Using plants for medicine is not new. For thousands of years, many civilizations have utilized the power of plants to treat medical conditions.
Nowadays, a number of these plants are contained with popular dietary supplements. Tribulus Terrestris is one such botanical that has been linked with an array of health benefits.
In this article, we will review scientific research that has been conducted on Tribulus Terrestris to determine its uses and benefits.
What is Tribulus Terrestris?
Tribulus Terrestris is a small leafy plant native to tropical countries in Africa, Asia, Australasia, North America, and Southern Europe. The plant is sometimes referred to as caltrop, goat’s head, Gokshura, and puncture vine.
As stated, plants have been used in medicine for centuries – Tribulus Terrestris is no different. Both traditional Chinese and Indian medicine use the plant for a variety of treatments.
The plant was specifically used to increase libido, reduce swelling, and promote urinary tract health
However, nowadays Tribulus Terrestris is taken for other reasons including enhancing testosterone, athletic performance, body composition, and heart health.
How Does It Work?
Chemical compounds known as saponins are attributed with causing a number of positive changes in health. These compounds are found in many plants, including Tribulus Terrestris.
Saponins have been attributed to improving the immune system, lowering cholesterol and blood glucose levels, and reducing disease risk (1).
Tribulus Terrestris supplements typically contain 45-60% saponins. It is hypothesized that by taking these supplements and enhancing saponin intake health can significantly improve.
Is It Safe?
Studies that have been conducted on Tribulus Terrestris supplementation have not determined any significant risk.
Many different dosages of Tribulus Terrestris have been used in these studies. Regardless of dosage, serious side effects were not experienced and no safety concerns were raised (2).
However, there have been isolated cases where Tribulus Terrestris supplementation appears to have caused toxicity (3).
Tribulus Terrestris Health Benefits
There are a number of proposed benefits associated with tribulus terrestris. This section will review the scientific research that has been conducted on the effectiveness of the plant.
1. Increases Testosterone Levels
What the Science Says
Most tribulus terrestris supplements claim to improve testosterone levels in men. The impact of enhancing testosterone production is significant and can lead to a number of changes.
A number of studies on animals have found a potential link between tribulus terrestris and enhancing testosterone (4).
However, while this may be the case in animals, the science doesn’t support claims that it increases testosterone production in humans.
One particular review assessed the findings of twelve studies that investigated the effects that tribulus terrestris had on men and women.
Upon analysis, it was concluded that it did not have a substantial impact on testosterone levels (5).
2. Improves Body Composition
What the Science Says
From fat burners to protein, one of the most common reasons for taking supplements is to improve body composition.
Another proposed benefit of tribulus terrestris supplements is enhancing body composition by adding muscle or reducing body fat.
Testosterone has been shown to significantly influence body composition. Therefore, many of these claims are based on the belief that tribulus terrestris boosts testosterone levels (6).
However, considering that the plant does not appear to increase testosterone levels, it will not cause body compositional changes.
Due to a lack of research, It is currently unclear if the plant can influence body composition in other ways.
3. Facilitates Athletic Performance
What the Science Says
Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performance. Certain supplements, such as creatine, have consistently been shown to improve muscle power and performance.
Research assessing tribulus terrestris supplements and performance has not found any positive correlation.
One particular study investigated the impact of tribulus terrestris supplements on the performance of elite rugby players.
After five weeks of weight training, no significant differences were found between supplemented and non-supplemented groups (7).
A second study determined that supplementation did not improve body composition, endurance, and strength when compared to a control group (8).
4. Enhances Blood Glucose Control
What the Science Says
Being able to control blood glucose levels can have a significant impact on health. Additionally, for diabetics, controlling blood glucose levels is vitally important.
Although tribulus terrestris is commonly taken for other reasons, it may help to improve blood glucose control.
Studies into the topic prescribed type two diabetics with 1,000 mg of tribulus terrestris each day.
After a three month period, results showed that the women had lower blood sugar (9). Researchers have attributed this to the impact of the chemical compound, saponin (10).
While research is stronger for blood glucose control, more is required to confirm these findings.
5. Promotes Heart Health
What the Science Says
In addition to reducing blood sugar, tribulus terrestris has been accredited with decreasing cholesterol levels.
Studies on animals have suggested that the plant may prevent blood vessel damage and increases blood cholesterol levels (11).
This is highly significant when we consider that both blood vessel damage and high cholesterol can contribute to heart diseases.
While these studies are encouraging, these results should be treated with caution. Future research should be conducted on humans to determine the effects it has on the body.
