Oct 4, 2004: What herbs are used for performance enhancement in sports?

Tribulus terrestris is an annual herb that is most common in subtropical areas, but grows worldwide.  It is administered to treat sexual impotency, abdominal distension, and cardiovascular disease in India, Chile, and Bulgaria. It is one of the growing number of herbs used in the US to enhance physical performance.

Tribulus terrestris is a steroidal glycoside (saponin) advertised as a testosterone booster.  Formulations are standardized to contain 20% steroidal saponins per dose, with recommended doses of 250-500 mg three times/day.   However, there is no evidence that plant sterols are converted to testosterone in the body.  Phototoxic, hepatotoxic, cytotoxic, and neurotoxic side effects are reported in animal studies.

The interest in this herb occurred as a result of a Bulgarian study that was translated into English.  This herb was reported to increase circulating testosterone and leutinizing homone, but it was only tested in men with low  testosterone levels  who were being worked up for infertility.

Alternative names:  Puncture Vine, Abrojos, Cat’s Head, Common Dubblejie, Devil’s-Thorn, Devil’s-Weed, Goathead, Nature’s Viagra

1)    Lexi-Comp Handbook of Natural Products (PDA)
2)    Combariu ED et al.  Furostanol saponins from Tribulus terrestris.  Fitoterapia 2003;74:583-591.
3)    Bucci LR.  Selected herbals and human exercise performance.  Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 72 (suppl):624S-36S
4)    Greydanus DE, Patel DR.  Sports doping in the adolescent athlete:  The Hope, hype, and hyperbole.  Pediatric Clinics of North America  2002; 49(4)

 Thanks to Katie Smith, Pharm D. for researching this topic.

As always, if there are any questions, call the TPC.

I am interested in any questions that you would like answered in “Question of 
The Week.”  Please e-mail me with any suggestions at donna.seger@vanderbilt.edu

Donna Seger, M.D.
Medical Director, Tennessee Poison Center