Velvet Antler Review

The seductively named velvet antler, with its origins in Chinese holistic medicine, is a medicinal product made from the crushed / powdered base portion of (yes, you guessed it) deer antlers, with elk antlers as an alternative source. According to numerous websites, use of such on the Asian continent may date back millennia, although it is unclear what “ancient Chinese scrolls” refer to this use, and in what context. Before going any further, it is probably worthwhile to clear up the confusion that may be generated by the name: those familiar with observing deer in the wild will know that their antlers can be covered by a “velvety” coating. This is more properly known as “antler velvet,” while the reversal of these two words refers to the products that are, again, formed from the actual antler bone structure itself.

More confusingly, products meant to confer health benefits are marketed by both name variants, sometimes also being marketed as EVA [elk velvet antler.] Whatever name it goes by, it has been promoted as a means of increasing the hormone IGF-1 [insulin growth factor 1], which contributes to important anabolic effects in adults, and also to healthy sexual functioning in adult males.

To be sure, Velvet Antler does not always get a “good rap” from supplement skeptics, and those who already dismiss any type of traditional medicine out of hand tend to have a field day with denying the alleged benefits of the antler powder. It is listed in one web site’s roll call of “overrated supplements,” and the most notable double blind clinical studies done to date on this substance have shown statistically insignificant changes in endocrine function or in athletes’ power output. This out-of-hand dismissal has frustrated many who believe that more patience is required to ferret out the true usefulness of this substance, including the examine.com editor who is “sort of bitter that this compound has so much social renown for seemingly stupid or otherwise unexplored causes, as it is probably going to make researchers and the medical community frown upon it.”

As to what clinical research on the subject has to say currently, there is one study particularly worth noting. Nearly ten years ago, a paper was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior outlining the results of a human trial originally conducted on 34 male volunteers (but listed as 32 on the report’s abstract) and intending to study the “effect of deer velvet on sexual function in men and their partners.” During the twelve weeks required for this double blind, controlled study, the participants were divided into a placebo group and group given ‘deer velvet’ daily. Along with being administered a questionnaire, the volunteers’ blood was tested both at the starting point and conclusion of the study in order to determine increases in sex hormones and concurrent sexual functioning. Having realized that “there were no significant hormone changes from baseline to the end of the study in either group of men,” the research team in question was able to conclude that there was “no advantage in taking deer velvet to enhance sexual function.”

Nonetheless, enthusiastic anecdotes and positive testimonials throughout the supplement community do exist, and have on their own fueled a considerable industry for velvet antler. Velvet antler / antler velvet products are, unlike many other testosterone supplements or aphrodisiacs, commonly available in a liquid spray form: the Liquid Supps company, for example, offers a 2oz. spray bottle of its ‘Testosterone Booster and Muscle Building Formula’ for around $20 at the more popular online mega-stores. Source Health Labs offers a comparable product (also a 2oz. bottle) for nearly half of this price at the same online retailers. Pure powder forms are available as well, such as the 1lb. package offered by Holistic Herbal Solutions (given the volume of product, it is unsurprisingly more expensive than either of the liquid spray options listed here.) From the personal experience of this review’s author, velvet antler capsules are readily available in the supermarkets and open-air markets of East Asian nations (Japan, South Korea), so it may be worth it for the adventurous consumer to visit a local supermarket, pharmacy or grocery specializing in Asian imports. In this case, though, you may need some assistance from a shopkeeper, as the descriptive text on the packaging may be exclusively rendered in Chinese characters. Try asking for it by its Chinese name as well (lu jiao pan.)

In many cases, it is unclear how much velvet antler extract forms part of the total package, and so potential consumers should, where possible, hunt out those products that list velvet antler as a stand-alone ingredient rather than as part of a proprietary blend.

Though further study does need to be done on Velvet Antler, at the moment its toxicity is not an issue, nor are the negative health effects widely known.

Pedalium Murex Review

Pedalium Murex is a member of the pedaliaceae or sesame family of plants, and can be found throughout India. Though not nearly as famous as the ‘flagship’ plant among the pedaliacea (i.e. sesamum inidicum, from which sesame seeds come), it is coming into its own thanks to a number of alleged health effects. It is known indigenously as dakhani gokhru or bada gokhru, itself one among the many medicines classified as vajikaran rasayana, or macrobiotic remedies with their basis in Indian alchemy. Plants featured in the rasayana pharmacopeia run the gamut of possible health concerns, with one website suggesting it heroically fights against all the following: “nervine weakness, pains, inflammation, indigestion, piles, constipation, heart-related problems, cough, asthma, epitasis, frigidity, impotence, renal calculi, dysurea, infections.”

Pedalium murex bears some common characteristics with the tribulus terrestris plant (particularly the imposing spiky fruit from which tribulus‘ Latin name derives, as well as the suspected bioactive potential.) Though that plant arrived earlier on the testosterone-enhancement scene, pedalium murex is starting to generate a ‘buzz’ of its own as a testosterone booster or sildenafil / Viagra alternative.

