vitamins And Minerals
Vitamin D is essential for human survival. It regulates over 1,000 bodily functions and is associated with a range of health benefits, including increased immunity, stronger bones, and sharper mental acuity.
Vitamin D is also directly correlated with testosterone levels. Men with sufficient vitamin D levels have been shown to have significantly higher testosterone levels than men with insufficient amounts of the vitamin.1In one study, men supplementing with a daily dose of 3332IU of vitamin D for one year had 25% higher testosterone levels compared to the placebo group.2
The sun provides a major source of vitamin D, but we just don’t spend enough time outdoors anymore. As a result, a global trend of vitamin D deficiency has emerged. According to the British Medical Journal, vitamin D deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, in both children and adults. If most of your time is spent indoors, make it a point to supplement with vitamin D.
Zinc is a metal that is required by our bodies in trace amounts to ensure proper development and growth. It is naturally present in foods such as meat, eggs, legumes, and shellfish. Zinc is lost through sweat, which makes it a very important mineral for athletes.
In one study, elite athletes given 3mg of zinc per kg of bodyweight had significantly higher testosterone levels compared to placebo.3 The same effect was found in sedentary men exercising on a stationary bike.4
Keep in mind, though, that the increase in your testosterone levels only occurs if you are deficient in zinc, to begin with. If you’re already getting enough zinc through your diet, then increasing your levels even further through supplementation will not have a significant impact on your T.
Magnesium is another mineral that has been shown to have a direct relationship with testosterone levels in men. In one study, subjects practicing martial arts were given 10mg of magnesium per kg of body weight. After four weeks of daily supplementation, they had significantly higher testosterone levels.5 The same effect was also seen in the sedentary control group, but it was not as pronounced.
As with vitamin D, magnesium deficiencies are extremely common in the western world. One study estimated that 48% of the US population had sub-optimal magnesium levels.6 Like zinc, magnesium will only increase your testosterone levels to the extent that you are currently deficient in it.
Potential Testosterone Boosting Herbs
Ashwagandha is an herb from Ayurveda, a branch of ancient Indian herbal medicine, that has traditionally been used to enhance aspects of male health. In Sanskrit, ashwagandha translates to “smell of horse,” implying that ingestion of the herb confers the strength and virility of a stallion. But traditional beliefs aside, ashwagandha has been shown in clinical human research to have a positive interaction with testosterone.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb. This means that it’s effective at reducing the physical and chemical effects of stress. Studies have shown that supplementing with ashwagandha significantly lowers cortisol levels.7, 8 Cortisol is the hormone your body releases in response to stress. It is derived from the same raw material as testosterone and holds an inverse relationship with T, i.e. lower cortisol = higher testosterone.
Ashwagandha supplementation has also been shown to be an extremely effective testosterone booster in infertile men.9, 10, 11 In another study, untrained men put on a resistance-training program and given ashwagandha saw significantly greater increases in muscle size, testosterone levels, and muscle recovery compared to placebo.12
Ashwagandha is an all-round super herb and one of the only proven herbal testosterone boosters.
Tongkat Ali is a Malaysian herb that has traditionally been prescribed as an aphrodisiac. In one study, subjects supplementing with 200mg of Tongkat Ali daily for one month increased testosterone levels by 46%.13 But an important point to note is that the subjects in this study had very low testosterone levels to begin with. In another study, chronically stressed subjects receiving a daily dose of Tongkat Ali for one month experienced a 37% increase in testosterone levels.14
Although the studies above show Tongkat Ali supplementation to have a positive influence on testosterone, it’s important to note that the subjects were either stressed or had very low testosterone levels to begin with. If you’re otherwise healthy and don’t meet either of these conditions, then it’s unlikely that Tongkat Ali supplementation will impact your T in the same way.
Mucuna Pruriens is a bean that has traditionally been used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Today, it is a popular ingredient in many testosterone supplements. Studies have shown Mucuna Pruriens supplementation to have a significant impact on testosterone levels in infertile men.15, 16 Whether this effect carries on in otherwise healthy men still remains to be seen.
Ingredients Proven Not To Work
After reviewing dozens of testosterone boosters, a pattern seems to emerge. The most popular ingredients are the ones that have no research supporting their effectiveness. The following three ingredients are amongst the most commonly found in testosterone boosters that are proven not to work.
Tribulus is perhaps the most popular ingredient in testosterone supplements. Multiple studies have shown that supplementing with Tribulus has no impact on testosterone levels,17 muscular strength,18 or body composition.19
D-AA is another very popular ingredient present in many of the best-selling testosterone boosters on the market.
