Chopping wood in the forest with your shirt off; being able to fix any problem with a car; drinking straight whiskey from the bottle. These things are still considered by many to be the archetype of masculinity.
Though we’re all now (finally) aware there’s slightly more to being a man than all that, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t still feel a pressure to live up to the stereotypes at least a little. Not to mention: being fit and strong is damn useful (not to mention, usually, a sign of good health).
So what happens when your flannel shirt starts sliding off your skinny shoulders, your wrench keeps slipping from your fingers and whisky starts to become a night cap not a night starter?
As your testosterone slowly dwindles away after your 30s onwards, the above caricature may start to hit a little too close to home. The primary sex hormone in males, testosterone is the key ingredient that helps to develop a man’s nether regions, sees him through puberty and is what we can impart blame upon for our hairy (or not so hairy) bodies (or bald heads), it’s something all men need.
But, as we get older, the level of testosterone in our bodies starts to decline, usually between the ages fo 30 to 39. Worse: other external factors can cause it to decline at a faster rate. In situations where men exhibit lower levels of testosterone – or T – that would otherwise be considered normal, there are testosterone supplements that can be taken to help top you up.
For some high-profile celebrities, testosterone supplements are also taken to keep energy levels on the up, which they claim assists them in remaining successful in life. Joe Rogan, for example, has previously admitted on an episode of his podcast (start at 34:30) that he takes testosterone supplements, citing age as the primary reason. Though he claims not to be taking anything crazy, but rather just raising his testosterone to what it used to be naturally when he was 27, others are still not convinced.
There is still a stigma around admitting you take testosterone supplements. As Rogan points out, guys who get older feel too embarrassed to talk about the fact their bodies are changing, and their hormone levels are depleting, so he sees no reason to not take supplements.
We agree that there is a stigma. But the question is: is it deserved? Are we irrationally afraid of testosterone supplements or is there good reason to be suspicious?
Rogan claims testosterone supplements help him to feel young and perform to his full potential. “It’s really simple, I want my body to work better, I want it to perform better.”
“So I talked to doctors, and I liked to talk to jacked doctors. The doctors that I know, that work in hormone replacement, they’re all like in their 60s, and they look like they’re in their 40s.”
He further admits it’s not just as simple as popping a few pills, as you need to make sure your diet and sleeping habits are good, and you should also get a blood test first to actually check your current hormone levels. It would be silly to resort to testosterone supplements if you’re not already doing all you can to maximise your health with your sleep and diet.
It’s also unclear whether Rogan is referring to him taking supplements or whether he has been prescribed actual T by his doctors – something potentially dangerous, which you can only get on a prescription basis. This is significantly more risky than supplements. The focus of this article is not on this kind of prescription therapy, but rather on over the counter supplements – and whether they are a rip-off or effective.
In any case: masculine icons like Rogan are helping testosterone supplements are being seen as less of a taboo and more something that more men are considering integrating into their daily lives.
Indeed, Greg Young, co-founder of Body Science told DMARGE that “the last decade has seen much better education about testosterone supplements, which has resulted in opening the conversation around them and drawing attention to their widespread benefits.”
“Their benefits expand far beyond the commonly known ones, such as increased muscle strength, physical endurance and sexual function, but to longevity, mood, mental acuity benefits and many more.”
DMARGE dove into the deep end to ask: what are the benefits, and what are the risks of taking testosterone supplements in 2021.
What Are Testosterone Supplements?
So, we’ve already waxed lyrical about testosterone supplements and who takes them for what reasons, but we haven’t yet dived into what they actually are. Time for a biology lesson.
Testosterone supplements are usually herbal remedies that all claim to have benefits with regards to improving sex drive and sperm count, aiding with an increase in muscle mass, and helping to develop your overall body composition. However, it must be said that – according to Healthline – there is actually little research to support their effectiveness, and it could be various lifestyle factors that are actually causing a decline in your levels of T.
Testosterone supplements can include:
- Vitamin D
- D-Aspartic Acid
- Tribulus Terrestis
Who Should Take Testosterone Supplements?
Your initial reaction to this question (and ours too) would be to say it’s mainly older guys who are advised to take testosterone supplements. But according to Greg, that’s not necessarily the case.
As Greg tells us, “All men can find benefit in a natural testosterone booster, and Body Science expert Dr Brad McEwen adds men and even women of all ages can have reason to take them.”
“It’s important to note here that a natural testosterone booster is not adding ‘more’ of the hormones to your body, it is simply enhancing what is already there.”
“Our busy lifestyles, training regimes and constant daily stimulants, all play a role in diminishing our testosterone. This can often lead to us feeling sluggish, demotivated and more succumbing to other low testosterone related symptoms.”
