Ecdysterone and Turkesterone Supplements: Examining the Evidence

by Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC | Reviewed by Advisory Board

turkesterone supplements

Ecdysterone and Turkesterone Supplements: Hype vs. Science

Turkesterone supplements are growing in popularity for gym-goers and athletes looking to pack on muscle mass and improve body composition. Like other ecdysteroids, such as ecdysterone (20-hydroxyecdysone), turkesterone is an anabolic steroid produced by arthropods (insects), non-arthropod invertebrates, and various plant species.

Considerable progress has been made in research on ecdysteroids and phytoecdysteroids over the past four decades, but many questions about their biological effects on humans remain unresolved [1]. These compounds show promise for muscle building, fat loss, and athletic performance, but more human data is necessary to elucidate their role in the body. In fact, the mechanism of action of ecdysterone and turkesterone in higher mammals is almost entirely uncharacterized [2]. (Though recent research has uncovered plausible pathways [3]).

Nonetheless, sports supplement brands are jumping the gun and formulating muscle-building/anabolic products with ecdysterone and turkesterone. After all, anything natural that's suggested to produce anabolic steroid-like effects is inherently intriguing to supplement enthusiasts.

While the apparent benefits of turkesterone and ecdysterone are encouraging, there's a concerning lack of regulation and quality in supplements containing these compounds. A recent analysis of supplements containing ecdysterone found that many samples were upwards of 99.7% less than the label claim [4]. This is, among other reasons we will discuss below, why we have not formulated any supplement with ecdysteroids or phytoecdysteroids like turkesterone.

That may change as research grows and we can more confidently source turkesterone. Until then, we recommend approaching ecdysteroid supplements with a sense of caution and skepticism as they are unlikely to contain a proper dose of ecdysterone and turkesterone. 

What Are Ecdysterone and Turkesterone?

turkesterone supplement

20-hydroxyecdysone (ecdysterone) and turkesterone are anabolic steroids derived from insects — mainly arthropods — and numerous plants, notably rich in quinoa, spinach, and chestnut. As such, many mammals, including humans, consume a relatively high amount of phytoecdysteroids from food. Researchers contend that the presence of ecdysterone and turkesterone in the diet is proof of their safety (a reasonable supposition) [2].

In arthropods and non-arthropod invertebrates, ecdysteroids are hormones that stimulate molting and growth by binding to the ecdysone receptor (which is not present in vertebrates). (Much like testosterone promotes growth in the human body.) This fact led to the theory that ecdysteroids could increase protein synthesis and, by extension, muscle growth in humans.

Hence, ecdysteroids are an area of interest in research due to their potential as therapeutic alternatives to anabolic-androgenic steroids like testosterone and nandrolone (19-nortestosterone). Several synthetic anabolic-androgenic steroids are orally active, but they come with the consequence of being toxic to the liver — making them less practical for fighting age-related muscle wasting (sarcopenia).

Ecdysterone and turkesterone circumvent liver toxicity and the associated safety issues since they are orally active, non-methylated, and extensively hydroxylated (which makes them more polar than typical anabolic steroids) [5]. They also don't interfere with normal endocrine function in humans.

Do Ecdysteroid Supplements Help Build Muscle Mass?

As of late 2021, there is a paucity of human data on ecdysteroid supplements. Only three clinical trials of ecdysterone are available, and turkesterone lacks published clinical research [6, 7].

A handful of studies from the mid-to-late 1900s and early 2000s suggests that ecdysteroids enhance protein synthesis and reduce body fat in mice [8, 9]. Curiously, these benefits appear to be mediated through an androgen-receptor-independent pathway as ecdysteroids do not bind to the androgen receptor in animals. Since ecdysteroid hormones lack androgenic activity, ecdysterone and turkesterone won't produce the same side effects as performance-enhancing androgens.

Still, how ecdysteroids promote protein synthesis and increase muscle mass in humans and other animals is somewhat of a mystery. The current hypothesis is that ecdysterone (20-hydroxyecdysone) and its structural analogs (e.g. turkesterone) activate a ubiquitous receptor known as MAS1, a component of the renin-angiotensin system (RAS).

Murine data suggests that the MAS1 receptor is involved in multiple vital body functions, including muscle hypertrophy and energy production [10]. But physiology of the RAS is complicated since its activity has also been shown to increase muscle wasting in rodents [11].

Nevertheless, findings of the limited human data — much of which is in vitro — on ecdysterone and turkesterone supplements are generally encouraging. Ecdysteroid supplements seem to have versatile benefits for a range of health applications, including [3]:

  • Protecting against stress (adaptogenic)
  • Reducing insulin resistance (anti-diabetic)
  • Promoting lean muscle building (anabolic)
  • Stimulating immune function (immunoprotective)
  • Supporting liver and heart health (hepatoprotective and cardioprotective)

Another possible molecular target for ecdysterone and turkesterone is estrogen receptor beta [12]. Contrary to popular belief that estrogen is intrinsically a catabolic hormone, the beta subtype of estrogen receptor has anabolic properties and is known to stimulate muscle protein synthesis [13]. It's also worth mentioning that ecdysterone treatment decreased estradiol and corticosterone (e.g. cortisol) levels in rat muscle cells [12].

Does Ecdysterone Increase Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1)?

Several in vitro studies show that ecdysterone, and ostensibly turkesterone, reduces myostatin gene expression and increases circulating levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) [3]. Myostatin is a peptide hormone secreted by the brain that acts as a negative feedback loop for growth hormone production. Therefore, reducing myostatin levels promotes growth hormone production, which subsequently elevates IGF-1 levels. Though growth hormone itself is not an anabolic hormone, IGF-1 is [14].

However, research on the effect of ecdysterone towards myostatin and IGF-1 is based almost exclusively on isolated muscle cell cultures and from several decades ago. Extrapolating such findings to humans may not accurately reflect the in vivo beneficial effects of ecdysteroid supplementation.

Future research will hopefully provide more insight into how ecdysterone and turkesterone modulate human gene expression and the interplay of these compounds with proper resistance training and sports nutrition.

Ecdysterone and Turkesterone Supplementation for Muscle Building: Worth It or Worthless?

Currently, it's hard to recommend an ecdysterone or turkesterone supplement to athletes, gym-goers, or bodybuilders that are looking for an effective way to increase muscle mass. Check out Transparent Labs Vitality if you're looking for an evidence-based formula that supports natural anabolic hormone production.

Not to say we think ecdysteroid supplementation is "bogus" because the preliminary evidence is pretty compelling. We simply need more quality human studies to fully understand how ecdysteroids work and what dose is optimal for ergogenic effects

And to reiterate, the questionable origin, regulation, and composition of ecdysterone and turkesterone supplements make it imprudent to validate their efficacy and safety based on in vitro studies. Being a responsible supplement user should supersede the desire to keep up with trends. In many cases, trends are trendy for the wrong reasons (fad diets are a perfect example of that phenomenon).

 




Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC
Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC

Author

Elliot holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota, as well as being a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC). He is currently pursuing a Master's of Science in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University. Elliot began freelance writing circa 2012 and has since written 100s of articles and several eBooks pertaining to nutritional science, dietary supplements, exercise physiology, and health/wellness. Being a “science whiz,” he has a passion for helping people understand how nutrients (and other chemicals) and exercise work on a cellular and molecular level so they can make smarter choices about what they put in, and do with, their bodies. When Elliot is not busy writing or studying, you can find him pumping iron, hiking the mountains of beautiful Colorado, or perusing nutraceutical research.



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