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.