Though some eyebrow-raising, possibly inaccurate claims are out there (one website breathlessly suggests that the “testosterone level rise from Pedalium murex may be permanent”), there is some truth to the suggestion that a dose-dependent treatment with the plant can increase testosterone levels to some degree. This past year, researchers from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Indian Dr. H.S. Gour University attempted to find a correlation between liquid extract of the pedalium murex fruit and male rats’ testosterone levels and sexual activity. Over a four-week period, male albino rats in either a sildenafil [Viagra] group or a pedalium murex group were tested for increase in PEI [penile erection index] and numerous other sexual activity factors like mounting frequency or intromission frequency. Serum testosterone levels were checked midway through the experiment and at its conclusion, and checked against their baseline or ‘starting position’ values. The ethanol extract was found to “significantly reduce” latency or hesitancy to participate in sexual activity, while studies on the in vitro release of nitric oxide were found to be favorable when compared with that of sildenafil (nitric oxide is essential as a ‘signaling’ molecule where androgenic processes are concerned.)

Further research on the plant’s aphrodisiac properties has been conducted and published in a 2010 issue of Biology. For this experiment, a petroleum ether extract was administered to male rats seen to have fertility issues arising from testicular damage. This study found that, for doses of either 200 of 400 mg per kg of body weight, the rats’ mounting frequency increased anywhere from 1-3 hours after supplementation.

Extracts of pedalium murex have been examined in a few other Indian studies, including one conducted to check for their anti-oxidant activity. Some other positive outcomes of rat-based experimentation have included the healing of stomach ulcers. However, the medical and scientific communities have yet to issue results from a human trial involving pedalium murex.

Perhaps because of this, Pedalium Murex has yet to make its grand entry into the supplement market, with queries to the ‘usual suspects’ of the supplement mail order business yielding nothing that contains pedalium murex as either a main or complimentary ingredient. Numerous mail order herbalists will, however, sell fruits or roots of pedalium murex (and you may have to personally contact them to negotiate a price.) So, like many other herbal remedies coming into their own, it is up to the ingenuity of the consumer to prepare it in a way that will bring about the desired health results.

The similaity of pedalium murex to tribulus terrestris may also be as much of a curse as a blessing in this regard, since supplements using tribulus as a primary ingredient have long since flooded the market, making it more difficult for any enterprising manufacturers to position pedalium murex supplements as a wholly unique or “new” product (it should be emphasized, of course, that tribulus is still a very different beast, and does not contain disogenin as the fruit of pedalium murex does.)

Consumption of pedalium murex should be safe, with no noted adverse effects at present. The lethal median dose is not set in stone, however, with analysis from the foregoing rat studies not saying much in this regard. However, the powdered methanol extract from pedalium murex fruits used in the aforementioned anti-oxidant experiment was found to have a lethal median dose of 180mg per kg of body weight.

Paederia Foetida Review

Paederia Foetida is one in the unflatteringly named “sewer vine” genus of paederia flowering plants (the specific plant in question, thanks to its intense sulphurous odor, is also called “skunk vine”.) These plants grow in tropical climes within Asia, the Polynesian islands, Hawaii, and elsewhere, and at least a couple members of the paederia genus have been used to lower uric acid levels in the body and, consequently, to alleviate the symptoms of related diseases like gout and hyperuricemia. It is also touted as a defense against intestinal problems such as diarrhea. Paederia Foetida itself forms part of an exhaustive list of plants with anti-microbial properties, and, more recently, has been associated with anti-oxidation, anti-inflammation and testosterone boosting. Despite the daunting olfactory challenge that the plants present, their leaves are capable of being cooked and eaten: the cooking process that will actually take care of the odor (despite their being a mild bitterness to their taste), and they can be used as a dietary source of carotine and Vitamin C.

The chemical composition of paederia foetida includes some dietary fatty acids as well as ursolic acid (otherwise available in apple peels), a molecule that is, on its own, associated with anabolic functions and the increase of the ratio of muscle to fat. However, all the precise bioactive mechanism or mechanisms of paederia foetida are not currently known, and there seem to be no human trials conducted with the plant for the purposes of testing anabolic potential.

There does exist one study conducted on rats that has shown some interesting results in the areas of aphrodisiac and androgenic effects. Published in the Journal of Men’s Health, a research group at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Dr. H.S. Gour University (India) used an ethanol extract of paederia foetida leaves, in varying doses from 50mg-200mg per kg of body weight) upon male rats. In terms of libido increase, this was generally regarded as a success, as the rats’ frequency of mounting their partners, along with intromission, was noted to increase, while the latency or hesitancy involved with these activities was lessened as well. Though these results were not seen as being dose-dependent (it is unclear from the study abstract if the highest dose also equaled the best response), positive effects on serum testosterone level were nonetheless seen as being integral to these activities. An enlargement of the Sertoli cells – the so-called ‘nurse’ cells that reside specifically in the testes – was also noticed upon histological examination. These cells are crucial for the process of spermatogenesis, since prior to this process, they concentrate testosterone in the transmitting structures known as seminiferous tubules.

