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Myth Busters

  • Why Turkesterone is not worth the hype

    Why Turkesterone is not worth the hype

     

    Over the last 12 months, Turkesterone (and other ecdysteroid supplements) has taken the fitness world by storm. 

     

    And with claims that it can boost strength and accelerate muscle growth in a manner that is comparable to steroids, you can see why.

     

    But is this accurate?

     

    What is Turkesterone?

     

    Turkesterone is a specific type of ecdysteroid.

     

    An ecdysteroid is a type of hormone with a similar chemical makeup to many of the androgenic hormones found in humans (androgens are a type of hormone that promotes the development of muscle tissue, among many other things) -- with the most famous being testosterone.

     

    However, unlike the androgens found in the human body, turkesterone is made by plants, insects, and crustaceans. In plants, turkesterone acts to deter insects, whereas, in animals, it facilitates the 'shedding' of their exoskeleton. 

     

    Why the hype around Turkesterone?

     

    You might be wondering why turkesterone has taken off as the "next big thing" in the supplement industry. And it largely comes down to its molecular structure.

     

    As already outlined, when put under a microscope, turkesterone looks eerily similar to one of the most potent androgenic compounds in the human body, testosterone.

     

    And considering that testosterone has potent muscle building capabilities, it seems logical to suggest that turkesterone may have similar benefits in humans.

     

    With that in mind, Turkesterone has been suggested to not only create muscle growth but also enhance fat loss, increase strength, accelerate recovery, and even promote the development of bone and tendons.

     

    However, this may not be the case.

     

    Turkesterone: What does the research say?

    If you want to get an understanding of how effective turkesterone really is, it is worth taking a dive through the archives and exploring some of the research on the topic.

     

    The first study on Turkesterone was conducted in Russia way back in 1984. In this study, they gave some mice a bunch of Turkesterone. They found that it increases muscle protein synthesis immediately after consumption [1], suggesting that it might promote muscle growth in other animals.

     

    Then, in 1996, a follow-up study was conducted on quails (birds) [2]. 

     

    In this study, they gave a bunch of quails a relatively high dose of Turkesterone for 50 days. After the 50 days were up, they found that the quals taking Turkesterone gained much more muscle mass than those who were not.

     

    Promising results for turkesterone, right?

     

    Well, not so fast.

     

    As far as Direct turkesterone research goes, this is where it stops. To date, no formal research has been conducted looking at the effect of turkesterone on humans.

     

    However, there has been some published research looking at the effect of other ecdysteroids (similar to turkesterone) in humans, with some interesting results.

     

    Ecdysteroid Research in Humans 

     

    The first (of two) human trials looking at ecdysteroids in humans was published in 2006 [3]. 

     

    In this study, they randomly allocated males to either a placebo group or a group that took 200mg of an ecdysteroid per day. Then both groups completed the same weight training program for 8 weeks.

     

    Interestingly, they found no difference between groups in muscle size and strength gains.

     

    From there, the research around ecdysteroids went quiet -- until a paper was published in 2019 that kickstarted the turkesterone supplement rage we know today [4].

     

    In this study, the researchers split trained males into one of three groups:

     

    1. Placebo group (no ecdysteroid)
    2. Low group (taking 200mg of ecdysteroids per day)
    3. High group (taking 800mg of ecdysteroids per day)

     

    Then they put all three groups through the same 10-week weight training program. Interestingly, while all groups saw the same improvements in strength, both of the ecdysteroid groups saw greater increases in muscle mass than the placebo group, and the greatest gains were observed in the high dose group.

     

    Many people saw this as a huge win for ecdysteroids, including turkesterone -- but there is a part of the study that is often overlooked.

     

    The researchers also took the ecdysteroid supplement they used through full laboratory analysis, and what they found was very interesting. Instead of the supplement containing 100mg of ecdysteroid per capsule, they only contained 6mg.

     

    No, that is not a typo -- the supplement contained a mere 6% of what was advertised.

     

    This means that it is highly unlikely that ecdysteroids could explain these findings. 

