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Tongkat Ali and its History in the Herbal World

Tongkat Ali (pronounced Tong-Cat Ali) has a long history of use in the medicinal herbal world. Also known as Malaysian Ginseng or by its Latin name Eurycoma longifola, Tongkat Ali historically has been used as an anti-aging herb, meaning it has positive effects on the symptoms of aging, such as reduced energy, libido or mood. Today, Tongkat Ali is used for improving libido, correcting hormonal imbalance, improving sports performance and reducing stress. While I always find that traditional uses of a herb are often accurate, it is essential to marry the stated benefits of a herb with the scientific evidence for this herb. The good news is that Tongkat Ali has both – in spades. So, let’s look at what the scientific studies say about this fantastic herb.

Tongkat Ali Reduces Stress

Stress is an awful feeling and a leading cause of morbidity in the world today. Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed and out of control of a situation. There are numerous causes of stress, but possibly the most common cause of stress is financial. You have lost work due to an economic downturn, or your expenses may have unexpectantly increased. At the moment, interest rates are meagre, but if they suddenly increase, your repayments to your mortgage suddenly increase.

There is nothing you can do about the increase in interest rates, but you can help your body cope with these stressors by taking adaptogens like Tongkat Ali. In a placebo-controlled trial involving 63 people, Tongkat Ali or a placebo was given to individuals suffering stress. Their stress hormones (cortisol), sex hormones (testosterone) and subjective feelings were measured over four weeks. The results showed that the group taking Tongkat Ali had an 11% reduction in tension, a 12% reduction in anger, and a 16% drop in cortisol (ANOVA P<0.05). The Tongkat Ali group also enjoyed increases in testosterone (by a massive 37%). And while Tongkat Ali didn’t pay the mortgage off for the individuals, it certainly helped the group coping with stress.

Putting Lead in your Pencil

Viagra and other Phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors are indicated for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. As men age, this becomes more of a problem because men have declining testosterone and increased stiffening of the arteries. Unfortunately, arterial stiffness worsens the ‘other’ stiffness because the arteries become less flexible, which restricts blood flow to the penis.

As discussed earlier, Tongkat Ali does boost testosterone levels, and testosterone is needed to drive an erection. Scientists have looked at the studies on Tongkat Ali and outlined their findings in a systemic review and meta-analysis, which is the highest form of accepted evidence. Looking at the data, the researchers found that Tongkat Ali did, and didn’t, help. This means that if you were already getting healthy erections, Tongkat Ali didn’t support them further. However, if you were struggling to get hard, the Tongkat Ali helped.

In 2021, a recent 6-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised study was performed using 200mg of Tongkat Ali on aging men with erectile dysfunction. The researchers again found that as little as 200mg of Tongkat Ali helped aging men with erectile dysfunction.

Improving the Quality of Life

Improving the quality of your life is possibly the holy grail when it comes to your health. After all, that is what it is all about. Sure, erections are great, and reducing stress is also a bonus, but putting it all together is what counts. We want to feel better, and we want to have many aspects of our lives improve. Probably the most asked for commodity in clinical practice is energy. We all want more of it. As a naturopath, no one has ever said to me, “I just have too much get up and go” or “I wish I had less energy”. The next thing people ask for is for all this to happen in a hurry.

The good news for these people is that we now have something that can help this. Tongkat Ali again showed that all these health parameters could be met according to a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled multicentre study. One hundred and five older men (50-70 years old) were enrolled in this study, and the active group was given 200mg of an extract of Tongkat Ali. The results were nothing short of amazing.

The lucky men given Tongkat Ali enjoyed increases in testosterone, free testosterone, and DHEA levels. They also wanted a drop in the often-harmful cortisol levels. They also got stronger (their grip strength increased)! And all of this occurred within two weeks of beginning the trial. This is a recent trial (May 2021). The study’s best conclusion was that the individuals taking the Tongkat Ali had reduced fatigue and improved quality of life.

What about Women?

Aging women can also benefit from taking Tongkat Ali. In a 2020 study, Tongkat Ali was combined with another herb (Labisia pumila) and given to women suffering hot flushes associated with menopause. This study was a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 24-week study that enrolled 119 healthy women aged 41-55 years experiencing menopausal symptoms. Some fantastic results were observed. Firstly, bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels were reduced, which is a good start. Still, probably the most exciting development was that there was a significant reduction in hot flushes.

The Take-Home Message

It seems that if you are middle-aged (around 50), Tongkat Ali could be highly beneficial for you. If you have hot flashes, Tongkat Ali may help. And if you are a middle-aged man, consider Tongkat Ali to boost your testosterone, reduce your stress and increase your strength. It could also help you when the sun goes down, and the partying begins.

 

REFERENCES

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[1] Talbott SM, Talbott JA, George A, Pugh M. Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):28. Published 2013 May 26. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-28

[1] Talbott SM, Talbott JA, George A, Pugh M. Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):28. Published 2013 May 26. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-28

[1] Kotirum S, Ismail SB, Chaiyakunapruk N. Efficacy of Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) on erectile function improvement: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. 2015 Oct;23(5):693-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2015.07.009. Epub 2015 Jul 31. PMID: 26365449.

[1] Leitão AE, Vieira MCS, Pelegrini A, da Silva EL, Guimarães ACA. A 6-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised trial to evaluate the effect of Eurycoma longifolia (Tongkat Ali) and concurrent training on erectile function and testosterone levels in androgen deficiency of aging males (ADAM). Maturitas. 2021 Mar;145:78-85. DOI: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.12.002. Epub 2020 Dec 10. PMID: 33541567.

[1] Chinnappan SM, George A, Pandey P, Narke G, Choudhary YK. Effect of Eurycoma longifolia standardised aqueous root extract-Physta® on testosterone levels and quality of life in ageing male subjects: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled multicentre study. Food Nutr Res. 2021 May 19;65. DOI: 10.29219/fnr.v65.5647. PMID: 34262417; PMCID: PMC8254464.

[1] Chinnappan SM, George A, Evans M, Anthony J. Efficacy of Labisia pumila and Eurycoma longifolia standardised extracts on hot flushes, quality of life, hormone and lipid profile peri-menopausal and menopausal women: a randomised, placebo-controlled study. Food Nutr Res. 2020 Sep 3;64. DOI: 10.29219/fnr.v64.3665. PMID: 33061884; PMCID: PMC7534949.