The first study observing the effect of D-AA on testosterone revealed that supplementation increased T levels by 42% in as little as 12 days of use.20 Then, another study came out showing that D-AA supplementation over 28 days had no impact on testosterone levels.21
After that, a third study came out showing that high doses of D-AA supplementation actually decreased testosterone levels.22
D-AA shines the light on why we should not always go with what the early research says. The most important thing is to observe the context before jumping to any conclusions, including the time period of the study, trial design, number of subjects, etc.
The bottom line is that D-AA increases T-levels only in the short-term (within two weeks of use). Although this effect may remain in infertile men, in men with otherwise normal T, levels return to baseline within 28 days.
Fenugreek is an herb from India that has traditionally been prescribed as an aphrodisiac. Today, it is a popular ingredient in many of the best-selling testosterone supplements.
In the first study observing its interaction with testosterone, 30 resistance-trained men were given 500mg of placebo or fenugreek. After two months of use, the fenugreek group had higher T-levels and lower body fat.23 This study shows promising results, but the fact is that it’s the only study that has done so.
Two other studies have found that fenugreek boosts libido24 without having any effect on testosterone levels.25 More evidence than not shows fenugreek to have no impact on testosterone levels.
Why Include Stuff That Doesn’t Work?
If research has found no significant interaction between tribulus, Fenugreek, and D-AA supplementation on testosterone levels, why do companies continue to add them to their products? Because these three ingredients are potent libido boosters, i.e. they increase sex drive without having any effect on testosterone.
A large number of men looking to increase testosterone levels are in the market with the intention of boosting their sex drive. As far as that’s concerned, these three ingredients might do the trick.
Higher T does translate to an increased sex drive, but the inverse is not necessarily true. Increased sex drive does not always result from increased testosterone.
Your Endocrine System Is Complex
If you’re trying to increase testosterone levels, know that your endocrine system is way too complex to be fixed with a simple pill. What you really need to do is make changes in your lifestyle.
What it really comes down to is this:
- Get in the range of sub-15% body fat. Excess body fat produces an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen.
- Ensure that you’re eating a varied diet that provides your body with the essential macro and micronutrients.
- Lift weights and get stronger.
- Sleep for seven to nine hours every single night.
- Manage your stress.
An imbalance in these five areas is what largely contributes to decreased testosterone levels. Fixing them will have the opposite effect, increasing testosterone levels naturally.
Testosterone replacement therapy is another option to increase testosterone levels. But TRT should only be considered if you have a condition that’s holding your body back from producing testosterone, e.g. a prostate condition or brain tumor.
Do Testosterone Boosters Work or Not?
I’m a firm believer that supplements should only be used for what they’re made: to supplement your diet and lifestyle. Many men approach supplements as the end-all-be-all, but we all know that if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
This is not to say that supplements don’t work. Some of the ingredients outlined above have scientific evidence supporting a positive influence on testosterone. Still, your major focus should be on making the simple diet and lifestyle changes that will allow your body to function more optimally. After that point, you can begin adding in supplements to enhance your results.
1. Wehr, Elisabeth, Stefan Pilz, Bernhard O. Boehm, W. März, and Barbara Obermayer‐Pietsch. “Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men.” Clinical Endocrinology 73, no. 2 (2010): 243-248.
2. Pilz, S., S. Frisch, H. Koertke, J. Kuhn, J. Dreier, B. Obermayer-Pietsch, E. Wehr, and A. Zittermann. “Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men.” Hormone and Metabolic Research 43, no. 03 (2011): 223-225.
3. Kilic, Mehmet, Abdulkerim Kasim Baltaci, Mehmet Gunay, Hakki Gökbel, Nilsel Okudan, and Ibrahim Cicioglu. “The effect of exhaustion exercise on thyroid hormones and testosterone levels of elite athletes receiving oral zinc.” Neuro Endocrinology Letters 27, no. 1-2 (2005): 247-252.
4. Kilic, Mehmet. “Effect of fatiguing bicycle exercise on thyroid hormone and testosterone levels in sedentary males supplemented with oral zinc.” Neuro Endocrinology Letters 28, no. 5 (2007): 681-685.
5. Cinar, Vedat, Yahya Polat, Abdulkerim Kasim Baltaci, and Rasim Mogulkoc. “Effects of magnesium supplementation on testosterone levels of athletes and sedentary subjects at rest and after exhaustion.” Biological Trace Element Research 140, no. 1 (2011): 18-23.
6. Rosanoff, Andrea, Connie M. Weaver, and Robert K. Rude. “Suboptimal magnesium status in the United States: are the health consequences underestimated?” Nutrition Reviews 70, no. 3 (2012): 153-164.
7. Chandrasekhar, K., Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 34, no. 3 (2012): 255.
8. Auddy, Biswajit, Jayaram Hazra, Achintya Mitra, Bruce Abedon, and Shibnath Ghosal. “A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association 11, no. 1, 2008.