The same Indian study also noted positive effects of paederia foetida upon erectile function, with the PEI [penile erection index] increasing in accordance with a 100-200mg/kg dose of the ethanol extract 15-days into the study, and with all doses showing positive effects 28 days in (the greatest increase stood at 289%.)

It is difficult to find a supplement that advertises paederia foetida as its main bioactive ingredient, though not impossible. It may be necessary, however, to simply purchase a powder made from leaves of the plant, if you purchase from an Ayurvedic medicine supermarket (online or otherwise.) Paederia foetida leaf extract is also available in the Joint Health Herbal Combination Supplement, in which it combines with over fifteen additional herbal ingredients in an attempt to maintain bone health. As of now, it does not seem like the supplement manufacturers are gearing up for a ‘boom’ period of paederia foetida products, though this may yet be forthcoming (and such surges in popularity are not always easy to predict): the studies mentioned were only published as of 2011, and have yet to circulate beyond specialist conferences and weblogs. So, while it is tempting to see the lack of available goods as an industry-wide indifference to the plant’s purported effects, it may also be the case that knowledge of its potential androgenic effects has not yet spread widely enough to stimulate a major demand.

There is not a good deal of literature available on either the toxicity or adverse effects of paederia foetida. Though there also seems to be little information online detailing bad experiences with its personal use, it remains a good idea to consult with your doctor or physician and to determine any possible negative interactions with other medicines.

Butea Superba Review

Butea superba, one of only two known species in the butea genus of plants alongside butea monosperma, is native to Thailand, but also noted to exist in India and Burma. Within Thailand, it is widely celebrated there for its claimed aphrodisiac effects, and becoming more heavily discussed in the Western world because of its purported ability to fight erectile dysfunction in men. Spread inconspicuously throughout the country’s deciduous forests, in which it is one of the rare climbing vines, it does not “play an important role” in the overall development of that environment, though it nonetheless has found its way into the local repertoire of medicinal plants. Interestingly, the herb is noted to be highly similar to another local Thai product, pueraria mirifica, whose effects on the human body are the inverse of those associated with butea superba: since the 1960’s, the phenol known as miroestrol, which simulates the effects of estrogen, has been isolated from the plant.

Studies on butea superba’s androgenic effects have just recently begun in earnest, when considering its lengthy use in traditional medicine, and the less lengthy time period that horticulturalists have had knowledge of the plant’s existence. As such, the bioactive components within the herb are still something of a mystery. There have been at least two double blind clinical trials (with one of them eventually “downgraded” from double blind status after the control group dropped out of the experiment) seeking out the full androgenic potential of butea superba. The study in question, conducted at the University Hospital Dr José E. González in Monterrey, involved 32 men with erectile dysfunction being treated either with sildenafil [a.k.a. Viagra] butea superba – after a week’s worth of such treatment, the substances administered would be changed to 100mg of starch for the control group or another helping of butea superba. 84% of the butea superba group showed positive results as compared to 81% of those taking sildenafil, though parameters such as testosterone level increase are not mentioned in these results.

The more promising of the two studies, initiated at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, was carried out with test subjects ranging from 30-70 years in age and, again, done in order to test its efficacy in curing erectile dysfunction. The official results claim a “significant upgrading in 4 of the 5 descriptive evaluations of the IIEF-5 questionnaire” (the IIEF being an acronym for International Index of Erectile Function, a self-evaluation scale meant to rank one’s personal progress in the five areas of erectile function, orgasmic function, sexual desire, satisfaction in sexual intercourse and general satisfaction.)

Butea Superba products can be found in the catalogs of manufacturers like Swanson Premium, with each individual supplement varying in its level of purity. Prices will also vary from around $10 for a 60-capsule supply to around $60 for the NanoMed ‘Smart Double for Men’ supplement. Ainterol, in the product listing for their Butea Superba IV 500mg capsules, breathlessly notes that their product is “Strongest Strain with Newest Drying Process when manufactured that retains more active ingredients and better results [sic]!” – a benefit that it charges around $27 for (they also helpfully note its vegetarian-friendly process of manufacture and lack of any additional chemicals or starches.) Amazon.com may be the best resource for those who are shopping online, since more supplement-intensive vendors like Puritan’s Pride, Life Extension Formula and bodybuilding.com do not currently stock any butea superba products.

