How Long Before Tongkat Ali Starts to Work? [Data Backed]

Tongkat ali — or longjack — is a popular traditional medicine and herbal supplement.

As a dietary supplement, it's purported to increase testosterone levels and muscle mass and alleviate anxiety and erectile dysfunction. But, if you have thought about taking tongkat ali for one or more of these reasons, you might wonder when you can expect to experience its effects.

This article explains how long before tongkat ali starts to work, the benefits of tongkat ali supplements, and what to look for in a supplement.

The Basics of Tongkat Ali

Tongkat ali is a tall, slender, shrubby tree indigenous to Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

There are three other plant species known as tongkat ali, but the botanical name of this herb is Eurycoma longifolia, Simaroubaceae.

As the most well-known herbal folk medicines in Southeast Asia, tongkat ali's roots have traditionally been used to manage sexual dysfunction, cancer, aging, diabetes, and anxiety, and increase energy, strength, and appetite (1).

Among the wide spectrum of bioactive compounds present in its roots, compounds called quassinoids are believed to be responsible for most of tongkat ali's health benefits.

Factors Influencing TongKat Ali's Effectiveness

Like other dietary supplements — and even over-the-counter or prescription medications — there are various individual factors that influence tongkat ali's effectiveness for the purpose in which you're supplementing it.

Perhaps the greatest are your nutrition and physical activity level. It's very difficult — and, in many cases, practically impossible — to overcome a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle if your goal is to increase testosterone and alleviate sexual dysfunction and anxiety, or realize the other purported benefits of tongkat ali supplementation.

Thus, the best things you can do are to ensure you're consuming a nutrient-rich diet and consistently exercising or staying active to support your fitness and health goals. Getting regular, adequate sleep is also essential, and while you can't always control stress, do your best to control what you can and forget the rest. Outside of these factors are the dose and duration of supplementation, but more on that later.

Other factors are more nuanced and not so straight forward. To this point, certain medical conditions and baseline lab values like free testosterone can determine how and whether you respond to tongkat ali. For example, if your baseline testosterone levels are low, you might expect to experience a greater increase with supplementation compared with someone with testosterone levels in the normal or upper end of normal. And, even though studies assessing the efficacy of tongkat ali are limited in females, gender is also likely to play a role.

Expected Timeline for Tongkat Ali's Effects

Just like getting into and staying in shape, nutrition and supplementation are a long game, so don't expect to experience tongkat ali's purported effects after a few days.

While some studies have shown improvements in testosterone levels after just two weeks of supplementation, most of the studies assessing the effects of tongkat ali on testosterone have been conducted for five to eight weeks and, in other trials, up to six months.

The same treatment duration has been used in other trials assessing the effects of tongkat ali root extract supplementation on erectile function, muscle mass, and exercise performance.

That said, while some research suggests that tongkat ali may influence testosterone levels in as little as two weeks, the majority of research suggests at least five weeks and potentially longer of daily supplementation is needed to experience tongkat ali's effects.

Scientific Evidence

There are many purported benefits of tongkat ali supplementation. Here's what the current scientific evidence says about them:

Testosterone Levels

Testosterone is the primary male hormone, but women produce it too. Men commonly desire to increase testosterone levels to enhance muscle growth, promote fat loss, increase sex drive, and boost energy.

A review of five randomized controlled trials found a significant increase in total testosterone levels following supplementation with tongkat ali. This effect was demonstrated in both healthy men and men with low testosterone, though only those with low testosterone experienced a significant increase. Two of the five studies failed to observe any increases in testosterone levels when treatment was less than three and eight weeks.

Most of the studies in this review used a tongkat ali extract called Physta — standardized to contain 0.8–1.5% eurycomanone (a major quassinoid) — in doses ranging from 100 to 600 mg daily for as few as three days to as long as six months (2).

In a different study, tongkat ali supplementation was shown to increase testosterone in a small number of physically active female seniors when supplemented at a dose of 400 mg daily for five weeks. This increase in testosterone is believed to be due to a decline in the protein that binds testosterone, preventing it from being used by the body's tissues (3).

Muscle Growth and Exercise Performance

Due to its ability to increase testosterone levels in some people, tongkat ali has been suggested to benefit muscle and strength gains. And there may be some truth to this (4).

In one study, young adult males who supplemented with 100 mg daily of tongkat ali and underwent an intensive strength training program experienced significant improvements in muscle mass, fat mass, maximal strength, and arm circumference compared with those who received a placebo but underwent the same intense training program. However, this was a small-scale preliminary study (5).

In another trial, young men who supplemented with 200 mg of tongkat ali daily for weight weeks and underwent an intense resistance training program improved peak power output, a common measure of exercise intensity, compared with placebo (6).

While these studies are promising, more research is needed to confirm the efficacy of tongkat ali supplementation for building muscle or improving exercise performance and whether these outcomes are related to tongkat ali's ability to potentially increase testosterone levels.

Sexual Health

Decoctions of tongkat ali roots have been traditional used for centuries as an aphrodisiac. For this reason, the herb is purported to increase sexual function by improving erectile dysfunction.

A review of just two studies found that men aged 40 to 65 years old reported no improvements in sexual function after 6 weeks but further analysis revealed that those who reported mild-to-moderate erectile dysfunction at baseline experienced significant improvements after 12 weeks of supplementation with 200 mg of a standardized tongkat ali root extract daily. These results suggest that tongkat ali supplementation may alleviate mild-to-moderate cases of erectile dysfunction but not severe cases (7).

