What is Tongkat Ali? Everything You Need To Know
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Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is a tree native to Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. The root of the tree contains compounds known as alkaloids and quassinoids and is the part of the tree that is used medicinally. Typically, tongkat ali is consumed in tea, energy beverages, and in dietary supplements. Tongkat ali is also an herbal remedy that has been a part of traditional Southeast Asian medicine for decades.
Other names for tongkat ali include Eurycoma longifolia Jack, Malaysian ginseng, payung ali, wonod mondou, and longjack. In this article, we review everything you need to know about tongkat ali – including its health benefits, possible side effects, and dosage instructions.
What is Tongkat Ali?
Tongkat ali is an herbal supplement that comes from the roots of the tree Eurycoma longifolia, which is native to Southeast Asia. It’s used in traditional medicine in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and other Asian countries to treat a variety of health conditions. The health benefits of tongkat ali likely come from various compounds found in the plant. Specifically, tongkat ali contains alkaloids, flavonoids, and other compounds that act as antioxidants.
Antioxidants are compounds that fight cellular damage caused by free radicals. Typically, tongkat ali is consumed in pills that contain an its herb extract or as part of herbal drinks.
In alternative medicine, tongkat ali is best known for its use to support libido, reproductive function, intestinal health, and healthy aging.
Listed below are some of the potential health benefits that tongkat ali has to offer.
- Improve Low Libido and Erectile Dysfunction
Low testosterone can result from aging, metabolic disorders (i.e. hemochromatosis), injury or infection of the testes, dysfunction of the pituitary gland, certain medications, and certain diseases (i.e. obesity, type 2 diabetes, and obstructive sleep apnea). Effects of low testosterone levels include erectile dysfunction, low libido, and in some cases, infertility.
Tongkat ali is often touted as a remedy for low libido and erectile dysfunction. One study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, shows that twelve weeks supplementation of a product containing tongkat ali extract and Polygonum minus (an antioxidant) helped to increase sexual performance and improved erectile dysfunction.
Another study involving 76 older men with low testosterone found that taking 200mg of tongkat ali extract every day significantly increased testosterone levels to normal values in more than 90% of participants. Tongkat ali may also improve sperm concentration and motility. One study in 75 male partners of couples with infertility discovered that taking 200mg of tongkat ali extract every day significantly improved sperm concentration and motility after 3 months – the treatment helped over 14% of couples become pregnant.
- Stress Relief
Some research suggests that tongkat ali may help alleviate stress, decrease anxiety, and improve overall mood. One study that involved 63 adults with moderate stress found that supplementing with 200mg of tongkat ali extract per day reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol by 16%, compared to those who received placebo. Participants of the study also reported significantly less tension, anger, and stress after taking tongkat ali.
- Increase Muscle Mass
Due to its purported effects on testosterone levels, tongkat ali may increase muscle mass and strength. Also, it is often used to improve physical strength, athletic performance, and to promote fat loss. In a preliminary study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that taking 100mg of tongkat ali extract every day for five weeks increased muscle mass and strength in men participating in an intensive strength training program compared to those who joined the program alone.
Another study published in Phytotherapy Research found that tongkat ali may help increase muscle strength in older adults. For the study, 12 women and 13 men between the ages of 57 and 72 took 400mg of tongkat ali extract every day for five weeks. At the end of the study, tongkat ali was found to have raised free and total testosterone levels and muscular force.
Possible Side Effects and Dosage
Because so few studies have tested the effects of tongkat ali in humans, little is known about the safety of regular or long-term use of this herb. The studies that have been done have commonly used 200mg of tongkat ali extract for up to nine months. Noted side effects included anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness.
Furthermore, since tongkat ali may raise testosterone levels, it is not recommended for people with conditions that would be adversely affected by higher testosterone levels, such as kidney disease, liver disease, sleep apnea, heart disease, or hormone-sensitive cancers. People with weak immune systems should also avoid taking tongkat ali. The herb may also interact with certain medications, such as antiplatelet and anticoagulant medications, blood pressure medication, immunosuppressant drugs, and other supplements.
The effects of tongkat ali in children or breastfeeding and pregnant women have not been researched. Therefore, it’s unknown whether this herb is safe for these populations. Concerns have also been raised about lead and mercury contamination in tongkat ali products. According to one study, 26% of products tested contained 0.53 to 2.35 ppm of mercury and did not comply with the quality requirements in Malaysia.
Should You Take Tongkat Ali?
Some studies suggest that tongkat ali may improve low libido and erectile dysfunction, alleviate stress, and increase muscle mass; however, research is limited. While tongkat ali does not appear to have adverse effects in doses up to 400mg per day, research is still limited, and available studies focus on short-term use. It’s still unclear whether taking tongkat ali over longer periods is safe and beneficial.
Children, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take tongkat ali due to the lack of research in this area. Also, those with medical conditions, weak immune systems, or are taking medications should talk to their healthcare provider before taking tongkat ali. If you’re interested in taking tongkat ali (or any other form of alternative medication), make sure to talk to your primary care provider first.
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