6. Boosts Libido
What the Science Says
As highlighted, it seems unlikely that tribulus terrestris causes an increase in testosterone levels. However, while it may not increase testosterone, it may enhance libido.
Researchers prescribed individuals with diminished sex drives with daily doses of tribulus terrestris over a two month period.
At the end of the two months, it was noted that men’s sexual desire increased by 79%. Meanwhile, 67% of women experienced enhanced sexual desire (5).
Many other studies on the topic have come to similar conclusions and have determined that the supplements may improve libido (12).
It does appear that tribulus terrestris may have a positive impact on libido. However, as with blood sugar control, additional research is required to clarify the effects.
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, it has been claimed that the plant can have a range of other effects including:
- Improving fluid balance
- Enhancing the immune system
- Boosting cognitive function brain
- Reducing inflammation
- Relieving pain
- Reducing cancer risk
There is a distinct lack of research on the impact of tribulus terrestris. Therefore, these potential benefits should be treated cautiously until more research has been conducted.
While tribulus terrestris appears to be safe, some minor side effects have been reported, including:
- Irregular periods
- Stomach cramps
- Upset stomach
Usage and Dosing Considerations
With so many types of tribulus terrestris supplement available and a lack of research, it’s challenging to recommend a specific dosage.
To complicate things further, studies on tribulus terrestris have utilized a variety of doses.
Some studies use specific ranges, such as 250 – 1500 mg per day, whereas other studies prescribe dosages based on body weight.
The best advice to select a high-quality tribulus terrestris supplement and adhere to their manufacturer’s dosage guidelines. If unsure, speak to a qualified nutritionist or dietician.
Risks and Precautions
While side effects appear to be minor, there is a concern in regards to nephrotoxicity or toxicity of the kidneys.
Research on rats indicates that the supplement may contribute to kidney damage (13). Furthermore, a study on one individual concluded that it may have caused nephrotoxicity (14).
Additionally, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid tribulus terrestris supplements. Research on animals suggests that the plant may impact fetal development (15).
Finally, it is possible that it interferes with other medications. Therefore, those who take medication must consult their physician before taking tribulus terrestris supplements.
What does tribulus terrestris do to the body?
Tribulus terrestris may be supplemented for a number of reasons. These include increasing testosterone, improving body composition, enhancing libido, and improving general health.
The plant contains a compound known as saponins which may bring about a number of changes in health and function.
Unfortunately, it does appear that tribulus terrestris does little for increasing testosterone, improving body composition, and enhancing athletic performance.
However, there is substantial evidence to suggest that it may enhance libido, improve heart health, and promote blood sugar control.
How much tribulus terrestris should be taken per day?
A wide variety of doses have been utilized in many studies. Therefore, it is difficult to determine the correct amount for optimal improvements.
The best advice is to adhere to the dosage guidelines on the supplement. If unclear, speak to a nutritionist, dietician, or doctor for further advice.
When should tribulus terrestris be taken?
Many supplements and medications need to be taken at particular times typically around mealtimes. However, it appears that Tribulus Terrestris is best taken between meals.
Once again, however, check the supplement guidelines.
How long does tribulus terrestris take to work?
There are many factors that will determine how long Tribulus Terrestris takes to work. This includes dosage, physical characteristics, and the purpose behind taking the supplement.
The differing lengths of studies make it difficult to determine the length of time required for supplementation to take effect.
For example, the study on libido involved two months of supplementation while the athletic performance study ran for five weeks.
Can tribulus terrestris actually boost testosterone levels?
The studies that have been performed on tribulus terrestris suggest that the plant does not enhance testosterone levels.
However, it must be noted that there is a distinct lack of human trials. More research is required to clarify the relationship between tribulus terrestris and testosterone production.
In addition to being used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine,tTribulus terrestris is a plant that is supplemented by many.
The research conducted on the effectiveness of Tribulus Terrestris is inconclusive. This is partly because many studies have been conducted on animals rather than humans.
That said, the limited human studies have provided some evidence to suggest that the plant may enhance blood sugar control.
Furthermore, it is possible that the plant impacts cholesterol levels thus promoting heart health.
Evidence that Tribulus Terrestris causes an increase in testosterone is lacking. Consequently, the plant may be ineffective for enhancing body composition and athletic performance.
While it may not boost testosterone levels, there are studies to suggest that it can improve libido in both sexes.
The plant does appear to be safe to consume but may cause some minor side effects. It is vital that a doctor is consulted prior to taking Tribulus Terrestris supplements.
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