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Tribulus Terrestris Extract Benefits: Does it Work? + Reviews

Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Tribulus is an herb that has been used in various systems of traditional medicine for enhancing libido, fertility, and vitality. Although many take tribulus seeking a natural “testosterone boost,” this herb won’t actually alter testosterone levels in healthy men. Read on to discover what the science says about tribulus.

What is Tribulus Terrestris?

Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris) is a plant that grows in the Mediterranean and in subtropical and desert regions around the world, including India, Vietnam, China, Spain, Mexico, and Bulgaria. This common weed is particularly well-adapted to warm, dry regions. It got its nicknames “puncture vine” and “devil’s thorn” from the spikes that cover its fruits [1, 2].

Although there are over 25 species of tribulus plants, most of the research focused on Tribulus terrestris [3, 4].

For more about the active components and mechanism of action of tribulus, plus the side effects and potential risks of supplementation, check out this post.

Purported Benefits of Tribulus Terrestris

The benefits in this section will all refer to the most well-studied species, Tribulus Terrestris, as tribulus.

Possibly Effective For

1) Libido and Sexual Function

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) or sexual dysfunction is a condition that reduces a person’s interest in sex. People who suffer from it have a lack of sexual fantasies and desire that causes distress and relationship issues. It affects up to 30% of women and 15% of men [5].

Many factors can affect HSDD, and some doctors will consider supplements alongside lifestyle and psychological interventions. Some evidence suggests that tribulus is a potential supplement option for both sexes. More evidence supports its use in women with reduced sexual desire or other types of sexual dysfunction [6].

In two trials of 76 women with reduced sexual desire, taking 750 mg/day tribulus for up to 4 months improved libido, orgasm, and satisfaction from sex. Another trial of 30 women found similar results using lower doses of a tribulus extract (7.5 mg/day) for 4 weeks [7, 8, 9].

In two studies of 90 women with sexual dysfunction, taking 750 mg/day tribulus improved sexual function and libido. This suggests tribulus might be effective in both premenopausal and menopausal women [10, 11].

Interestingly, tribulus may also increase sexual function in men – mainly by increasing desire and helping men overcome erectile dysfunction (ED).

In a 12-week trial of 172 men with ED and reduced sexual desire, taking a higher dose of tribulus (1,500 mg/day) improved satisfaction from sex, orgasm, and libido. Two other studies of 100 men with ED found lower doses (750 mg/day) for 3 months equally improved sexual function [12, 13, 14].

However, in a trial of 30 men with ED, 800 mg/day of tribulus didn’t work better than placebo [15].

Despite its popular use as a male libido enhancer, stronger evidence supports the use of tribulus in women with reduced sexual desire. And although it does offer some sexual benefits to men, the findings are weaker and less conclusive [10].

Animal studies initially found that tribulus increases sexual function and behavior [16, 17, 18, 19, 20].

Tribulus is popular as a purported libido enhancer. The strongest evidence for this use comes from studies of women with reduced sexual desire, while studies of men have produced mixed results.

Insufficient Evidence For

The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, lowquality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of tribulus for any of the belowlisted uses.

Remember to speak with a doctor before taking tribulus supplements. Tribulus should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.

2) Fertility In Men

Infertility is a global problem that affects 8 – 12% of couples worldwide. Low sperm count and poor sperm quality (movement and shape) account for more than 90% of male infertility cases. Tribulus is traditionally used to combat infertility issues in men, although proper scientific studies are still lacking to support this use [21].

Initially, scientists uncovered that tribulus increases sperm production in rats. They also looked at its potential mechanism in a cell study to see how it might affect sperm quality and survival time [22, 23].

Two clinical studies examined its effects in men with infertility. In one low-quality Ayurvedic study, taking 12g/day of tribulus granules for 60 days improved sperm quality in 63 men with low sperm count. The exact content of these granules was not specified [21].

In another study of 65 men with infertility, supplementing with 250 mg/day of tribulus for 12 weeks increased sperm count and quality [24].

However, 750 mg/day for 3 months didn’t improve sperm quality or count, nor did it affect testosterone and LH in a study of 30 men with infertility [25].

The current evidence is mixed and insufficient to determine whether tribulus improves sperm count and quality in men with infertility.

3) DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a weak anabolic (muscle-building) hormone made in the adrenal glands. The body uses DHEA to make sex hormones, testosterone or estrogen. It circulates in two forms: DHEA and DHEA sulfate (DHEAS). DHEAS is usually measured because it is found in much higher concentrations in the circulation.

In 245 men, 750 – 1,500 mg/day of tribulus didn’t change in DHEAS levels after 12 weeks. In 106 women, on the other hand, 750 mg/day increased DHEA levels over the course of 90 days. Lastly, in monkeys tribulus IV injections increased DHEAS levels by 29% [12, 24, 10, 26].

Based on the evidence, it’s very hard to say whether tribulus boosts DHEA. Some scientists consider that its active steroid saponin, protodioscin, is converted to DHEA in the body. This theory suggests that tribulus may increase sex hormones indirectly, by raising DHEA. Although plausible, this theory remains unproven. More research is needed [26].