It is also worth mentioning, for any potential butea superba consumers, the local Buddhist monks’ designation of the plant as kwao krua: this is a category of different herbs that also includes pueraria mirifica (which is the ‘white’ kwao krua to butea’s ‘red’) and mucuna collettii. It is therefore essential, when buying any product labeled as kwao krua, to make sure one is getting the correct type of supplementation, especially given the situation already noted where pueraria mirifica may produce effects completely undesired by individuals hoping for an anabolic effect. If you find yourself in a herbal market specializing in Asian imports, be sure to ask for kwao krua dang to narrow down your search.

According to studies that showed the ability for mice to mutate being given high doses of butea superba (in this case, 300-1000mg per kg of body weight), it would be well worth it to proceed with caution where human dosage is concerned. The numbers mentioned would translate to 48mg per kg of human weight – given the monetary expense required to maintain the habit of taking such doses, it seems highly unlikely that such negative effects will also manifest in humans.

Boron Review

Boron, otherwise known by the chemical symbol 5B, is a relatively rare chemical element throughout our solar system, and can be encountered on our planet once it is formed by the impact of cosmic rays upon the earth (i.e. not being produced, via nucleosynthesis, by the earth itself.) Chemically ‘pure’ boron does not therefore exist on the planet, and it is also something of a challenge to produce anything approaching ‘pure’ boron by industrial means. Though the world has had knowledge of boron compounds for thousands of years, it did not become officially recognized as an element until the early 19th century, thanks to the efforts of Sir Humphrey Davy, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Louis Jacques Thénard. Since that time, boron compounds have grown in popularity to find a variety of industrial uses, being included in everything from building materials to insecticides (boron has a very high level of toxicity for arthropods in general and insects in particular.)

There is some conflicting information regarding the health effects of boron. While some sources feel confident in saying that boron is not essential to human health, they will nonetheless suggest that it can be beneficial. A lack of boron in the human body, though less notable than similar chemical deficiencies (e.g. of potassium), may cause adverse effects similar to that of osteoperosis, namely the alteration of bone structure and concurrent weakening thereof. Owing to this, boron supplementation is one means of preventing osteoarthritis, as well as a means of preventing kidney stone formation. Elsewhere, research has shown that boron has positive effects on the endocrine system, having its own complement of testosterone-like properties (particularly in the way it affects hair loss.) However, its ability to raise plasma estradiol – the most heavily circulating estrogen during menstruation and pregnancy – also shows that it has estrogen-like properties.

Along these lines, there are two notable studies that have been conducted, one involving post-menopausal women and the other involving male subjects. The latter study is probably more relevant (and its authors certainly would agree, as they proudly note how “this must be the first human study report to show an increased level of free testosterone after boron consumption” in the study’s abstract.) This trial was undertaken at the University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, involving eight subjects in a week long, non-blinded experiment, during which period the subjects took a 10mg capsule of boron at every breakfast meal. After this period concluded, mean levels of plasma estradiol declined along with an increase in the mean level of free testosterone (there were also elevated levels of DHT [dihydrotestosterone] and Vitamin D.) The estradiol decline mentioned is important to note, since it is a kind of metabolic byproduct of testosterone production – despite its being much more essential to the female body because of its powerful estrogenic effects on women, its presence does not indicate that any productive gains made in the testosterone area will be canceled out.

An impressive variety of over-the-counter supplements including boron exist, with many using boron as the sole active ingredient, and others using it as a complementary ingredient to either calcium or glucosamine (naturally, supplements taking this tack are doing so in order to sustain the bone health hinted as above.) It seems, for the moment, bone health and joint support takes precedence over testosterone production in the marketing and advertising for these products. A variety of supplements exist in a price range that goes from no more than $0.03 for a single 3mg serving, to $1.35 per serving (for AOR’s OrthoBone, which requires 10 capsules to be taken in one sitting.) In addition to the usual gel-cap and tablet supplements, other options for boron intake include products like NOW Nutrition’s Liquid Cal-Mag, which supplies 1mg of boron (from boron amino acid chelate) in a single 15ml serving.

If one wishes to bypass supplementation entirely, boron can be easily obtained by dietary means, and not by particularly obscure or expensive ones either. Red kidney beans are an especially good source of nourishment where boron is concerned, imparting nearly 2mg of the substance in a 130g serving. Fruits such as raisins and prunes will also supply plenty of boron to the body, with the former generally contributing 0.67mg in a 15g serving, and the latter conferring 0.94 mg in a 50g serving. There appears to be no universally applicable RDA [recommended daily allowance] for boron, though suggested amounts of daily intake hover between the extremes of 3-20mg. It is also recommended to take any boron supplementation with food, unless you are receiving it by dietary means in the first place.