     

    While we have yet to have a clear answer as to why the ecdysteroid groups saw larger increases in size, I have a couple of thoughts.

     

    Firstly, there were only about 14 participants per group in this study. As such, there is a possibility that some of the individuals allocated to the placebo group were "hard gainers", which could have influenced this result.

     

    Secondly, muscle mass was measured using a bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) scale, which can be notoriously inaccurate (especially compared to a DEXA scan). As a result, this finding may have also been partially explained by measurement error.

     

    All of which is to say turkesterone and other Ecdysteroids are not all they're cracked up to be.

     

    If that's what you are even getting in the bottle in the first place…

     

    Am I Even Getting Turkesterone?

    I want to highlight that many supplement companies selling Turkesterone are a little dodgy. Which makes you wonder if they are even providing the compound in what we would consider "possibly effective doses."

     

    The above study is an example of that, where they found that the turkesterone supplement they used contained 6% of what was advertised on the label. But this is not an isolated finding.

     

    A recent study looked to see how many ecdysteroid supplements contain what is on the label, and the results were what you might expect. Of the eleven supplements analyzed, none of them had what was advertised, and six had less than 20% of what was advertised [5].

     

    All of this is to say that even if you think turkesterone could work, you're probably not buying it in the first place.

     

    Why Do People Swear By Turkesterone?

     

    Considering all the information presented leans towards turkesterone being ineffective, you might wonder why so many people swear by it as a supplement. I have a reasonable explanation that goes beyond the placebo effect.

     

    When people invest in something new, they get excited about it. 

     

    As a result, they may subconsciously apply more effort towards achieving their goals.

     

    For example, if someone hears great things about Turkesterone, they might buy some. This financial investment creates a sense of importance, where they want to make the most out of the supplement they have purchased.

     

    In turn, they might find themselves a little more motivated to train. They might subconsciously push themselves a little harder in the gym, and pay a little more attention to their diet than normal.

     

    Obviously, their results improve. But this is not due to the turkesterone -- it is due to them unknowingly putting in more effort.

     

    A simple explanation. But a plausible one.

     

    The Lowdown on Turkesterone

     

    In short, turkesterone is not worth the hype.

     

    While there may be some promising animal research on the topic, all ecdysteroids have been proven ineffective in increasing strength and muscle growth in long term human trials.

     

    Moreover, with published research showing that practically all Turkesterone (and other ecdysteroids) supplements are underdosed, we suggest staying away from these supplements altogether.

     

    Stick to the basic, folks. 

     

    References:

    1. Syrov, V. N. "Mechanism of the anabolic action of phytoecdisteroids in mammals." Nauchnye Doklady Vysshei shkoly. Biologicheskie Nauki. No. 11. 1984.
    2. Slama, K., et al. "Insect hormones in vertebrates: anabolic effects of 20-hydroxyecdysone in Japanese quail." Experientia 52.7 (1996): 702-706.
    3. Wilborn, Colin D., et al. "Effects of methoxyisoflavone, ecdysterone, and sulfo-polysaccharide supplementation on training adaptations in resistance-trained males." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 3.2 (2006): 19.
    4. Isenmann, Eduard, et al. "Ecdysteroids as non-conventional anabolic agent: performance enhancement by ecdysterone supplementation in humans." Archives of toxicology 93.7 (2019): 1807-1816.

    Ambrosio, Gabriella, et al. "How reliable is dietary supplement labelling?—Experiences from the analysis of ecdysterone supplements." Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis 177 (2020): 112877.

  • Tribulus terrestris truth or hype

    Tribulus terrestris (tribulus) is a dicotyledonous herbal plant of the Zygophyllaceae family. The plant is widely naturalised and extracts of its fruits and aerial parts have been used in ancient medicine for its diuretic, tonic and aphrodisiac properties. It was also claimed that the use of tribulus could increase the body's natural testosterone levels, and hence can improve male sexual performance and enhance muscle building potential. Here we review the scientific evidence available about the effects of tribulus on human sexual performance, testosterone levels and exercise performance.

