Tribulus Terrestris : Is ‘Puncture Vine’ The Steroid Alternative!?

Tribulus Terrestris (aka Puncture vine) has been under the spotlight for some time in recent months. The attention that Tribulus has received has not so much been around its safety, but more because of the drastic improvements in lean muscle mass it supports. The efficacy of Tribulus has led to it being banned from international athletic committees because it is deemed to give an unfair advantage. Athletes are being advised to steer clear of it because of the risk of it being contaminated, or possibly leading to a positive drug test.

Is Tribulus a victim of its own success?

Quite possibly, yes. Tribulus is a natural substance derived from a rare African plant which seems to have the ability to increase plasma testosterone levels, one of the key hormones in muscle development and strength. It is thought that Tribulus’ ability to stimulate luteinizing hormone and thus testosterone is the reason for it’s capacity to improve strength, size and performance. Many think that the efficacy of Tribulus in doing this is unfair, and should not be allowed in certain competitions such as amateur athletics. Clinical studies published in the journal Medicine & Science & Sports and Medicine found that the ingestion of Tribulus may cause an increase in testosterone of up to 600%. The researchers also noted a free testosterone level that was 4x higher than resting levels, with no known side-effects reported…so why all the grief?

How does Tribulus work?

The purported mechanism for Tribulus’ effects are it’s capacity to increase the release of luteinizing hormone from the pituitary gland, resulting in increased circulatory testosterone. The main biologically active ingredient in Tribulus is thought to be a steroidal saponin called protodioscin

Is the comparison to testosterone justified?

In terms of its benefits, debatable…but in relation to its mechanism, quite possibly. You see the saponins found in Tribulus contain the same basic 4-carbon ring skeleton found in all steroids, but it’s not clear if these have the same androgen-, estrogen-, cortisol-, or progesterone- like activity (Llewellyn, 2009). Tribulus also contains the saponins prototribestin, pseudoprotodioscin, dioscin, tribestin, and tribulosinull, but understanding of these is limited and consequently, so too is the full activity of Tribulus.

Should you take it?

Well, this ultimately comes down to you, it’s entirely at your discretion. Tribulus Terrestris may have hypertrophy benefits, it may increase libido, and Arcasoy (1998) reported the application of Tribulus as a diuretic, for treatment of hypertension, reduction of cholesterol levels, and for the relief of colic pains. HOWEVER, this is speculative and by no means prescriptive, so should you wish to consume Tribulus for these reasons, then you are advised to contact a health professional prior to consumption.


Arcasoy, H, B., Erenmemisoglu, A., Tekol, Y., Kurucu, S., Kartal, M. (1998). Effect of Tribulus terrestris L. saponin mixture on some smooth muscle preparations: a preliminary study. Boll. Chim. Farm. 137: 473-475.

Llewellyn, W. (2009). Sport Supplement Reference Guide. Tribulus Terrestris. FL: Molecular Nutrition LLC.



About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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