Basella Alba Review

The plant known as basella alba, though it has no real horticultural relationship with “true” spinach (i.e. spinacia oleracea) other than the striking similarity of its leaves, is often referred to as just that. Some extra qualifiers will be tossed in depending upon where the plant is found (“Asian spinach”, “Phillipine spinach”) or the behavior of the plant’s vines (“creeping spinach,” “climbing spinach.”) Nonetheless, basella alba or Malabar nightshade has become highly popular as an alternative to “true” spinach in those areas where spinach grows poorly “because of insect pests and temperatures that are too high”: this makes for a generous distribution throughout the tropics of both basella alba and its purple-stemmed variant basella rubra, along with further distribution in temperate areas throughout the globe.

In the Philippines, it is a dietary item whose leaves are boiled prior to eating, and is highly cultivated within both the ‘horn of Africa’ region and in West Africa as well. It has been used for non-dietary purposes since the 4th century A.D., when high-ranking individuals in Tsin Dynasty China would use the purplish dye extracted from its berries “as a rouge… and as a purple dye for making seal impressions.”

Nowadays, it joins the swelling ranks of plants used in holistic and herbal medicine – at the very least, it has been seen to have anti-oxidant properties, and has also been used as an aid for fertility. As noted on the review of hibiscus macranthus, basella alba is often used in tandem with it for that purpose, to the point where hibiscus macranthus rarely, if ever, “flies solo” within a supplement or remedy and is frequently accompanied by basella alba. Given this situation, the tests conducted to date for testosterone increase have not isolated basella alba itself, but have paired it with hibiscus macranthus.

In 1999, a research team from the Laboratory of Nutrition and Biochemical Toxicology, from the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Yaoundé (Cameroon) published some of their trial results in the May issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Over the course of a 15-day trial, several male albino rats were given hibiscus macranthus via ‘gastric intubation’ and basella alba extract from both fresh and dry leaves (the control group for this experiment was administered water instead.) Fresh leaf extract was shown subsequently to increase the body weight of the rats by 17%, compared with 4% for a dry leaf extract. At the 15-day mark, the weight of seminal vesicles was also noted to increase – analysis on cell structure later confirmed that this was due to an increase in spermatazoa from the 7th day of testing onward, with the testosterone level rising by 80% on the 15th day in rats given either of the fresh or dry extracts. As such, the researchers felt justified in concluding that anabolic and virility-enhancing effects could be taken from extracts of these plants’ leaves.

However, there is a postscript to all this: last year a basella alba-exclusive study was finally conducted, with its results published in the Andrologia journal. According to this study, a methanolic extract of basella alba was useful in treating rats who had been exposed to the anti-androgenic substance flutamide in their developmental stages. Over a period of 1-2 months, the rats given this extract saw their testosterone levels approximately doubled.

Though it regularly crops up as a topic of discussion on bulletin boards given over to physical training, it is a challenge to find any supplements now containing basella alba as a main bioactive ingredient. After some digging, though, it is possible to find some supplements that at least contain basella alba in any amount. The Driven Sports company offers a supplement (formerly known as Designer Supplements) called Activate Xtreme, which comes in a 120-capsule supply and lists Divanil as the spearhead ingredient that enhances free testosterone by binding to SHBG [sex hormone-binding globulin] – this compound features some of the ‘usual suspects’ in testosterone enhancement, such as extract of urtica dioica and epimedium extract. The inclusion of basella alba, though apparently subordinate to Divanil, is still boasted as being a “first for the industry.” This is available from a number of mail-order vendors, though special requests made to your local health and nutrition supermarket may be necessary in order to obtain it.

There is, at present, not enough information to determine what a proper dose of basella alba might be, and therefore not enough information to make judgments on its safety and toxicity.

Aframomum Melegueta Review

Given the alluring name “grains of paradise,” the reddish-brown seeds from the pepper-like spice aframomum melegueta are a fairly sought after item in West Africa (and are often used as a substitute for cardamoms in other regions.) These seeds have an illustrious history, having been used in ‘hippocras,’ a medieval spiced wine served as the last course of medieval banquets, and already being recognized during in Elizabethan England as healthy in a very vague sense (one contemporaneous dietary manual claimed that “graynes be good for the stomake and the head.”)

During this same era, it was even rumored that Queen Elizabeth I herself flavored her beer with the seeds, and its use became so out of hand that an Act of Parliament was necessary to intervene in its sale. It continues to have dietary and medicinal value in several distinct regions in the world, and, unsurprisingly, in the Ghanaian region where it is cultivated. The paradol contained in the seeds’ coating, otherwise responsible for its “pungent and burning taste,” is said to give it antioxidant effects and anti-tumor effects along with providing the flavors in question.

Aframomum melegueta belongs to the ginger family (i.e. zingiberaceae), with which it shares much bioactivity – given the long-standing reputation of ginger for being integral to healthiness, this could be seen as a good sign. Human clinical trials conducted with aframomum melegueta are, however, few and far between, with only one really worth noting (a double blind clinical trial that showed the seeds to have a positive effect upon metabolic rate, a result of its activation of adipose tissue.) In spite of this, there has been increased interest in recent years over the use of the “grains of paradise” in aphrodisiac or testosterone-boosting concoctions.

