8 Natural Testosterone Boosters with Proven Benefits
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Mon 24 September 2018
Medical Review by Gerardo Sison, PharmD
The questions I get asked most often are all related to supplementation. Most of the time these are new readers of AM, who have recently started taking interest in natural hormone optimization, and now they are looking for that best testosterone booster to try.
And when I reply to them, they’re often surprised that the recommendation isn’t some big bodybuilding supplement brand’s flagship T-booster with dozens of different herbs jammed into these tiny capsules…
…Instead, I’m recommending high-quality vitamins and minerals, only few specific herbal extracts, some key amino-acids, and maybe a good probiotic to top it all of.
Here’s why don’t I tell people to go buy one of those branded T-boosters from their local GNC shelf:
- The people who formulate these supplements often have no idea what they’re adding into their products and what is the actual scientific research behind the compounds, it’s almost as bad as with the manufacturers of beard pills and facial hair supplements.
- Majority of the companies use 5-15 different ingredients jammed into awfully tiny little capsules. That is absurd, no wonder they need to hide behind proprietary blends.
- Almost all of the big brand test boosters I’ve seen have one or multiple ingredients that are proven NOT to increase androgens (Tribulus, chrysin, maca, elk antler, DAA, etc).
- The marketing surrounding these testosterone boosters is disgusting at best, as they try to create the illusion that their testosterone booster would be comparable to anabolic steroids or TRT.
Fact is that you can get much more bang for your buck, and actually something that is scientifically proven to work, by focusing on few key compounds (mostly micronutrients) and forgetting all of those “testosterone boosters” with their false claims. And always remember, true hormonal health does not come readily out of a supplement bottle, instead, it’s a manifestation of supreme overall men’s health that is a combination of proper nutrition, proper lifestyle factors, proper training methods, and reasonable supplementation with just a handful of proven compounds.
In this article, you’ll learn about the 8 best testosterone booster compounds that are all well-proven by scientific research:
1. Thorne Research: Basic Nutrients Multivitamin
I’ve said it many times and I will say it again;
The best testosterone booster there is, is a high-quality multivitamin that consists of all the key micronutrients in the most bio-available forms and at clinically effective dosages.
Before you start trying different herbs or whatever other T-boosters you might think of, you need to make sure that you are actually giving your body all the necessary micronutrient co-factors for it to produce adequate amounts of testosterone. This is best done by eating a wholesome nutritious T-boosting diet and supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin supplement.
Now, for me, there was always some problems with buying multivitamin;
- Only a few of them actually had all the key test boosting micronutrients.
- Only a few of them had these micronutrients in the most bio-available forms.
- Most of the “good ones” had added compounds that would suppress male hormones.
- I didn’t want to spend +100$ per month to make sure I get all the key micronutrients.
After more than 3 years of research and trying different supplements, I finally found one that I can confidently say is the best multivitamin/mineral for men’s health and testosterone production; the best androgen boosting supplement there is…
There are just so many benefits to this multivitamin compared to its competitors. Including the fact that it has a good dose of vitamin A that also includes the active palmitate form, all the necessary B-vitamins are in it with optimal dosages and they are fully methylated for absorption, there’s effective dosages of both vitamin K1 and the crucially important K2, all the minerals are amino-acid chelated for superior absorption and bio-availibity, it’s free of iron (which in excess is harmful for androgens and overall health), and the best part, this multi is completely free from allergens, soy, colorings, sweeteners, binders, stearates, etc, and it’s made in the best rated supplement factory in the USA that represents the highest quality standards in supplement producing.
Oh, right, and I almost forgot the actual research on why maintaining optimal vitamin and minerals levels in the body is crucial for male hormone production…
…Here’s a short rundown from my previous article about vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A is stored in testicles (and few other glands of the body). Studies have shown that when there’s no active vitamin A in the testes, T levels start dropping rapidly, and estrogen synthesis shoots up. Also in a study of 155 male twins, a clear correlation was found between vitamin A levels and serum T. In prepubertal teens, vitamin A + iron supplementation is as effective in starting puberty as hormone replacement therapy.
- Vitamin B complex (which consists of 8 different water-soluble vitamins), plays an important role in testosterone production and overall bodily energy levels, deficiency in many B vitamins results in increased estrogen levels, increased prolactin levels, and lowered test levels (study, study, study, study).