    Tribulus extracts has been shown to possess aphrodisiac effects on rats (Gauthaman et al 2002, Life Sciences). Supplementation of tribulus has been shown to significantly increase serum testosterone levels in a limited number of animal studies (Qureshi et al 2014, Journal of Dietary Supplements). One recent study found that tribulus supplementation can improve desire in women with hypoactive (not active) sexual desire disorder and may be used as a form of treatment in the future for such disorders (Raisi et al 2014, Daru). However, the use of tribulus did not appear to have any effects on male erectile dysfunction in a recent randomise, double-blind study (Santos et al 2014, Actas Urologicas Espanolas).

    The effect of tribulus on testosterone levels has been debated. Even though some claimed that tribulus supplementation could increase serum testosterone levels in some animals, such effect has not been observed in humans. Evidence to date suggests that tribulus is ineffective for increasing testosterone levels in human (Qureshi et al 2014, Journal of Dietary Supplements).

    Supplementation of tribulus extracts also showed no significant effects on the body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males compared to the placebo (Antonio et al 2000, International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism). Supplementation of tribulus over a 5-week period did not increase strength and lean muscle mass in twenty-two Australian male rugby league players (Rogerson et al 2007, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research).

    The existing scientific literature on the effects of tribulus on humans is still quite limited. Nevertheless, the data available to date indicates that the hype surrounding tribulus extracts is not warranted. To date, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that tribulus increases testosterone levels in humans. Furthermore, there is a lack of scientific evidence to suggest that it helps to improve athletic performance or to increase muscle mass. The best way to improve your performance is to through proper training, good rest and proper nutrition, there are no shorts-cuts or quick fixes.

  • Nitric oxide supplements

    Nitric oxide (NO) supplements are very popular in the sports and bodybuilding community. The NO molecule has been found to play an important role in many functions in the human body including mitochondrial respiration (and hence energy metabolism), blood flow, vasodilation and implicated in my own research, neuronal functions and developments. Nitric oxide is synthesized via two physiological pathways, I won't bore you with the details, all you need to know here is that L-arginine acts as a main precursor of the first pathway whereas nitrate is the substrate used to produce NO by the second pathway. It was hypothesized that NO supplementation can enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery to active muscles and hence improve performance. Truth or myth, let's find out.

    L-arginine works on the first NO pathway and it has been proposed that taking L-arginine can increase NO levels and subsequently exercise performance. However, oral L-arginine supplementation has been found to unable to elevate NO levels in the test subjects and did not improve strength performance (Alveare et al 2012, Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism). Other studies further suggested that the supplementation of L-arginine had no effects on the hormone and NO levels in the body and had no effect on performance (da Silva et al 2014, Food and Nutrition Research; Zajac et al 2010, Journal of Strength and Conditioning). There are some contradicting reports showing L-arginine has a somewhat measurable effect on hormone levels and exercise performance. However, the general consensus of the scientific community is that there is a lack of concrete evidence to support the claim that oral L-arginine supplementation has a positive effect on NO levels in the body and exercise performance.

    Nitrate is converted into nitrite after ingestion and can be converted into nitric oxide when the body's oxygen availability is low. The supplementation of nitrate has been shown to lower oxygen demand during submaximal workout, and improves exercise efficiency (Larson et al 2007, Acta Physiologica). It was suggested by one study that nitrate should be consumed 2-3 hours prior to competition or training for maximum benefits (Jones et al 2012, Medicine and Sports Science).

    One of the common flaws of the studies involving NO supplements and exercise performance is that only young males were used as subjects. To my knowledge, the effects of NO supplements on exercise performance in older males or women have not been yet been explored as of today. The effect of oral L-arginine supplementation is debated and the outcome is not conclusive. The use of nitrate supplements has shown to improve exercise performance in some and may be used for their ergogenic potentials.