Some previous trials conducted on lab rats have aimed to ascertain more about these alleged abilities. Researchers from the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon published some findings in the May 2002 edition of Behavioural Pharmacology that may be of interest. Using a liquid extract of aframomum melegueta over 8 days (which was compared against a control group administered only water), researchers noted “significantly increased penile erection index, and the frequencies of intromission and ejaculation” along with enhanced “orientation of males towards females by increasing mounting and ano-genital investigatory behaviour.” One caveat to this study, though, is that aframomum melegueta was used in combination with another plant, piper guineense, and tests were not done with the former in isolation.

A much more recent rat study from Cameroon (conducted last year) dealt more exclusively with a liquid extract of aframomum melegueta seeds, which were administered in 115 and 230 mg/kg doses over an 8-day period, and 115 mg/kg doses during a 55-day period. Subsequent in vitro analysis showed that there was a “significant increase in testosterone in serum and testis [and] cholesterol in testis” among the ’8-day treatment’ group, while excretions in both the seminal vesicle and the epididymis (both seen as “accessory sex organs”) were significant enough to attribute androgenic effects to the extract.

Aframomum melegueta can be found as a component of at least one marketed supplement, USP’s Test Powder, which typically comes in a 24-serving supply retailing in the $40-50 range. Several active ingredients of this compound – e.g. D-aspartic acid and mucuna pruriens extract – have their precise per-serving amounts listed on the nutritional label. The data on aframomum melegueta itself, however, is a little more vague, since it is part of a 4005mg-per-serving ‘Modulate Proprietary Blend’ along with four additional ingredients. Despite its being obscured by the other ingredients in this blend, the manufacturer nevertheless places aframomum melegueta front and center in its sales pitch, and claims that it will “not only boost testosterone levels to the roof, but also to promote faster fat burning and better metabolism.” Additionally, some claims are made by USP Labs that the ‘Japanese Society of Nutrition [and Food Science]‘ has found aframomum melegueta to reduce the waist-hip ratio and body fat – however, no citations point to the research in question, and Web queries combining the terms “Japanese Society and Nutrition” and “aframomum melegueta” all point to USP product pages.

While it is unclear what a ‘recommended dose’ of aframomum melegueta may be, the experiments conducted have shown that the 10mg dose of 95% ethanolic extract could be taken daily without adverse effects. The American Food and Drug Administration does not list it as a potentially harmful botanical. The usual concerns over consumption during pregnancy (particularly the first trimester) do apply, though it should not present any serious danger to male consumers.

Coleus Forskohlii Review

Coleus Forskohlii, alternately plectranthus barbatus, is a perennial plant that has been used throughout Africa, Arabia and Brazil for its myriad medicinal properties. It hails from the mint family of plants that grow in the mountain slopes of India and Nepal, and so has also been used in India as food (specifically the root tubers of the plant) and as a component in Ayurvedic medicine, where it is used in treating ailments from asthma to nervous disorders.

The plant itself is aromatic (with an odor said to be reminiscent of ginger), with pale blue or lavender flowers arranged along spike-encrusted racemes. Like many other purported testosterone-boosting herbal supplements, it has its historical basis in traditional Indian / Ayurvedic medicine, and is prized mainly for its production of the enzyme activator forskolin. Though associated with this field of medicine, horticultural experts have found that these plants can grow in the cooler climes of England until mid-November, and are resilient in drought conditions.

In 1971, experimentation with the plant led to the isolation of the aforementioned compound forskolin, and in 1987 it was already heralded as having “great potential as the drug of the future.” This owed itself to promising preliminary experiments where it cured hypertension in animals, and later experiments in which it aided congestive heart failure in humans. Still other contemporaneous reports showed that it had the ability to alleviate bronchial problems, working as an anti-asthmatic bronchodilator.

More relevant for the fitness-minded, though, is the dual role of Coleus Forskohlii as a testosterone producer and as a fat-burner. In tests conducted upon overweight men, a 12-week program of forskolin intake was seen to have positive effects in both of those areas: bone mass over this period increased while body composition was “favorably altered” and serum-free testosterone levels were “significantly increased.”

The fat burning properties are activated by an enzyme which increases the incidence of the cAMP [Cyclic adenosine monophosphate] molecule, which is a “messenger” or “relay” molecule useful in many biological processes, and has a minor influence upon the release of growth hormone. Forskolin’s activation of the adenylate cyclase enzyme, meanwhile, does not cause the level of total testosterone to increase, but it does allow free testosterone to increase, which allows the body to use more of the hormone.