- Vitamin C has a protective effect on free-T molecules, and this is because it’s a potent antioxidant and able to block some cortisol secretion and oxidative damage (study, study, study, study, study)
- Vitamin D supplementation with a dose of 3332 IU’s for one full year leads to 25% higher testosterone levels in healthy male subjects. The positive correlation with vitamin D levels and serum total-T and free-T have been noted in various other human studies too (study, study, study).
- Vitamin E deficient human and rodent subjects both experience a significant drop in LH, FSH, and T-levels, conversely, vitamin E supplemented humans and rodents notice significant increases in pituiary LH and FSH, and also in serum testosterone.
- Magnesium intake has had a direct effect on serum T in various studies. In this one, 10 mg/kg of magnesium was able to increase free-T levels by 24%. Here magnesium intake was positively correlated with high serum T levels, and in this large review study the researchers conclude: “there is evidence that magnesium exerts a positive influence on anabolic hormonal status, including testosterone, in men.”
- Calcium has its role in controlling neurotransmitter release and the signaling between cells and hormones. Not much is known about its effects on T, but in 1976 a group of researchers found out that calcium stimulates testosterone synthesis in isolated leydig cells. 33 years later another study saw that calcium supplementation didn’t alter T levels at rest, but did significantly increase (18%) T levels post-exercise.
- Selenium, mostly due to its gluthatione stimulating effects, has been linked to increased androgens and improved sperm parameters in few studies (study, study)
- Zinc has a significant positive effect on androgen production and a deficiency will hammer the endocrine system. In fact, zinc might be one of the most important micronutrients for healthy male hormone production. It has increased testosterone levels in athletes and exercising ‘normal men’ (study, study), in men with zinc deficiency, in infertile men, in animals… It’s also noted in one rodent study that zinc deficiency can upregulate the estrogen receptors by 57%, probably due to the fact that zinc has its role in controlling the aromatase enzyme.
- Boron, although not very common mineral to supplement with, has few interesting studies backing up its androgenic, anti-SHBG, and anti-estrogenic effects. In this human study, 6 mg’s of boron for 60 days increased free-T levels by 29%. In another human study, 10 mg’s of boron for 7 days increased free-testosterone by 28%.
- Manganese appears to have a direct GnRH stimulating effect in the brain, and logic says that it should therefore also increase androgenic hormones. However, mega-dosing with manganese should not be an option, since it accumulates in the body and can become neurotoxic at high levels. When taken at too high doses, manganese can actually reduce T levels.
NOTE: The only downfall of of the 2/Day Multivitamin, is the fact that it does not have that high amounts of calcium, vitamin E, and magnesium. This is the same thing that happens with every other multi-nutrient supplement, as there simply isn’t large enough capsules to fit EVERYTHING into them, even when you take two caps per day. Don’t worry though, I will introduce a few solutions to these missing nutrients below.
2. Calcium Carbonate
Like I said above, the 2/Day multivitamin lacks few micronutrients, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there simply isn’t room for stuff like calcium which takes 1-2 grams at an optimal dose.
This is why – a diet rich in dairy products – and possibly a quality calcium supplement come handy. As it just happens, calcium is one of the most important minerals for the human body, and it’s essential for testosterone production and optimal cellular function.
The primary reason all men should maintain optimal calcium levels has to do with how our cells work. We need a balance of sodium and calcium to keep the outer layer of the cell stable and protected by what is called an “ion wall” or “ion gradient”. When the intake of intracellular minerals (potassium and magnesium) and extracellular minerals (calcium and sodium) is optimal, every cell of the body works so much better by maintaining a strong ion charge that defines the natural boundary of what stays out of the cell and what goes into it.
When it comes to the production of the “big T”, there’s only a handful of studies conducted so far, but they all seem to suggest that calcium has a key role in the production of testosterone, and obviously, in the hormones interactions with the cells and receptors.
- One study from 1976 examined the effects of calcium ions on isolated leydig cells of the testis. What they found was that when they incubated the cells with a mixture of luteinizing hormone (LH) and calcium ions, testosterone rose significantly more than with LH alone (luteinizing hormone being the “gonadotropin” that is sent from the brain to trigger androgen production in the testicles).
- Later on, in a 2008 study, a group of researchers saw that when exercising men take 35mg/kg of calcium after training, their free and total testosterone levels increased. Some increases were obviously seen in men who exercised and didn’t take the calcium supplement, but in the supplemental group, the effects were strongly potentiated by the extra intake of calcium. The researchers suggested that the mineral would make make LH more sensitive in the body, and this would certainly be in line with the study done over 30 years earlier on isolated cells.
