Tongkat ali, a medicinal herb with the scientific name, Eurycoma longifolia Jack, is a popular herbal supplement with many purported benefits. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the active constituents of tongkat ali appear to be eurycomalacton, eurycomanon, and eurycomanol. Scientific studies into the active chemical components of tongkat ali have revealed several possible uses for the herb, namely, as an aphrodisiac, ergogenic aid and cancer-fighting agent.
One of the purported uses of tongkat ali is as an ergogenic aid, or a supplement that enhances the body’s adaptive response to exercise. Tongkat Ali is thought to produce this effect by causing an increase in the body’s levels of testosterone, a male sex hormone which effects muscle size and performance. According to a 2003 study by S. Hamzah and A. Yusof in “The British Journal of Sports Medicine,” a tongkat ali extract in conjunction with a weight-training program, caused an increase in lean body mass and a loss of fat tissue relative to placebo. This supports the use of tongkat ali by athletes as an ergogenic aid.
As tongkat ali is thought to increase levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, it may have utility as a libido-enhancer or general male sexual aid. According to a 2003 study by Ang HH, Ngai TH and Tan TH in “The Journal of Phytomedicine,” when an extract of tongkat ali was administered to middle-aged rats their sexual performance increased relative to the placebo group. The main effect observed was a decrease in the hesitation-time of the rats, indicating an increased libido.
Tongkat ali has also been studied as a possible cancer-fighting agent, as several of it’s chemical constituents have been shown to exert anti-cancer effects in studies. According to a 2005 study by Tee TT and Azimahtol HL in the journal, “Anticancer Research,” an extract of tongkat ali exerted anti-proliferative effects against human breast cancer cells. In a 2003 study conducted at National Cheng Kung University and published in “The Journal of Natural Products,” an extract of tongkat ali killed human lung cancer cells, as well as demonstrating anti-malarial effects.
Uses for Tongkat Ali
Tongkat ali is a plant and herbal supplement also called by such names as long jack and pasak bumi–and by its botanical name, Eurycoma longifolia. As a folk remedy in Malaysia, tongkat ali is employed as an aphrodisiac and a treatment for erectile dysfunction, fever, fatigue, high blood pressure and malaria. Several documented scientific studies exist of tongkat ali’s effects in animals, but research on its effects in humans is not yet as extensive.
Consumption and Benefits
The roots of the tongkat ali tree are dried and ground into a powder similar in appearance to coffee. Users can take tongkat ali in powder or pill form. According to Herbal Supplement Resource, tongkat ali may increase the amount of testosterone in the blood helping an males maintain erections and potentially increasing an individual’s muscle mass.
A 2005 study on human subjects, documented at Herbal Supplement Resource, reports that tongkat ali increases the amount of high-density lipoproteins, or HDLs, in the blood, which are essential to maintaining healthy arteries by preventing the accumulation of plaque along artery walls. The same 2005 study also reported an increase in human growth hormone (HGH), which is responsible for the growth and reproduction of cells. According to Chris Kiham at Medicine Hunter, the tongkat ali root contains antioxidants that can inhibit cellular aging as well as phytochemicals to fight viruses and cancer. According to a study by Tee and Azimahtol, documented at PubMed.gov, tongkat ali caused apoptosis, or cell death, in human breast cancer cells. Another study by Kuo and colleagues, also documented at PubMed.gov, reports that tongkat ali was cytotoxic, or fatal to human lung cancer cells.
Dr. Johari Saad, quoted at Medicine Hunter, notes that the main benefits of tongkat ali in animals are increased energy from the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, and increased testosterone. Saad also observed in his research that tongkat ali inhibits sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG, to allow testosterone to remain in the blood longer.
Herbal Resource Supplement suggests that women should avoid using tongkat ali if they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Men who have diabetes, prostate cancer or heart, liver or kidney disease should not take tongkat ali. Individuals with sleep apnea should not take tongkat ali. Excessive consumption of tongkat ali can result in anxiety and insomnia because of the body’s increased production of ATP. Individuals interested in adding this supplement to their regimen should consult a health care provider before doing so.
Tongkat Ali Effects
Tongkat ali, also known as eurycoma longifolia jack, is shrub-like plant that grows in parts of southeast Asia. The plant isn’t primarily popular for landscaping uses, however, but is instead prized as an herbal supplement. The effects of this supplement range from hormonal changes to antibacterial activity.
Increasing Sperm Count
Many of tongkat ali’s effects have to do with the reproductive system. One effect that researchers have uncovered is the herb’s ability to increase sperm count by enhancing spermatogenesis, the process by which the body produces sperm. In a study published in the journal “Clinics,” researchers found that 14 days of tongkat ali supplementation improved spermatogenesis and increased sperm count in rats, even after they were treated with estrogen. Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone and caused reductions in sperm counts in the rats of the control group.
Bacterial infections can cause serious health hazards if untreated. Researchers from the “Saudi Medical Journal” found that extracts from the leaves and stems of tongkat ali plants could be potent sources of antibacterial compounds because of their effects on certain bacteria.
Tongkat ali is used by some bodybuilders and other athletes because of its effects on testosterone production. According to a study from the journal “Natural Product Communications,” tongkat ali supplementation significantly increases testosterone levels. However, this study was performed in rats, not humans.
Increased Sexual Arousal
One effect of tongkat ali that is probably related to the enhancement of testosterone levels is the increase in sexual arousal. A study from the journal “Experimental Animals” found that tongkat ali administration in rats was a “potent stimulator of sexual arousal.”
Apoptosis is the medical term for cellular death. In most cases, a supplement causing cell death would not be useful. When treating cancer, however, inducing apoptosis is very valuable. A study from the journal “Anticancer Research” found that tongkat ali extracts could cause apoptosis in targeted cells.