Coleus Forskohlii can be taken in powder form or capsule / tablet form, and the interested consumer should have little problem tracking down either a semi-pure extract in their trusted health food store. The herb is gradually appearing in compounds that have the general goal of increasing energy output: for that reason, it may be used as a ‘side’ ingredient to complement green tea extracts and other similar ingredients.

Some of the available Coleus Forskohlii compounds, particularly those promising weight loss and “extreme energy,” utilize forskolin for the former and caffeine for the latter (MuscleTech’s Hydroxycut Hardcore Elite, in fact, features a caffeine-to- Coleus Forskohlii ratio of nearly 3:1, while adding significant amounts of Canephora Robusta or green coffee extract.) Other products bind the effects of Coleus Forskohlii to virility enhancers like tongkat ali / longjack and ‘old standbys’ like magnesium, as is the case for Infinite Labs’ ‘Cyclo Test’ anabolic growth optimizer.

Other manufacturers offer a 95% pure extract with no additional ingredients, in a bottled supply meant to last 2 months. In all the above cases, the mixture of energy enhancers like caffeines with forskolin is not a reckless decision, and these ingredients do not cancel one another out or interfere with the other’s effectiveness. Similarly, taking forskolin with another ingredient aimed at fat reduction (particularly Yohimbine) should not count as “overkill”, since these components each attack that particular problem from a different angle.

The recommended intake of Coleus Forskohlii is a total of 500mg (with no more than a 10% extract per serving) split into two daily doses. Curiously, the condition that forskolin has been most scientifically proven to treat is somewhat less of a public concern than weight loss or testosterone production. When it is used in eye drops, forskolin has been shown to relieve sensations of pressure occurring within the eyes (intraocular pressure.)

Though negative side effects are not common, treatment with this supplement is not recommended for those already suffering stomach ulcers or conditions related to high acidity in the stomach. It is also likely to interfere with the efficacy of warfarin (an anticoagulant.) As always, consultation with a qualified physician is recommended before committing to any personal program of Coleus Forskohlii use.

Hibiscus Macranthus Review

Hibiscus macranthus, native to West-Central Africa (particularly Cameroon), is one of the several hundred plants forming the hibiscus genus, and has traditionally been used as a complement to the leaf vegetable basella alba. The hibiscus family itself forms part of the malvaceae or mallow family of plants, of which it is the largest genus with about 300 different plant species. In West African tradition, use of hibiscus macranthus and / or basella alba has been as a means of increasing male fertility, while its inclusion in various other leaf mixtures aims at “regularizing the menstrual cycle and [treating] dysmenorrhoea or cases of infertility in women” (some of the other ingredients meant to act synergistically with hibiscus macranthus are aloe buettneri and justicia insularis.)

Though it has taken a few years, the word about hibiscus macranthus is beginning to spread within the testosterone supplement community. In 2006, a paper was published in the Asian Journal of Andrology by a Cameroonian research team at the University of Yaoundé, who used both basella alba and hibiscus macranthus in a series of tests to determine the androgenic effects thereof. These tests isolated methylene chloride as the compound leading to the increase in testosterone production, with a methanol extract of these herbs proving most effect in 50ug/ml doses (testosterone was actually seen to decrease by 60% once this dosage was raised by another 50ug/ml, while a comparatively weak 10ug/ml dosage exhibited minimal effects.)

This paper is something of a follow-up to a 1999 report from the same researchers, who, at that time, administered both fresh and dried leaves of basella alba and hibiscus macranthus to rats in a liquid extract (along with a control group administered water.) Rats given the ‘fresh leaf’ mixture showed a significant increase in body weight – while it was not determined how much of this weight had to do with an increase in androgenic activity, these rats did nonetheless exhibit an increase in the weight of their seminal vesicles (and a concurrent increase in sperm count), beginning with the 7th day of examining the microscopic structure of testes cells.

Unfortunately, supplements containing hibiscus macranthus are not common, if available at all. Those who are curious to try this for themselves may have to settle for an alternative supplement containing basella alba (in fact, internet searches for hibiscus macranthus supplements will, more likely than not, merely bring up supplements containing basella alba yet citing the study that noted positive effects of dosing rats with both of these substances.) “Recycle” by Purus Labs is one such product, promising an increase in free testosterone along with a decrease in estrogen and DHT. Available in a 100-capsule supply (with four capsules to be taken daily), the per-serving amount of basella alba contained in this compound is 100mg, an amount which comes close to the 125mg per-serving amount of the main ingredient, a 70% extract of tribulus alatus. This product is available at a somewhat higher retail price than the majority of other testosterone aids, with a price tag of around $65 for the supply mentioned.