“A great example of a natural testosterone booster is the Body Science Triandrobol Test, which is loaded with high quality, therapeutic ingredients at clinical dosages. It also includes Vitamin K2, which has some incredible research around supporting long-term cardiovascular and bone health.”
And, speaking to Brad’s earlier words that men and women of all ages can take T supplements, Greg continues,
“What’s also interesting is that many of the studies which follow the positive effects of testosterone supplementation on ‘middle-aged’ test subjects, ‘middle-aged’ is considered 25 years old and above!”
“This is because, although T is the main hormone associated with muscle mass, strength gains and of course, muscle retention, many of today’s T supplements combine other ingredients that work in synchronicity with testosterone to increase benefits and results for those of all ages.”
“We have young, busy professionals, entrepreneurs and university students who work full-time jobs, train daily and lead busy lives. They often lack sleep and don’t get to recover optimally from their training or day-to-day lives, this is a recipe for lowering your testosterone levels.”
“The same goes for young men who exert themselves heavily (athletes for example) they are likely to require a ‘boost’ to assist the regulation of testosterone levels in their body to ensure they are constantly performing at their best.”
Who Shouldn’t Take Testosterone Supplements?
Anyone who is not convinced by their claims, and who has been made suspicious about the lack of evidence for their effectiveness (see more on that below).
Which Celebrities Take Testosterone Supplements?
53-year-old Joe Rogan, 53-year-old Daniel Craig, 57-year-old Jeff Bezos, 65-year-old Mel Gibson, 74-year-old Sylvestre Stallone, 73-year-old Arnold Schwartzenegger, 49-year-old Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and 47-year-old English singer Robbie Williams have all been alleged to have taken some form of testosterone supplements at some point in their lives.
It is widely believed to be likely The Rock, Schwartzenegger and Stallone took more than supplements – and took steroids or had replacement therapy – at some point, with The Rock admitting he tried it briefly as a teenager when he had no idea how it worked. Steroids are significantly more effective, and significantly more risky than supplements (which can also be risky in themselves).
Do Testosterone Supplements Work?
As with anything you think about putting into your body, it’s normal to have reservations about whether they’ll have an actual effect or not. With products such as protein powders, for example, they all claim to have benefits with regards to increasing strength and muscle mass etc. But within that you have protein powders of varying qualities, which some users claim to either be incredibly bad or incredibly good. You’re not going to know until you try for yourself.
For testosterone supplements, you can be pretty sure you’re going to see some benefit, without needing to be as cautious with the brand, Greg from Body Science (a supplement company) claims.
Greg tells DMARGE, it’s common for people supplementing with a testosterone booster to experience any of the following:
- Enhanced sexual desire, male sexual performance and function
- Improved exercise performance and the work capacity of muscles
- Improved strength and muscle gains
- Reduced percentage of body fat
- Increased memory
- Increased mood
- Improved muscle retention, growth and overall body composition
- Better bone health
- Improved heart & blood health
“Negative side effects from natural testosterone boosters are uncommon,” he adds.
And, with regards to Joe Rogan’s claims that they give him extra energy in his later life, Greg agrees that testosterone supplements certainly have their uses.
“Not only of older men, but all males. In a recent episode of the Body Science podcast I spoke to Dr Chris McLellan about recent studies linking low testosterone levels to conditions such as depression, inflammation, infertility, muscle degradation, obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance, metabolic disorder and more.”
“A commonly known side effect of low testosterone is decreased energy, overall body fatigue and a low recovery rate from exercise, therefore improving your levels can improve these symptoms.”
Are There Any Risks?
According to Healthline one risk with natural testosterone supplements is if you do it without a medical professional taking a holistic view of your life and diet, you could end up taking too high levels of certain vitamins and minerals. This is not good, but isn’t typically anywhere near as bad as the side effects you can get from hormone replacement therapy or steroids.
The main risk, then, to natural boosters, would appear to be wasting your money for little results.
While Greg claims there are very few side effects recorded for natural testosterone boosters, the same can’t quite be said for other methods of increasing the levels of testosterone in your body. As Healthline says, testosterone replacement therapy – a method used to counteract naturally low levels of testosterone in the body, known as hypogonadism, can come with its side effects.
Note that testosterone replacement therapy is different to taking natural testosterone boosters.
Testosterone replacement therapy is only recommended to those who exhibit genuinely low levels of T in their body, and it has been found to potentially increase one’s risk of contracting “prostate cancer and cardiac issues.”
Therapy can also lead to other issues including testicular shrinkage, enlarged breasts, acne flares and sleep apnea.