In a different trial, men between 30 and 55 years old who supplemented with 300 mg of tongkat ali reported significant improvements in quality of life, erectile dysfunction, and libido, and demonstrated improvements in sperm volume and motility after 12 weeks. There were no differences in testosterone levels, suggesting that tongkat ali may improve sexual function in part through a different mechanism (8).

Anxiety and Stress Hormones

Tongkat ali has traditionally been used as an adaptogen, and why it's also referred to as Malaysian ginseng. An adaptogen is a compound that increases the body's resilience to stress and exhaustion in nonspecific way.

There is some research to support this traditional use. In one study, sixty-four moderately stressed men and women were randomized to receive 200 mg of tongkat ali or a placebo for four weeks. While there were no significant differences between the groups for measures of depression, vigor, or fatigue, those who received tongkat ali reported significant improvements in tension, anger, and confusion compared with placebo. A trend for improvement in overall well-being was also demonstrated in the supplement group (9).

This study also demonstrated significant improvements in salivary cortisol levels — the "stress hormone" — and testosterone levels in those who supplemented with tongkat ali. This study suggests that tongkat ali may be useful for shielding the body against the detrimental effects of daily stressors or the stress associated with dieting, sleep deprivation, and intension exercise training.

What's more, a trial in mice demonstrated similar anxiety-reducing effects to the drug diazepam, but this study has yet to be replicated in humans (10).

User Guidelines for Optimal Results

If your goal is to increase testosterone and muscle strength and exercise performance or improve sexual function and alleviate stress and anxiety, tongkat ali may be worth trying — but you should know how to supplement with it to get your money's worth.

Most studies on tongkat ali use a standardized extract called Physta. Thus, you should look for products that contain this extract as you cannot conclude that the benefits associated with it will extend to a non-standardized tongkat ali supplements.

The dose of this extract tends to vary slightly depending on the use for which you're supplementing it. Commonly supplemented doses range between 200 and 600 mg daily for eight to 12 weeks. If your goal is to increase testosterone, you should aim for the higher end of this range, and if your goal is to improve sexual function or stress adaptation, aim on the lower end.

The time in which you supplement it probably isn't important as long as you remember to take tongkat ali everyday. Digestive complaints have been associated with its use, which you may be able to avoid by taking with food.

Side Effects and Safety Considerations

Tongkat ali appears to be relatively safe and well tolerated. In a review of five studies, only one reported adverse effects associated with its use, which included digestive symptoms and itching. Otherwise, the same review reported safe daily use for up to six months. Another review — this time of two studies — reported no serious adverse effects of tongkat ali with daily supplementation up to 12 weeks. Studies suggest that tongkat ali supplementation doesn't affect liver or kidney function, further pointing to its safety profile (2, 7, 9).

While tongkat ali has been shown to increase testosterone, this increase isn't enough to fail a sports doping tests, suggesting it may be safe for use by athletes subject to regular performance enhancing drug testing. Still, it's best to choose products that are certified or tested for sport in this case as some supplements are produced under poor quality control and may be contaminated with banned substances.

Because there are a lack of data in people with chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes and in pregnant and lactating women, supplementation is discouraged in these populations without consultation from a medical provider first.

Choosing the Right Tongkat Ali Supplement

Today, there are hundreds of tongkat ali supplement products available either in raw powder form or as capsules — talk about overwhelming when trying to choose the right one for you. But, as daunting as the task may be, there are a few things to look for that will help you weed out the inferior products.

The first thing to look for is the brand offering the tongkat ali. Look for well-known brands that have been around for many years. These brands follow current good manufacturing practices set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and usually have their products tested by third party labs to ensure the products contain what the label says — nothing more, nothing less.

Then, choose a product that provides tongkat ali as Physta — also known as LJ100. This is the form that has been studied the most extensively for efficacy and safety.

Conclusion

Tongkat ali is an herb with a long history of use in traditional medicine for managing various conditions and diseases. Today, it's a popular supplement purported to increase testosterone levels and muscle mass and alleviate erectile dysfunction and anxiety.

And there is a decent body of research to support these claimed benefits, but data is lacking on the use of tongkat ali for boosting muscle size and strength.

If you wish to try tongkat ali, look for well-known, high-quality brands that provide the herb as a standardized extract (Physta or LJ100). An effective dose of the extract is 100 - 600 mg daily. To increase testosterone levels, aim on the higher end of this range, and for all other uses, aim on the lower end. Tongkat ali appears to be relatively safe, but it's best to talk with your medical provider if you have a chronic health condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Tongkat Ali Banned in Sports?

Tongkat is not prohibited by the World Anti Doping Agency. While it can increase testosterone levels in some people, this increase isn't great enough to fail a drug test. However, if you are an athlete subject to regular drug testing, it's best to choose a product that has been third-party tested for banned substances.

Is Tongkat Ali a Steroid?

Tongkat ali — while it can increase testosterone levels and may increase muscle mass as a result — is not an anabolic steroid. Tongkat ali is also not a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM), which are a class of compounds with similar anabolic properties to steroids.

Is Tongkat Ali Safe for Women?

There are limited studies assessing the effects of tongkat ali in women, but one study in older women demonstrated an increase in testosterone with supplementation. More studies are necessary to determine both its efficacy and safety in women.

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