I’m happy to report that our research group (SupplementWatch) has recently completed a clinical trial of a traditional Malaysian herbal product for treating stress, improving mood, and boosting energy levels.
The full results will be submitted for publication is a scientific journal as well as presented at the American College of Nutrition (ACN) Scientific Conference in November and the International Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conference (ISENC) in December – so please stay tuned for updates in the near future.
In the meantime, I wanted to provide a quick overview of the supplement, because I guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot about “Tongkat ali” in the coming months.
On a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show, I spoke with Dr. Oz about Eurycoma longifolia, or Tongkat ali, a Malaysian root often called Malaysian ginseng for its energy-boosting effects (article here). Tongkat ali is a safe and effective natural way to bring stress hormones such as cortisol and testosterone levels back to within normal ranges; I consider it as probably the best first-line therapy for anybody suffering from chronic stress and fatigue. In traditional Malaysian medicine, eurycoma is used as an “anti-aging” remedy because of its positive effects on energy levels and mental outlook, which are most likely the result of improved biochemical balance (ratio between cortisol/testosterone).
Tongkat ali Overview
Eurycoma is an herbal medicinal plant found in South East Asia and commonly called Tongkat ali. In traditional medicine, it is used as a general health tonic and for improvement in physical/mental energy levels and overall quality of life. The roots of Tongkat ali, often called “Malaysian ginseng,” are used as a traditional “anti- aging” remedy, while modern dietary supplements are intended to improve libido and energy, restore hormonal balance (cortisol/testosterone levels) and improve both sports performance and weight loss.
In both men and women, testosterone levels peak between 25 to 30 years of age, while at the age of 60, testosterone levels are typically only 40-50% of youthful levels and may be lower due to stress and related lifestyle issues such as diet, exercise, and sleep patterns. The benefits of maintaining a youthful testosterone levels are many, including increased muscle mass and reduced body fat, high psychological vigor (mental/physical energy), and improved general well-being.
A wide range of studies, from laboratory investigations, to animal feeding studies, to human supplementation trials, have confirmed the health benefits and traditional use of Tongkat ali root extract. Laboratory evidence shows that Eurycoma peptides stimulate release of free testosterone from its binding proteins and improve overall hormone profiles. More than a dozen rodent feeding studies have demonstrated improved sex drive, balanced hormonal profiles, and enhanced physical function. Human supplementation trials, show an indication of reduced fatigue, heightened energy and mood, and greater sense of well-being in subjects consuming Tongkat ali root extracts.
In the just-completed study, 63 subjects (32 Men and 31 women) were pre-screened for moderate levels of psychological stress. Subjects were supplemented daily with a very specific tongkat ali extract (called Physta) or a look-alike placebo for 4 weeks. Over the course of the supplementation period, we found significant improvements in the Physta group for Tension (-11%), Irritiability (-12%), and Confusion (-15%) – indicating that the people taking the tongkat ali supplement simply “felt better” compared to the placebo group. Stress hormone profile (salivary cortisol and testosterone) was significantly improved by Physta supplementation, with reduced cortisol exposure (-16%), increased free testosterone status (+37%) and overall improved cortisol:testosterone ratio (-36%). These results indicate that daily supplementation with Physta improves stress hormone profile and mood state parameters, suggesting that Physta may be an effective approach to shielding the body from the detrimental effects of chronic stress.
If you’re interested in some additional in-depth information about tongkat ali – I’ll include an excerpt from a scientific review article that I am working on… The “take-away” from all of the tongkat ali research is that a “proper” extract will help with energy, mood, and mental function (what we collectively refer to as “vigor” in psychology research) – but there are a lot of tainted and fake and ineffective supplements on the market that tout themselves as “real” tongkat ali.
Buy your eurycoma from a reputable company!