9. Gupta, Ashish, Abbas Ali Mahdi, Kamla Kant Shukla, Mohammad Kaleem Ahmad, Navneeta Bansal, Pushplata Sankhwar, and Satya Narain Sankhwar. “Efficacy of Withania somnifera on seminal plasma metabolites of infertile males: a proton NMR study at 800MHz.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 149, no. 1 (2013): 208-214.
10. Mahdi, Abbas Ali, Kamla Kant Shukla, Mohammad Kaleem Ahmad, Singh Rajender, Satya Narain Shankhwar, Vishwajeet Singh, and Deepansh Dalela. “Withania somnifera improves semen quality in stress-related male fertility.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011 (2011).
11. Ahmad, Mohammad Kaleem, Abbas Ali Mahdi, Kamla Kant Shukla, Najmul Islam, Singh Rajender, Dama Madhukar, Satya Narain Shankhwar, and Sohail Ahmad. “Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males.” Fertility and Sterility 94, no. 3 (2010): 989-996.
12. Wankhede, Sachin, Deepak Langade, Kedar Joshi, Shymal R. Sinha, and Sauvik Bhattacharyya. “Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 12, no. 1 (2015): 43.
13. Tambi, M. I. B. M., M. K. Imran, and R. R. Henkel. “Standardised water‐soluble extract of Eurycoma longifolia, Tongkat ali, as testosterone booster for managing men with late‐onset hypogonadism?.” Andrologia 44, no. s1 (2012): 226-230.
14. Talbott, Shawn M., Julie A. Talbott, Annie George, and Mike Pugh. “Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10, no. 1 (2013): 28.
15. Shukla, Kamla Kant, Abbas Ali Mahdi, Mohammad Kaleem Ahmad, Satya Narain Shankhwar, Singh Rajender, and Shyam Pyari Jaiswar. “Mucuna pruriens improves male fertility by its action on the hypothalamus–pituitary–gonadal axis.” Fertility and sterility 92, no. 6 (2009): 1934-1940.
16. Gupta, Ashish, Abbas Ali Mahdi, Mohammad Kaleem Ahmad, Kamla Kant Shukla, Navneeta Bansal, Shyam Pyari Jaiswer, and Satya Narain Shankhwar. “A proton NMR study of the effect of Mucuna pruriens on seminal plasma metabolites of infertile males.” Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis 55, no. 5 (2011): 1060-1066.
17. Neychev, Vladimir Kostadinov, and Vanyo Ivano Mitev. “The aphrodisiac herb Tribulus terrestris does not influence the androgen production in young men.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 101, no. 1 (2005): 319-323.
18. Rogerson, Shane, Christopher J. Riches, Carl Jennings, and Robert P. Weatherby. “The effect of five weeks of Tribulus terrestris supplementation on muscle strength and body composition during preseason training in elite rugby league players.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 21, no. 2 (2007): 348.
19. Antonio, Jose, John Uelmen, Ramsey Rodriguez, and Conrad Earnest. “The effects of Tribulus terrestris on body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 10, no. 2 (2000): 208-215.
20. Topo, Enza, Andrea Soricelli, Antimo D’Aniello, Salvatore Ronsini, and Gemma D’Aniello. “The role and molecular mechanism of D-aspartic acid in the release and synthesis of LH and testosterone in humans and rats.” Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 7, no. 1 (2009): 120.
21. Willoughby, Darryn S., and Brian Leutholtz. “d-Aspartic acid supplementation combined with 28 days of heavy resistance training has no effect on body composition, muscle strength, and serum hormones associated with the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis in resistance-trained men.” Nutrition research 33, no. 10 (2013): 803-810.
22. Melville, Geoffrey W., Jason C. Siegler, and Paul WM Marshall. “Three and six grams supplementation of d-aspartic acid in resistance trained men.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 12, no. 1 (2015): 15.
23. Wilborn, Colin, Lem Taylor, Chris Poole, Cliffa Foster, Darryn Willoughby, and Richard Kreider. “Effects of a purported aromatase and 5 α-reductase inhibitor on hormone profiles in college-age men.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 20, no. 6 (2010): 457-465.
24. Steels, Elizabeth, Amanda Rao, and Luis Vitetta. “Physiological Aspects of Male Libido Enhanced by Standardized Trigonella foenum‐graecum Extract and Mineral Formulation.” Phytotherapy Research 25, no. 9 (2011): 1294-1300.
25. Bushey, Brandon, Lem W. Taylor, Colin W. Wilborn, Chris Poole, Cliffa A. Foster, Bill Campbell, Richard B. Kreider, and Darryn S. Willoughby. “Fenugreek extract supplementation has no effect on the hormonal profile of resitance-trained males.” In International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings, vol. 2, no. 1, p. 13. 2009.