So why the carbonate form you ask?
That is simply because calcium carbonate is closest to the natural type we get by eating foods rich in the mineral. In fact, the supplement I recommend is made by crushing oyster shells . You could also make your own by crushing egg shells too, which is also a rich source of natural calcium carbonate. For testosterone booster purposes, aim for 1-2 grams of calcium per day.
3. Magnesium Glycinate
The second micronutrient that I would add to the side of the 2/Day multi would be magnesium glycinate.
Sure, Thorne’s multivitamin supplement lacks magnesium, but as is just like with calcium, this is purposeful due to the fact that the manufacturers would have to compromise by reducing the other micronutrients by jamming magnesium into the caps (which is also needed at a fairly high dosage to reach optimal levels).
The reasons why every man who cares about their male hormone levels and overall health should be upping their magnesium intake are obvious.
Magnesium is one of the main two minerals within our cells (with potassium being the other one), and is a key co-factor for over 300 bodily functions. We need magnesium for maintaining natural fluid balance, providing energy to the cells (via ATP), to activate creatine, for natural sleep, and to increase the amount of bio-active (free) test.
Now, I knew the latter part would be of interest to you. Magnesium is excellent for raising the levels of free-test, aka. the bio-active portion of the testosterone in our bloodstreams.
How? Here’s some research about that:
- When tested on isolated cells, magnesium has been found to unbind total-T molecules from the binding protein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which is known to render free-T molecules largely “inactive” and unable to bind the bodily receptor sites.
- Later on, this hypothesis that magnesium could increase free-testosterone levels by reducing SHBG and freeing up testosterone from its grasp was tested on actual living human subjects. The subjects consumed ~1 gram of magnesium per day and took part in vigorious training routine or were told to remain sedentary. What happened was that both free and total testosterone levels shot up in the sedentary and exercising subjects (obviously more so in the guys that trained).
- In larger review studies, low serum magnesium strongly correlates with low test production. This was seen in a group of 400 elderly men, and in a 2014 review where the researchers conclude; “there is evidence that magnesium exerts a positive influence on anabolic hormonal status, including testosterone, in men.” Lastly, Gitelman’s syndrome (which causes imbalances in magnesium and calcium levels) is well-known of causing lower androgen levels and delayed puberty.
For most men, the extra magnesium – preferably from foods or high-quality magnesium glycinate supplement (affiliate link) – is highly recommended. As in a study sample consisting of 5708 subjects, it was seen that up to 70% didn’t meet the RDA of magnesium and 19% were consuming less than half of the recommended amount.
4. Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols)
The 2/Day Multivitamin that we looked into has some vitamin E, and it’s from a good source too…
…But, for testosterone booster purposes, depending on your body fat levels, and depending on your intake of polyunsaturated fatty-acids, mega-dosing with vitamin E can actually be a really effective method of improving health and balancing several key hormones.
First of all, vitamin E is a potent estrogen blocker, suppressing the aromatase enzyme that converts T to E2 and serving as an antagonist to the estrogen receptors. This is excellent news for most men and their testosterone production.
And as if that wasn’t enough, vitamin E is protective against prostate problems, without negatively affecting 5-a reductase or DHT levels (which is what happens with most prostate supplements such as saw palmetto, lycopene, or fenugreek, resulting in reduced libido due to the fact that DHT is vitally important for sexual performance and masculinity).
And lastly – vitamin E – due to its antioxidative effects, is able to reduce the harm caused by polyunsaturated fatty-acids (PUFAs) in the diet. As you might know by our previous articles, diets high in PUFA have been extensively studied for their effect in reducing both testosterone and DHT levels, while they also eventually lead to problems with thyroid hormone production…
…This all happens because polyunsaturated fatty-acids have long chains of carbon-carbon bonds that are extremely unstable and sensitive to the damage caused by heat and oxygen (both of which the body has a surplus of). This process of PUFA oxidation is called “lipid peroxidation“ and it creates free radicals in the body, which result in oxidative damage to the cells.
The best way to avoid this is obviously by limiting your intake of PUFAs, and switching them to more stable – testosterone friendly – fats (saturated and monounsaturated), but this isn’t always enough, since if you have gained fat pounds on a diet high in PUFAs, the stored fat is then PUFA and is – unfortunately – prone to lipid peroxidation as well. Furthermore, many people have hard time limiting their PUFA intake, especially since the modern day food processing favors the cheapest vegetable oils, which are extremely high in PUFAs.