Eurycoma (Eurycoma longifolia) is an herbal medicinal plant found in South East Asia (Malaysia, Vietnam, Java, Sumatra, Thailand). In Malaysia, it is commonly called Tongkat ali and has many medicinal properties as a general health tonic, including improvement in physical and mental energy levels and overall quality of life.1,2 The roots of Tongkat ali, often called “Malaysian ginseng,” are used as a traditional “anti-aging” remedy to help older individuals adapt to the reduced energy, mood, and libido that often comes with age.3, 4, 5, 6, 7 In modern dietary supplements, Tongkat ali can be found in a variety of products intended to improve libido and energy, restore hormonal balance (cortisol/testosterone levels) and improve both sports performance and weight loss.
In both men and women, testosterone levels peak between 25 to 30 years of age – and thereafter drop approximately 1-2% annually.8, 9 At the age of 60, testosterone levels are typically only 40-50% of youthful levels and may be lower due to stress and related lifestyle issues such as diet, exercise, and sleep patterns.10, 11 The benefits of maintaining a youthful testosterone levels are many, including increased muscle mass and reduced body fat, high psychological vigor (mental/physical energy), and improved general well-being.12, 13
Eurycoma contains a group of small peptides referred to as “eurypeptides” and known to have effects in improving energy status and sex drive in studies of rodents.14, 15, 16 The effects of Tongkat ali in restoring testosterone levels appears to be less due to with actually “stimulating” testosterone synthesis, but rather by increasing the release rate of “free” testosterone from its binding hormone, sex-hormone-binding-globulin (SHBG).17, 18 In this way, eurycoma may be considered not so much a testosterone “booster” (such as an anabolic steroid), but rather a “maintainer” of normal testosterone levels and a “restorer” of normal testosterone levels (from “low” back “up” to normal ranges).19 This would make eurycoma particularly beneficial for both men and women with sub-optimal testosterone levels, including those who are dieting for weight loss, middle-aged individuals suffering with fatigue or depression, and intensely training athletes who may be at risk for overtraining.20, 21
Decoctions of Tongkat ali roots have been used for centuries in Malaysia and Southeast Asia as an aphrodisiac for loss of sexual desire and impotence, as well as to treat a range of ailments including post-partum depression, malaria, high blood pressure, and fatigue.22
Tongkat ali has been referred to as Malaysia’s “home-grown Viagra” in respected research journals,4 with the Malaysian government investing considerable effort to license, develop, and sustain research into the potential health benefits of Eurycoma longifolia through a variety of governmental organizations, including the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FIRM).22
Numerous commercial tongkat ali supplements claim “extract ratios” from 1:20 to 1:200 without any information about bioactive constituents, extraction methodology (e.g. ethanol versus water), or extract purity. Alcohol extracts of eurycoma have been studied in mice for antimalarial effects of concentrated eurycomalactone,23 but also exhibit toxic effects at high doses (LD50 at 2.6g/kg), which would preclude safe use as a long-term dietary supplement.24, 25 In contrast, hot-water root extracts standardized for known bioactive components (1% eurycomanone, 22% protein, 30% polysaccharides, 35% glycosaponin) have been demonstrated safe at high dose and for long-term consumption.26, 27, 28
Properly standardized hot-water extracts2, 26, 29 have a distinctly bitter taste due to the presence of quassinoids, which are recognized as some of the bitterest compounds in nature.30, 31 Tongkat ali extracts that do not taste bitter are either not true Eurycoma longifolia root (there are many commercial examples of “fake” Tongkat ali extracts) or are sub-potent in terms of bioactive constituents, and thus would also be expected to have low efficacy.
Because of Tongkat ali’s reputation for libido benefits, there are several examples of dietary supplements labeled as Eurycoma longifolia, but containing none of the actual root, and instead being “spiked” with prescription erectile dysfunction drugs (tadalafil/Cialis, sildenafil/Viagra, vardenafil/Levitra).
More to follow…
Thanks for reading,
Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D.
Nutritional Biochemist and Author
NEW BOOK: The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy
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–Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic (http://www.KilleratLarge.com)
–The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) – http://www.cortisolconnection.com/
–The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) – http://www.cortisolconnectiondiet.com/
–Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House) – http://www.cortisolcontrol.com/
–Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books) – http://painfreelivingbook.com/
–The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkens) – http://www.supplementwatch.com/
–A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press) – http://www.supplementwatch.com/