Researchers are investigating whether tribulus supplementation could increase DHEA, a weak anabolic hormone. The evidence is currently mixed.

4) Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

Tribulus is traditionally used for heart-related health problems. Proper clinical trials are lacking to determine the effects of tribulus on blood pressure and heart rate in humans.

In a study of 75 people with high blood pressure, 3 g/day of Tribulus for 4 weeks reduced blood pressure by 9% and decreased heart rate [27].

In mice with high blood pressure, Tribulus reduced blood pressure. Scientists suspect it might act by decreasing the activity of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE). ACE is an enzyme that increases blood pressure by constricting blood vessels. Drugs commonly prescribed for high blood pressure (called ACE inhibitors) act on this pathway [28, 29].

Scientists are also investigating the effect of saponins from tribulus on heart cells exposed to harmful chemicals in dishes. They are looking to determine the impact of tribulus on antioxidant levels, oxidative stress, and blood clotting in rat hearts and cells deprived of oxygen [30, 31, 32, 33, 34].

Tribulus supplements are under investigation for a potential benefit to blood pressure and heart rate, but only a single clinical study is available.

5) Blood Sugar Levels

In a trial of 98 diabetic people, 1 g/day of tribulus for three months reduced fasting blood sugar and HbA1c, a long-term marker of blood sugar control. Multi-center, large-scale studies are needed to determine the effects of tribulus on blood sugar [35].

Tribulus reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic mice, but these findings can’t be extrapolated to humans. Scientists believe that saponins and cinnamic acid found in this herb block enzymes that digest starches and sugars, which might prevent blood sugar levels from spiking after a meal. Future research should also determine whether it increases insulin levels, which helps shuttle sugar from the blood and into the cells [36, 37, 38, 39].

Evidence is still lacking to support the use of tribulus for blood sugar control in people with diabetes, but research is ongoing.

Lacking Evidence (Animal and Cell Studies)

No clinical evidence supports the use of tribulus for any of the conditions listed in this section.

Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

6) Kidney Stones

Kidney stones occur when calcium oxalate builds up and forms crystals, which bind to kidney cells and injure them. Scientists are investigating how extracts of tribulus fruit might reduce calcium oxalate from clumping and forming crystals in kidney cells. Some researchers suspect that tribulus increases the flushing of fluids with the urine, which may help clear kidney stones [40, 41].

Quercetin and kaempferol in tribulus are hypothesized to decrease the activity of the enzyme that forms oxalate (glycolate oxidase). In rats with kidney stones, tribulus reduced the growth of the stones and prevented damage to the kidneys [42, 43].

The combination of Tribulus and an Ayurvedic herb called Boerhaavia diffusa reduced the growth of kidney stones and improved kidney health in rats [44].

In a rat study, tribulus increased the release of minerals and fluids from the body similar to a diuretic drug (furosemide). However, this type of diuretic effect would theoretically only be beneficial in people with kidney stones or high blood pressure, while in healthy people it might trigger slight electrolyte imbalances [41].

The effects of tribulus on kidney health and kidney stones in humans have yet to be investigated.

7) Pain & Arthritis

In one rat study, Tribulus reduced pain due to physical injury to a similar degree as aspirin. It also reduced pain in rats with arthritis and osteoarthritis. Scientists posit that this plant might work by lowering damage to the joints and bones and decreasing levels of inflammatory molecules such as TNF-α and IL-6. This theory remains unproven [45, 46, 47].

8) Inflammation

Scientists are investigating the effects of tribulus on inflammatory and allergic skin reactions. An antioxidant found in its fruit – called rutin – suppresses an overactive immune response in the skin. Applying the fruit extract to the skin of mice reduced inflammation. It worked by preventing the activation of mast cells, immune cells that drive skin inflammation and cause redness [48, 49].

Other research teams claim its potential anti-inflammatory properties may go beyond “skin-deep.” In one study, tribulus reduced inflammation and tissue damage in mice with pancreas inflammation. It had similar effects in the colon in mice with inflammatory bowel disease [39, 50].

Whether tribulus could help people with IBS is still unknown, since its effects on inflammatory disorders in humans have not been investigated.

9) UVB Radiation

Scientists are exploring whether tribulus prevents the death of human skin cells exposed to UVB radiation by preventing the activity of the pro-inflammatory protein NF-κB and increasing the activity of DNA-repairing genes [51].

Creams and lotions made from tribulus roots may soon be formulated, but clinical research is needed.

10) Greying Hair

Some researchers found that tribulus may increase the activity of melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) in hair follicles in the lab. MSH increases melanin levels, which gives hair a darker color. Animal and human trials need to determine whether it can prevent or reduce greying hair, based on this potential mechanism [52].

Other

In chronically-stressed rats with depression, tribulus decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and improved mood [53].

A couple of research groups aim to find out if tribulus is active against the following microbes in cell culture:

  • Bacteria that cause cavities and tooth plaque (including Streptococcus mutans and Actinomyces viscosus) [54].
  • Candida albicans and another small yeast that can cause respiratory problems in humans (Cryptococcus neoformans) [55].

