Monday, June 3, 2013

Beyond Testosterone: 200mg/day of Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma Longifolia) for Stress Management & Improved Mood!?

It does not always take a pill to effectively manage your stress levels. Don't forget to take your well-deserved timeouts - from work and workouts and use a hot bath to "pre-regenerate" (learn more)
While "long jack" as it is also called is probably best known for its testosterone boosting effects  (learn more about Tongkat Ali aka "Ali's Stick") and one of the staple ingredient in the standard OTC-testosterone boosters (previous news), its traditional use as a longevity agent does already hint at the fact that its ability to boost testosterone levels and fertility may actually be mere side effects of a more general effect, of which a recent study from SupplementWatch would suggest that it is the ability of the this herbal medicinal plant that grows in South East Asia (Malaysia, Vietnam, Java, Sumatra,Thailand) to normalize the reaction to all sorts of exogenous stressors (including exercise and everyday stress).

"Our employers produce supplements that work!"

In their recently conducted study, Shawn M Talbott, Julie A Talbott, Annie George and Mike Pugh, of who have all ties (either as employers or sponsors) with the supplement business, found that the administration of 200mg/day of a standardized hot water extract from Eurycoma Longifolia to 63 subjects (32 men and 31 women) had statistically significant beneficial effects on the subjects' psychological
  • 20x higher doses of TA produced impressive changes in body composition in rodents (read more)
    tension (−11%), 
  • anger (−12%), and 
  • confusion (−15%)
and physiological
  • reduced cortisol exposure (−16%) and 
  • increased testosterone status (+37%).
response to moderate everyday stress. The supplement was generally well-tolerated (2 subjects in the
TA group and 1 subject in the placebo group reported feeling unusually fatigued during the first two weeks) and did not produce any changes in the usual markers of hepatic toxicity (ALT; AST).

Putting the results into an unsponsored perspective

The time-course of serum T-levels in users of real gear vs. those who use natty test boosters will have significant effects on the net gains (learn more)
Contrary to previous studies, the researchers did not observe and effects on either body weight, body fat percentage, lean muscle tissue and whatever else you are actually looking for (or are you trying to score higher numbers on a lab report?).

Actually, this is a result which should not surprise you, if you read my various comments on the usefulness / real world effect of moderate changes in the cortisol / testosterone profile on body composition and/or athletic performance (e.g. "Quantifying 'The Big T' - Do increases of testosterone, which are well within the physiological range matter?"; read more).

Moreover, a closer look at all psychological / mood parameters that were accessed, reveals that that the "[m]ood state parameters showed mixed results" with "no effect" being observed "between supplementation groups for indices of Depression, Vigor, or Fatigue [sic!]" (Talbott. 2013). 
Figure 1: Salivary cortisol levels before and after the interention (left; Talbott. 2013) and the questionable reliablility of salivary testosterone measurements due to their susceptibility to simple things like using chewing gums (‘O’ = Orbit, ‘E’ = Extra, ‘D’ = Dentyne; ‘S’ = Spearmint, ‘P’ = Peppermint; cf. van Anders. 2010)
Similarly, the statistically significant reduction in cortisol (compared to the placebo group) is a classic hoax and mere result of significantly elevated cortisol levels in the treatment group before the intervention (see figure 1), which leaves us with a net increase in salivary testosterone that can be brought about by simply chewing a Dentyne Spearmint gum (+150% salivary testosterone in men; +75% testosterone salivary testosterone in women; cf. van Anders. 2010) and puts another question mark behind the physiological relevance of the observations (note: the results could be skewed in both groups, also previous studies have already established the beneficial effects on testosterone levels, so this is more of an "aside" than a valid argument).

If you follow the "Three Simple Rules of Sensible Supplementation" this will not just save you tons of money, it will also avoid that your breakfast is ever going to look like this. This is not the breakfast of a champion, it's the breakfast of a complete moron who disregards the first, and probably all other rules of "sensible supplementation" (img consumersearch)
Bottom line: While there are probably benefits to Tongkat Ali supplementation. However, studies like the one at hand make them appear to be "larger than life" and will raise expectations the corresponding supplements are not going to satisfy - this is particularly true, when you combine them with the prevalent but unwarranted marketing claims of "steroid like muscle gains" that come with most of the corresponding products.

For people with low-normal testosterone levels, it may still make sense to do a test-run although previous studies would suggest that more than the 200mg/day used in the study at hand will be necessary to elicit noticeable physiological effects, the low dosage could well have psychological benefits. Just don't buy a whole batch and follow the "Three Simple Rules of Sensible Supplementation" (specifically those listed under principle #3) when you insist on giving long jack a try.

  • Talbott SM, Talbott JA, George A, Pugh M. Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 May 26;10(1):28.
  • van Anders SM. Chewing gum has large effects on salivary testosterone, estradiol, and secretory immunoglobulin A assays in women and men. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Feb;35(2):305-9.