One of the few things that helps mitigate the hormonal damage caused by PUFA; is vitamin E, as it has been shown to prevent lipid peroxidation and keep the polyunsaturated fatty-acids from forming free-radicals in the body (study, study, study). This is a very important, but drastically overlooked part of health and hormonal optimization.
NOTE: Remember that since vitamin E is fat-soluble, you should consume the capsules with a small amount of dietary fat for optimal absorption. Additionally, if you want to use the supplements in a fasted state, you can cut the capsules open and rub the contents into the skin for topical absorption.
5. Mucuna Pruriens
Mucuna pruriens (velvet bean) is a vine herb that produces these beans commonly ground up and used for medicinal purposes in the Indian herbal medicine; Ayurveda.
Western medicine has slowly started using the extracted compounds from this herb too, as they have discovered that one of the key compounds in it is highly effective as a treatment option for Parkinson’s disease.
Coincidentally, this same compound is also the likely culprit in why mucuna pruriens is a potent androgen enhancer. It contains fairly high amounts of this thing called L-Dopa (levodopa), which is a precursor to the brain neurotransmitter/hormone; dopamine. Another application of mucuna pruriens for health benefits is in the herbs high content of antioxidants (which likely contribute to the hormonal effects too).
So, let’s dig into some of the research on this test supplement;
- It has been shown that the L-Dopa in mucuna pruriens quickly converts to dopamine in the body after administration, this effectively increases the serum dopamine levels. M. Pruriens releases L-Dopa more steadily that synthetic levodopa.
- Dopamine has a close relationship with androgenic hormones, it works by upregulating the androgen receptors, suppressing prolactin, and increasing the rate of steroidogenesis by stimulating GnRH release in the hypothalamus.
- In studies using research animals (male rats and birds), Mucuna administration has been shown to reliably increase luteinizing hormone (LH) levels, testosterone levels, sperm parameters, and testicular activity.
- When it comes to actual human studies, mucuna administration as water-extracts and pure ground powder preparations has been shown to dramatically improve sperm quality, increase LH (23-41%), and boost testosterone levels (27-38%).
There are some other benefits to mucuna supplementation too, such as the fact that it serves as co-activator protein to the androgen receptors and lowers cortisol levels, but I talk about those more in detail in my bigger Mucuna article.
When purchasing M.Pruriens supplements for testosterone booster purposes, use a dosage of 200-600 mg/day of water-extract with standardized amounts of L-Dopa (affiliate link).
Forskolin is a diterpene extracted from an Indian herb called Coleus Forskohlii.
This supplement became extremely popular after the notoriously inaccurate and scammy Dr. Oz claimed in his TV-show that the herb, as it’s known to increase cyclic adenosine monopohosphate (cAMP) levels – would be a magic pill for shedding fat and getting lean.
Although forskolin does significantly increase cAMP levels, and this can slightly increase lipolysis (the breakdown of bodily fats), let me assure you that the effect on weight loss is miniscule at best, and in no way shape or form would deserve the name “magic fat loss miracle” which is what Dr. Oz proclaims it to be.
Anyhow. Fat loss and Dr. Oz aside. There is actually some really cool research about forskolin’s use as a natural cAMP and androgen receptor activator.
- First of all, due to the reliable ability of forskolin to increase cAMP levels in tissue, researchers often use it as “positive control” to stimulate steroidogensis.
- For this, forskolin works extremely well, showing huge – up to 200% – increases in testosterone on isolated testicular cells exposed to the compound.
- Only one human study has so far examined forskolin’s effect on serum-T in humans. In it, 250mg/day of forskolin for 12 weeks led to a 33% increase in T.
- Lastly, the fact that forskolin increases cAMP, also makes it activate the bodily androgen receptors via upregulating an enzyme called protein kinase A (PKA).
After the crazy TV doctor made his wild claims on national television, the market has been absolutely flooded with forskolin supplements, which is why one should always be cautious about the sellers, and choose one that has 3rd party testing to prove that their product actually contains a standardized amount of the actual forskolin extract…
7. KSM-66 Ashwagandha
The name “ashwagandha” loosely translates to “the smell of a horse”.
It was believed in some Indian herbal shaman type of circles that consuming ashwagandha (as they traditionally do by boiling the roots in milk and honey) would give the consumer the power and performance of a – well – horse.
It’s stories like this that make the herb sound like the biggest pile of BS snake oil ever documented, but don’t just run away yet, there is actual scientific research behind the herb, so much so that even though it’s called “the smell of horse” you might still want to give this one a try.
