Tribulus is a flowering plant from the Caltrop family. It can be found growing in dry climates all over the world and thrives in locations other plant species cannot tolerate due to the lack of moisture. There are over 50 species of tribulus, but the name tribulus terrestris is the one that many bodybuilders will be most familiar with due to its popularity as a testosterone booster. Although it is not as well known or established as its cousin with the similar-sounding name, tribulus alatus is also credited with testosterone-boosting abilities and this, of course, begs the question: which one is best?
Tribulus in Focus
Plants that belong to the tribulus family have a long-standing reputation as medicinal herbs and have been used in the treatment of a variety of ailments ranging from coughs and colds and flatulence to heart conditions and cancer. They are also believed to encourage healthy hormone function and have a reputation for boosting testosterone levels, stimulating the libido, and ensuring the male reproductive organs remain in tip-top condition.
Improved testosterone levels can result in improved muscle growth so it is not surprising many bodybuilders favour testosterone-boosting supplements. In the past tribulus terrestris has always been the tribulus of choice, but as more and more tribulus alatus supplements are hitting the market some bodybuilders are changing track and many of them swear tribulus alatus packs more of a punch and delivers the better results
The Reigning Champ: Tribulus Terrestris
Tribulus terrestris is not just the most common ingredient, it is also the cheapest to refine. The active ingredient is a steroidal saponin compound called protodioscin and it is worth noting not all tribulus terrestris plants provide the same quantity of protodioscin. Plants grown in Bulgaria and Turkey usually prove to be the richest source of protodioscin, but most tribulus terrestris supplements list the protodioscin content on the label, and generally provide 55 to 90mg of saponins, so educated supplement buyers are unlikely to be left in the dark about product potency.
Some scientific studies indicate supplementation with tribulus terrestris extracts encourages the body to produce increased quantities of the testosterone precursor leutenising hormone (LH), but other studies provide conflicting results. After one study conducted on Australian elite male rugby league players, and later published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2007), the researchers concluded: “T. terrestris did not produce the large gains in strength or lean muscle mass that many manufacturers claim can be experienced within 5-28 days.”
The Contender: Tribulus Alatus
Tribulus alatus contains six steroidal saponins and is generally considered to be more potent than tribulus terrestris, but the main supporting evidence appears to be a five-week study conducted on male laboratory rats.
The study was conducted at the Drug Bioavailability Center at the National Organization for Drug Control and Research (Cairo, Egypt), the researchers investigated tribulus alatus’ effect on the free serum testosterone level of male rats. The rats were supplemented with “alcoholic extracts of the aerial part without fruits, fruits of Tribulus alatus and their fractions” and the researchers noted a significant increase in the rats’ free serum testosterone levels.
This led the researchers to conclude: “The alcoholic extracts of both parts of Tribulus alatus produced a significant increase in the level of free serum testosterone at dose 50 mg/Kg body weight. Also different fractions of both parts of the plant revealed significant increase in the level of free serum testosterone at dose 12.5 mg/Kg body weight when compared to their corresponding controls.”
Although the study was supportive of the testosterone-boosting abilities of tribulus alatus it must be remembered the tests subjects were rats, not human beings, so it cannot be said with any degree of certainty that the compound will perform in the same manner for humans.
The Final Result
Although the testosterone boosting abilities of tribulus terrestris and tribulus alatus have both been put to the test in a controlled environment it is clear that further study is required for both compounds. The reputation of tribulus alatus appears to be largely reliant on the results of just one study that was conducted on rats. Tribulus terrestris has, however, been tested on numerous occasions. Most of the studies also involved laboratory rats and, although some studies indicate tribulus terrestris has merit as a testosterone booster, other studies suggest it does not and a study conducted on humans appears to confirm the ingredients inability to live up to its reputation.
When it comes to the ingredients they use in their formulations, most supplement manufacturers appear to have a God-given talent for picking and choosing only the data that supports their marketing needs. This is unfortunate because it helps certain ingredients to quickly gain a reputation they may not deserve or, at least, cannot be proven to deserve at the present time. Both tribulus terrestris and tribulus alatus fall into this category, but that does not mean either one is lacking in potential; it merely means further studies are required.
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