Tribulus terrestris, also known as Puncture vine, is an herb commonly used in Chinese medicine. It is a tropical, vine-like plant that is found in southern Europe, southern Asia, Africa, and Australia. It has been known and used in the East for centuries. In China and India, tribulus terrestris is promoted as a remedy for problems with the liver, kidneys, and cardiovascular system. It is currently marketed in Eastern Europe for urinary genital support, energy and stamina, libido, and urogenital infections, based on research conducted in Bulgaria and Russia.
In the 1990’s, tribulus terrestris was brought to the West by Eastern European Olympic athletes who said it helped their sports performance. It is also used for infertility, erectile dysfunction, and low libido. Tribulus terrestris was initially thought to act in a similar manner to ginseng, but studies have shown the two herbs operate on completely different mechanisms. To this day, in Ayurvedic medicine, the fruit of tribulus terrestris is considered an effective tonic for many conditions. In particular, it is widely used for the treatment of urinary and kidney disorders. Its effects are hypothesised to be due to a relaxant effect on smooth muscle, thus improving circulation.
The active compounds in tribulus terrestris are steroidal precursors known as saponins. There are two types of saponins in tribulus: fursotanol glycosides and spirostanol glycosides, both found in the leaf of the plant. Steroidal saponins are not anabolic steroids, rather they are building blocks for steroids and help the body manufacture its own steroids. Steroids can raise testosterone levels and stimulate muscle growth. Testosterone plays a role in muscle building, hence the appeal of tribulus terrestris to bodybuilders, as well as libido and fertility. Some body builders use tribulus as “post cycle therapy” after using anabolic steroids, in order to restore the testosterone levels found naturally in the body.
Studies on the effectiveness of tribulus terrestris have shown mixed results. Preliminary studies on animal models do show an increase in sexual behaviour as well as intracavernous pressure with the use of tribulus terrestris. However, these findings have yet to be confirmed in well-designed human trials. Although tribulus terrestris is popular as a booster to athletic performance, at least one well-designed study showed no difference in results between people who took tribulus terrestris or a placebo. Interestingly, in that study, the placebo group showed greater improvements in muscular endurance. The tribulus group, on the other hand, showed an increase only in leg press strength.
Whether tribulus terrestris actually increases testosterone levels is debatable. Some animal studies show that it does increase testosterone, as well as dihydrotestosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone. Another found that a supplement containing herbal extracts including T. terrestris, was no more effective at raising testosterone levels than androstenedione alone.
As with most herbs, there may be variability in the effects from person to person. As yet there are no known significant adverse side effects from taking tribulus terrestris, so it can be taken safely and the results measured individually. The only mild side effects noticed to date have been stomach upset, which is corrected by taking it with food, and rarely, gynaecomastia or an increase in breast size. Stopping administration of tribulus terrestris corrects this problem.
Usual dosing of tribulus terrestris is between 85 to 250mg three times per day, with meals. Pregnant or nursing women should not use tribulus terresstris, nor should anyone with a hormone dependent disease such as breast or prostate cancer.
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