As of now, it seems that more time will be required to fully reveal the health benefits of hibsicus macranthus, as it seems to be operating in the shadow of basella alba rather than being seen as an useful entity on its own. The truly skeptical, in addition to noticing that there are no studies conducted with hibiscus macranthus as an isolated substance, will likely also notice that the studies done to date are all conducted by the same research team in Yaoundé. The lack of human trials using hibsicus macranthus may also inspire prospective consumer ‘guinea pigs’ to play the waiting game until more such trials have been conducted, given that not much is known about what dosages may produce health effects, or what might be considered a lethal median dose of any extract (unless we go by the studies conducted on Swiss mice.) The good news in this regard is that, when studying the microscopic tissue of the Cameroonian lab rats’ testes, no negative toxicological signs were noted.

Another research group using hibiscus macranthus as part of an extract concluded that “aqueous extract is not short-term poisonous, but presents unfavorable effects in the long run (60 days)” – a finding that is, once again, somewhat clouded by the fact that numerous other medicinal plants contributed to this aqueous extract.

Cordyceps Review

Cordyceps, a name taken from the Latin for “club head,” is a genus of fungi that accounts for some 400 unique species, several of which – including cordyceps militaris and cordyceps sinensis – are coming under closer examination for their myriad health benefits. Distributed mostly throughout East and Southeast Asia, Cordcyeps are parasitic fungi that infest and manipulate the behavior of their various insect hosts in ways that will allow for further propagation of the fungus. (cordyceps sinesis, in particular, is colorfully known as a “caterpillar hijacker” thanks to this activity.)

The reputation for cordyceps‘ medicinal quality has become widespread enough that, in many villages of rural Tibet (where it is known as yartsa gunbu, and has been used for many centuries now), it is a staple of the local economy: governmental statistics in 2004 revealed that its cultivation accounted for about $225 million of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s gross domestic product. The international ‘boom’ in the popularity of cordyceps sinesis, in particular, can be partially traced back to the 1993 revelation of Chinese track & field coach Ma Junren, who claimed that Cordyceps-based concoctions boosted the stamina of his record-setting runners.”

Rigorous studies meant to determine the health benefits of various cordyceps species have been a mixed bag: several tests done to see if cordyceps heightened aerobic performance and VO2 max (i.e. maximum oxygen intake) were inconclusive. Yet numerous studies exist that either confirm the health potential of species in the cordyceps family, or at least invite further curiosity: for example, the lactate threshold of older individuals was found to be increased during a regimen of cordyceps sinensis (this being the point during exercise in which lactic acid accumulates in the bloodstream at a rate too quick to ‘clear’, with a higher lactate threshold therefore equating to more sustained workouts.)

As to testosterone production in particular, there are some promising reports on the use of cordyceps varieties, particularly the mycelium (i.e. the vegetative portion) of cordyceps militaris. In 2008, A Taiwanese research team from the Jenteh Junior College of Medicine and Nursing Management found that Sprague-Dawley rats dosed with cordcyeps militaris for 6 weeks had increased concentrations of serum testosterone and other hormones such as estradiol (though no noticeable increase in the cell-stimulating LH [luteinizing hormone], or its synergistic partner FDH [follicle-stimulating hormone.]) Sperm quantity and motility was concluded to be directly and positively affected by adding cordyceps militaris to the rats’ diet.

Products containing a cordyceps extract are not common features of supplement or health supermarkets, though it is possible to purchase them directly from some companies. One such case is the Health Choice group in New Zealand, which offers a trademarked Cordysen™ extract and suggests health benefits in no less than twelve distinct areas (e.g. ‘anti aging’, ‘heart & cardiovascular’, ‘libido & erectile.’) Physician Formulas also offers a 60-capsule supply of 525mg capsules for $12.95 (if purchased directly from them), which utilizes the mycelia of the fungus as well as an extract, an innovation that the company claims will insure “a full spectrum of important cordyceps constituents.”

There are downsides to the interest in cordyceps that have little to do with the personal results achieved from its usage: like many organic substances that have been touted as a “natural Viagra,” an unprecedented 21st century surge in popularity has led to overharvesting of the fungi, with some 100 tons being harvested over the period 2004-2007 (which was already a 10% reduction of harvests tabulated in each of the twenty years before this.)

Simple economics dictates that this will likely lead to higher prices in the future for cordyceps-based compounds, which will not be helped by the lengths to which some are going to maintain their cordyceps sinensis “turf” (in 2007, lethal gun battles over prime harvesting areas were reported in Sichuan province.) Put briefly, anyone wishing to commit to long-term use of cordyceps sinensis may want to resign themselves to the fact that their supply of mushrooms will be contingent upon the socio-economic stability of the countries in which it is harvested.

Overall, adverse effects resulting from cordyceps use are not frequently reported. Daily doses of up to 3-6g a day should be safe for most consumers, though there are exceptions. Individuals being medicated for hypoglycemia should be cautious, as it can react with this medication to drop blood sugar levels considerably. Supplement manufacturers will claim that cordyceps may be taken with or without food, with no preferred time of the day for self-administration. It is still advisable, in any case, to obtain a physician’s professional advice in relation to health complications.