The Health Benefits of Tongkat Ali

Male Fertility, Stress Relief, and Muscle Building

Eurycoma longifolia. Common names: Tongkat Ali. Ali's Umbrella.

Mokkie / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

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Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is a tree native to Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The root of the tree contains compounds called quassinoids and alkaloids and is the part of the tree that is used medicinally. Tongkat ali is typically consumed in dietary supplements, tea, energy beverages, or in coffee drinks.

Other names for tongkat ali include Eurycoma longifolia, Jack, Ali's umbrella, longjack, long jack, payung ali, Malaysian ginseng, tung saw, umpudumaidu, and wonod mondou.

Tongkat Ali Benefits

In alternative medicine, tongkat ali is said to raise testosterone levels, promote muscle strength, and address a number of conditions such as erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, fatigue, and stress.

Erectile Dysfunction and Low Libido

Tongkat ali is often touted as a remedy for erectile dysfunction. There's some preliminary evidence that it may help.

In a small double-blind study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers found that 12 weeks of supplementation of a product containing Eurycoma longifolia extract and Polygonum minus (an antioxidant) helped to enhance sexual performance and erectile function.

Another study, also published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, suggests that tongkat ali extract aids low libido and erectile function. The study involved 109 men between 30 and 55 years of age and found that the extract may help increase erectile function, sexual libido, sperm motility, and semen volume. Loss of body fat in those men who were overweight was also noted.

Muscle-Building

Tongkat ali may increase muscle mass and strength because of its purported effects on testosterone levels. As a result, it is sometimes used to boost athletic performance and physical strength and to promote fat loss.

In an older preliminary study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that 100mg per day of Eurycoma longifolia extract for five weeks increased muscle mass and strength in men participating in an intensive strength training program compared to those who participated in the program alone.

Tongkat ali may also help to increase muscular strength in older adults, according to a 2014 pilot study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2014. For the study, 13 men and 12 women between the ages of 57 and 72 took 400mg of a tongkat ali extract daily for five weeks. At the study's end, tongkat ali was found to have raised free and total testosterone levels and muscular force.

A 2010 study involving male recreational athletes, however, found that 150mg per day for seven days before an endurance run (plus an hour before the run) didn't increase endurance compared to a placebo.

Infertility

Tongkat ali also shows promise in the treatment of infertility, suggests a preliminary study published in the Asian Journal of Andrology in 2010.

Researchers found that daily supplementation with 200mg of Eurycoma longifolia in men for three to nine months resulted in higher semen volume, sperm concentrations, percentage of normal sperm morphology, and sperm motility, and resulted in spontaneous pregnancy in 11 of the participants' partners after treatment.

Stress Relief

Some research suggests that tongkat ali may help to relieve stress. The available research includes a small study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Investigators assessed stress hormones and mood state in 63 people before and after taking a tongkat ali supplement for four weeks and found significant improvements in the mood states of tension, anger, and confusion as well as decreased salivary cortisol and increased testosterone in those taking the tongkat ali extract.

Late-Onset Hypogonadism

Tongkat ali may improve symptoms of late-onset hypogonadism, according to a study published in Andrologia. For the study, 76 people with late-onset hypogonadism were given 200mg of a standardized tongkat ali extract for one month. Results suggested that the tongkat ali extract improved scores on the Aging Males' Symptoms scale and testosterone levels.

Possible Side Effects

Because so few studies have tested tongkat ali's effects in humans, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of this herb. Noted side effects include restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia.

Since tongkat ali may raise testosterone levels, it should not be used by people with conditions that would be adversely affected by higher testosterone levels, such as heart disease, hormone-sensitive cancers, liver or kidney disease, or sleep apnea.

Additionally, tongkat ali should not be used by people who are pregnant or nursing, children, or those with medical conditions. People with weakened immune systems should also avoid tongkat ali.

The herb may interact with certain medications, such as:

  • Blood pressure medication
  • Anticoagulant and antiplatelet medications
  • Drugs that lower blood sugar or insulin levels
  • Immunosuppressant drugs
  • Other supplements

Concerns have been raised about mercury and lead contamination in tongkat ali products. According to one study, 26% of products tested contained 0.53–2.35 ppm of mercury and did not comply with the quality requirements in Malaysia.

You can do your research on how to use supplements safely, but if you're considering using tongkat ali (or any other form of alternative medicine), be sure to consult your primary care provider first.

Dosage and Preparation

Doses of 200 to 400mg daily of tongkat ali are normally recommended, according to a 2016 review published in Molecules. However, caution should be taken with the supplement, especially for older adults.

Tongkat ali can be found in the form of capsules, tablets, powders, and tinctures. This herb is sometimes included in testosterone-targeted supplements that contain other herbs like ashwagandha and tribulus.

What to Look For

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For this reason, it might be helpful and informative to check the label for an independent third-party label or seal of approval from trusted organizations like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab.

When buying tongkat ali products, always check the ingredient list. Make sure you don't have any allergies to tongkat ali or any other ingredients prior to taking the supplement. Consult with your physician before taking Eurycoma longifolia, as it can have interactions with many other medications and supplements and is not recommended for people with certain medical conditions.

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