Scientists are also studying the effects of tribulus and its active compounds (such as Terrestrosin D) on different cancer cell types [56, 57, 58].

Lastly, acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter orchestrates cholinergic activity in the body and is vital for memory, learning, alertness, and attention. Tribulus weakly-blocked the activity of acetylcholinesterase in a cell study, but its impact on acetylcholine in humans is completely unknown [59].

Very early animal and cell research is looking into whether tribulus could have applications in mental health, antimicrobial activity, or cancer. This research has yet to move into human trials.

Possibly Ineffective For

Athletic Performance and Muscle Mass

The evidence is mixed, especially when it comes to healthy men with normal testosterone levels and sexual function. Future studies should use standardized extracts, as the effects may also vary depending on the concentration and type of active compounds.

Tribulus (alone or in combination with other supplements) did not enhance exercise performance or body composition in athletes in several clinical studies [60, 61, 62].

However, 450 mg/day of Tribulus did not affect lean mass in another 5-week study of 22 elite athletes [62].

Tribulus caused weight gain in rats by raising testosterone levels, but it failed to affect testosterone in humans. In one study of 65 men with poor semen quality, tribulus decreased body fat and increased lean mass [17, 24].

Despite its use in exercise-enhancing supplements, tribulus likely has neither performance-enhancing nor muscle-building effects.

Boosting Testosterone

Although tribulus is often advertised for increasing testosterone levels, research does not support its effectiveness for this use.

Studies have found that tribulus increases testosterone levels in rats, mice, and primates. But the same line of research has not been fruitful in humans. On the contrary, tribulus did not increase testosterone levels (free or total) in multiple studies in men with either low or normal testosterone levels [63, 64, 65, 26, 14, 25, 12, 66].

In two studies of 100 older men with low testosterone, 750 mg/day of tribulus did significantly raise total and free testosterone levels. Both studies had the same authors and used people from an outpatient clinic at Cairo University. Their findings were never replicated [14, 13].

In a trial of 40 women, tribulus increased testosterone levels. However, in a study of 106 women, 750 mg/day for 90 days actually decreased testosterone levels but increased DHEA [7, 10].

It’s unlikely that Tribulus increases testosterone levels in healthy men or women with normal sex hormone levels. More research is needed to confirm tribulus is able to increase testosterone in aging men with low levels.

DHT

Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a more potent form of testosterone that gives men their characteristic facial and body hair growth. On the other hand, excessive DHT is also implicated in baldness in men.

Taking 750 mg of Tribulus increased DHT levels by 27% over the course of 12 weeks in a study of 65 men. However, another 10-week study of 15 men found no change in DHT levels after supplementing with 1,250 mg/day of Tribulus [24, 67].

Tribulus given by an injection in the vein increased DHT levels by 31% in primates and by 32% in rabbits [26].

Overall, larger clinical studies are needed to determine the effects of tribulus on DHT and its health implications.

Cholesterol Levels

In a couple of clinical studies, the effect of tribulus appeared to be mixed. For example, two studies found a strong effect. In a trial of 98 women with diabetes, 1 g/day of tribulus for 3 months reduced total and LDL cholesterol levels. In another trial of 75 people, 3 g/day of an Ayurvedic tribulus formulation reduced total cholesterol levels by 10% over the course of four weeks. However, the ingredients in this formulation were not specified [35, 27].

On the other hand, taking 750 mg/day of tribulus didnt affect cholesterol levels in one 12-week trial of 180 people. However, the study included participants with normal cholesterol levels. It is theoretically possible that this plant only affects raised levels in people at risk of heart disease, though much more research is needed [68].

In rabbits, tribulus decreased total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Tribulus also protected blood vessels from damage caused by a cholesterol-rich diet in animals and decreased total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in rats and chickens. These effects have not been proven in humans [69, 70, 71, 72].

The effects of tribulus on cholesterol levels are mixed. Some evidence suggests that this herb does not improve cholesterol in humans.

Limitations and Caveats

Although it looks to be promising for a couple of conditions, many of the benefits of Tribulus are yet to be confirmed by clinical trials.

Tribulus doesn’t increase testosterone in healthy men and its effectiveness in men with low testosterone needs to be confirmed.

User Experiences

Users report that Tribulus increases libido, gives them a boost of energy, and provides a general feeling of well-being. Some users report headaches and increased irritability and aggression.

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of the users who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

Takeaway

Tribulus terrestris is a herb with a long history of use that can help improve libido and sexual function. This herb is also under investigation for potential benefits to fertility, blood sugar levels, and the heart.

Although it is often touted to increase testosterone, research strongly suggests it has no such effect in healthy men. It may boost testosterone in men with low levels and in women, but the evidence is weak.

Further Reading

About the Author

Ana Aleksic

Ana Aleksic

MSc (Pharmacy)
Ana received her MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade.
Ana has many years of experience in clinical research and health advising. She loves communicating science and empowering people to achieve their optimal health. Ana spent years working with patients who suffer from various mental health issues and chronic health problems. She is a strong advocate of integrating scientific knowledge and holistic medicine.

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