Prescription hormone supplements can have a number of side effects including:
- increased chance of developing heart disease
- sleep apnea
- prostate growth
- high red blood cell counts, which could increase the risk of clotting
- breast swelling or tenderness
- ankle swelling
Because of these risks, supplements that contain actual testosterone are considered controlled substances and are available by prescription only.
Anything Else To Know?
Greg adds, “if anyone starting a new supplementation regime has reservations or concerns, we always recommend speaking with your healthcare progressional. Natural testosterone is an extremely safe and effective way of assisting with optimising your natural bodily hormones and to ensure your body is utilising these hormones to your advantage.”
“Quality testosterone boosters are formulated from research herbs, minerals and vitamins, therefore unless you have a known sensitivity or condition that could be affected by any of the individual ingredients, the majority of people will find it is not necessary to consult with their doctor.”
“My advice, buy from a reputable brand you trust and look at the label before you buy. I would always recommend a product listed not he Australian register of therapeutic goods. Somewhere on the label you’ll find a number, preceded by AUST L. Listed products are considered low risk by the TGA, and companies must manufacture in a world leading manufacturing standard, TGA licensed GMP facility, and be able to demonstrate scientific evidence around therapeutic claims, safety and quality.”
What Do The Naysayers Say?
According to Healthgrades, prescribed testosterone replacement therapy (i.e. the one that carries all the big scary risks mentioned above) is the only treatment proven to boost testosterone.
“Testosterone is a controlled substance,” Healthgrades states. “That means you can get it only with a prescription from your doctor. OTC testosterone boosters do not contain testosterone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate these products, so you really don’t know what they contain.”
“However, safe ways do exist to enhance your body’s natural testosterone. Diet and lifestyle changes are two examples. Certain dietary supplements might help, too.”
Healthline says as an alternative to prescription testosterone supplementation, some people turn to over-the-counter (OTC) options.
“These products promise to improve naturally decreasing testosterone levels. They’re often called ‘testosterone boosters’ and typically come in powdered form,” Healthline explains.
“These supplements don’t contain actual testosterone or other hormones. Instead, they contain herbs and other substances that are supposed to increase your natural production of testosterone.”
“But the evidence that these products are effective is limited.”
“Always consult your doctor before taking testosterone boosting products or other dietary supplements. It’s also important to look at the ingredients and evaluate their safety before you try one of these products.”
Are There Studies That Show Testosterone Boosters To Be Ineffective?
A 2019 study from the University Of Southern California found that many supplements on the market merely contain vitamins and minerals, but don’t do anything to improve testosterone.
Mary K. Samplaski, MD, assistant professor of clinical urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC said at the time, “Often, people can be vulnerable to the marketing component of these products, making it difficult to tease out what is myth and what is reality.”
As Science Daily reports, “Using a structured review approach, Samplaski and a team of researchers explored the active ingredients and advertised claims of 50 T boosting supplements.”
“Researchers performed a Google search with the search term ‘Testosterone Booster,’ thus mimicking a typical internet research for someone looking to increase testosterone levels, and then selected the first 50 products that came up in their search. Then, the team reviewed published scientific literature on testosterone and the 109 components found in the supplements. Zinc, fenugreek extract and vitamin B6 were three of the most common components in the supplements.”
“The team also compared the content for each supplement with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and the upper tolerable intake level (UL) as set by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science.”
“Of the 150 supplements, researchers came across 16 general claims to benefit patients, including claims to ‘boost T or free T,’ ‘build body lean mass or muscle mass,’ or ‘increase sex drive or libido.'”
“While 90% of the T booster supplements claimed to boost testosterone, researchers found that less than 25% of the supplements had data to support their claims. Many also contained high doses of vitamins and minerals, occasionally more than the tolerable limit.”
“Unlike drugs, supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases, according to the FDA. As such, Samplaski would like to see more regulation around testosterone-boosting supplements to protect consumers. She also would like to explore disseminating handouts to her patients with more accurate information in the hopes that it encourages patients to seek a medical professional for low testosterone issues.”
“While no one can escape the effects of aging, Samplaski says there is something men can do to address their concerns. ‘The safest and most effective way for men to boost low testosterone levels is to talk with a medical professional or a nutritionist,'” (Science Daily).
As Healthline states, “OTC testosterone boosting products make tempting promises to restore muscle mass, sexual function, and overall vitality.”
“But proceed with caution if you’re thinking of using one. Most of the ingredients don’t actually increase testosterone levels, and some carry serious health risks.”
“A better solution is to see your doctor for a testosterone level test. Your doctor can help you identify treatment options that are best for you.”