  • Too much food or too little exercise? The myth of weight gain

    Many have blamed the current obesity epidemic on the food and beverage industries, with the increased consumption of high-calorie foods and sugary drinks being the primary cause of our society's ever-increasing waistline. Although it is true that having a healthy and nutritious diet is important for weight control and a healthy life, researchers found it's in fact the lack of exercise that is the primary contributor of being overweight.

    The study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in July 2014 analysed US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 to 2010 and found that the average BMI increased by 0.37% per year in both men and women and the average waist circumference increased by 0.37% per year in women and 0.27% per year in men in the past two decades. The prevalence of obesity and abdominal obesity has increased substantially, especially in young women aged between 18-39.

    Interestingly, in contrary to popular notion, the calorie intake remained steady in the past 2 decades; the daily carb, fat and protein consumptions had not altered significantly either. What changed was the significant decrease in the amount of leisure time physical activities in the general population. The percentage of people reported no physical activity had jumped from 19.1% to 51.7% for women and 11.4% to 43.5% for men between 1994 and 2010.

    The study also identified the prevalence of abdominal obesity in normal-weight women. Indicating women are more prone to gain weight around their waist than men on a population level, at least in America. Abdominal obesity can increase the risk of mortality even in young people with normal BMI. It is defined by waist circumference of 88cm and more in women and 102cm and more in men. This increase in waistline is primarily caused by a lack of physical activity.

    No one is denying that a healthy, balanced diet is essential for body weight control. However, the increased prevalence in obesity is not correlated with increased calorie intake, as we were made to believe. The ever-increasing waistline of the population is in fact associated with the ever-decreasing amount of physical activities we do. Your health is in your own hands. Be sure try to eat well, but more importantly, stay active. There are no shortcuts to good health, and nothing replaces good ol' physical activity.

  • Garcinia Cambogia, truth or myth?

    There has been a lot of hype surrounding the use of garcinia cambogia for weight loss. People who rely heavily on reducing calorie intake to lose weight usually experience terrible success rates and even if the diet program was successful, they usually put the weight back on as soon as reverting back to a normal diet. Here comes garcinia cambogia, also known scientifically as garcinia gummi-gutta, a tropical plant naturally found in the jungles of South East Asia, India and Africa, which has been claimed to suppress appetite hence aid weight loss by a number of high profile healthcare professionals.

     

    So does garcinia cambogia really work? Well, let's be direct here, there are currently no definitive clinical proof to indicate that garcinia cambogia works for weight loss in humans. The active ingredient of garcinia cambogia is called hydroxycitric acid, which has been found to inhibited fat production and increase serotonin secretion, hence lead to decreased appetite and subsequently weight loss in rats. However, rats are not humans, the results in human studies were less encouraging. It has been shown that garcinia cambogia caused no decrease in appetite in women compared to the placebo, and a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association showed that subjects taking garcinia cambogia actually lost less weight compared to the placebo, even though the result was not statistically significant. The limitation with the latter study, was that the test subjects were already on a high-fiber, low-calorie diet, therefore, the results only proved that nothing is better than a healthy good diet, even garcinia cambogia.

    Other scientific studies involving garcinia cambogia have showed mixed results, and even when a statistically significant influence on body weight was detected, the effect was still marginal. This, in a scientific context, rendered garcinia cambogia clinically ineffective for weight loss. A drug that only works less than 50% of the times with marginal results would not be deemed efficacious.

    However, one needs to understand that scientific studies usually, here I say usually, take the average results of the subjects tested, thus studies found that garcinia cambogia was ineffective for weight loss may be pverlooking those lucky few who might had lost weight by taking it. A search online showed mixed reviews of the product, with some claiming that it worked wonders on them while many others said it was ineffective and quite a few actually reported weight gain after the commencement of their garcinia cambogia regimes. These reviews, if credible, give a snapshot of the effectiveness of garcinia cambogia in real-life situations and it actually concured with the published studies. As stated previously, despite the global media frenzy, garcinia cambogia showed no consistent clinical benefit on weight loss as of the day this article was written. The best-proven method for natural weight loss is still through regular exercise combined with health eating, there is certainly no shortcut to get around that yet.

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