The class of substances that ashwagandha is often categorized into, is called “adaptogens“. These are compounds identified and named by Russian researchers to label substances that have proven adaptogenic effects (ie. balancing of hormones, reduction of stress, helping the body regain homeostasis).
And the reason why I like to call ashwagandha a testosterone booster, can be found in these many studies I lazily copied from my older article;
b) When it comes to general-health benefits, there are many. For instance, ashwagandha can greatly improve cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation, reducing the amount of serum triglycerides, increasing the “good” HDL-cholesterol (~17%), and reducing the “bad” LDL-cholesterol (~9%). In one human study, ashwagandha was able to increase serum T-cell count, and killer-cell count, suggesting that it can boost immunity. At 250-500mg/day KSM-66 extract has also been shown to increase hemoglobin levels, which might be one of the reasons why ashwagandha constantly outperforms placebo-pills in studies examining power-output and anaerobic exercise capacity. One of the more recent studies published this year (non-sponsored, double-blind, placebo, peer-reviewed, aka. highly reliable kind) found out that 600mg/day of KSM-66 ashwagandga significantly increased muscle strength and recovery in 57 young male subjects.
c) So ashwagandha is in fact a pretty solid adaptogen, with a wide variety of benefits that have been proven in human studies, what could be better? Maybe the fact that there’s also solid evidence of the herb also increasing testosterone levels (actually that’s not a surprise, considering the fact that ashwagandha improves sleep quality, reduces cortisol, increases HDL-cholesterol, and reduces inflammation, all of which promote healthy androgen production). Two human studies with infertile subjects (study, study) both using 5g/day of the basic root powder for 90 days, noted significant increases in total-T (~40% and ~16% on infertile subjects and 15% in healthy subjects) with significantly improved sperm quality. One study with infertile men as subjects (this time with 675mg/day of KSM-66 for three months) showed a ~17% boost in T, with a ~36% increase in luteinizing hormone (LH), suggesting that ashwagandha stimulates test production at the brain level. Prior to 2015 there was no studies on healthy men that would show increases in testosterone, however, the study with 57 young and healthy male subjects as described in the paragraph above (using KSM-66 extract), showed a significant ~15% increase in testosterone levels (average rise from 630 ng/dL to 726 ng/dL, which is a lot from a single herb if you ask me).
Although some beneficial effects have been seen with pure root powder versions of ashwagandha, I prefer the KSM-66 due to the fact that it’s water-extracted to have a much higher number of the bioactive withanolides, which are behind the majority of the testosterone supplements benefits. I’m currently using this brand (affiliate link), but any brand with actual KSM-66 should suffice.
8. Truth Nutraceuticals: Testro-X
I really am not a big fan of the multi-ingredient test enhancement supplements commonly sold. With one major exeption; Testro-X.
I may be biased here, since I was involved in the formulation of this supplement, but honestly, let me just tell you that this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill average testosterone booster with unproven herbs jammed to small capsules.
In fact, Testro-X was designed to be the first testosterone booster with ONLY proven ingredients and in optimal – clinically proven – dosages.
We also made sure that the ingredients in it would nicely compliment the use of quality multivitamin, since we already knew that most of the customers would know the importance of micronutrients, and already take some form of a multivitamin on a daily basis.
So after a long time of researching, we came up with this formula;
- Magnesium citrate – 150mg
- Zinc gluconate – 15mg
- KSM-66 Ashwagandha – 400mg
- Forskolin – 250mg
- Boron – 10mg
- Bioperine® (for absorption) – 10mg
- LH-surge blend (200mg inositol, 200mg glycine, 100mg theanine)
You can read all about the research behind these compounds and their positive hormonal interactions from this article.
Like said, I may be biased, but Testro-X (affiliate link) combined with a quality multivitamin, is hands-down the best multi-ingredient male hormone booster there is, and that is the unbiased truth.
Conclusion on Androgen Boosting Supplements
Well, that was a long article to write, but I didn’t want it to be just like those hundreds of others bro-science “best testosterone booster of 2017” articles, so hopefully, you got some actual information out of it.
Would there be any other supplements to consider for testosterone optimization? Maybe, some aromatase inhibitor for example would be good choice to make sure that the increased testosterone won’t convert into estrogen, as would be carnitine, which boosts the uptake of androgens into the receptor sites.
Anyways, if you made it so far. Thank you for reading and hope this article serves you well the next time you look into buying testosterone boosters.