What does Tongkat Ali do? Benefits include improved male fertility, enhanced athletic performance, reduced stress, cancer resistance, and boosted immune function.

What Is Tongkat Ali? 

Tongkat Ali is a shrub found in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and, occasionally, the Philippines. The literal translation of its name is “Ali’s walking stick,” referring to its sexual wellness effects. However, it also goes by other names, including Malaysian ginseng, longjack, and Eurycoma longifolia, its scientific name. (Each country where it grows also has local names). 

The herb contains various compounds, prized for their libido and testosterone-enhancing benefits. Researchers have found diverse phytonutrients in its tissues, including alkaloids, flavonoids, and antioxidant compounds. However, most people are interested in its eurycomanone content – the ingredient most associated with its sexual wellness-enhancing effects. 

Getting Tongkat Ali root raw is challenging. However, supplement providers supply it in extract and powdered forms for convenience. 

What Do People Use Tongkat Ali For?

As a traditional medicinal herb, people used Tongkat Ali for numerous ailments historically. Applications included treating malaria, diarrhea, intestinal worms, fever, diabetes, jaundice, lumbago, indigestion, and leukemia. 

However, today, the primary uses are different. Most people use it for: 

  • Boosting testosterone. The herb may increase the level of the hormone in men, potentially improving sexual function. 
  • Improving fertility. Tongkat Ali may also improve one’s likelihood of becoming pregnant by enhancing sperm count and quality. 
  • Better sexual performance. Finally, some commentators claim that Tongkat Ali can improve blood flow to the penis. However, research is still ongoing and it may only work in the context of a better diet. 
Better sexual performance

Some people also use Tongkat Ali to reduce stress and anxiety. Active ingredients may assist mental health and improve overall wellness. 

The herb may also improve athletic performance in some individuals. Research suggests enhanced muscle strength and exercise performance when taken for short periods. 

How does Tongkat Ali work? 

Researchers believe Tongkat Ali’s effects stem from its eurycomanone content. The compound has steroidogenic activity, boosting testosterone while offering anti-estrogenic effects by inhibiting enzymes that convert testosterone into estrogen in the testes. 

Other proposed mechanisms of action include: 

  • Inhibiting phosphodiesterase activity to increase cholesterol transport and pregnenolone production (a critical precursor for testosterone production)
  • Activating the CYP17a enzyme to boost androstenedione and DHEA production (two further testosterone precursors)
  • Enhancing luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone, which independently boost testosterone levels

How much Tongkat Ali should you take? 

Most people take between 200 and 600 mg of Tongkat Ali extract every day. However, research suggests doses under 400 mg are effective. 

More controversial is splitting doses. Supplement manufacturers will often recommend a dosage spread over two pills. However, research doesn’t tell us much about whether twice a day is better than once. 

When reading dosing information, look for the word “extract.” Most manufacturers try to increase their products’ potency by isolating the bioactive compounds in high concentrations. However, some simply put powdered Tongkat Ali into pills. Dosage limits for the former are lower than the latter. 

What Are The Benefits Of Tongkat Ali? 

Tongkat Ali enjoys pride of place among medicinal herbs in traditional cultures. However, modern science is still playing catch-up to identify its benefits. With that said, compelling evidence exists that it can improve mood, boost sexual function, and increase muscle mass. 

What Are The Benefits Of Tongkat Ali 

Improved Male Fertility

Because Tongkat Ali seems to boost testosterone levels, it may improve fertility. Those who take it can potentially reverse low-testosterone-related issues, such as poor libido and erectile dysfunction. 

Research appears to back this up. A short-term investigation of 76 older men with low libido found that taking 200 mg of Tongkat Ali extract daily increased testosterone levels. Further studies in humans and animals suggested the herb enhances arousal, including aiding erections. 

Research also suggests that Tongkat Ali could improve sperm quality. Researchers followed 75 men taking 200 mg of the extract daily and saw enhanced sperm count and motility after three months. 

Enhanced Athletic Performance

Research also indicates that Tongkat Ali may be an ergogenic aid – an herb that enhances athletic performance. The plant improves testosterone levels while reducing stress, enabling the body to adapt to training more rapidly. 

A 2016 review by Thai researchers attributed these effects to the plant’s flavonoid, alkaloid, and phenolic content. Candidate compounds for its medicinal effects include eurycolactone, eurycomalactone, eurycomanol, eurycomanone, and eurycomaoside. 

Tongkat Ali may also improve strength in older people. A study of older adults found that those taking the herb for five weeks were stronger than those on the placebo. 

Reduced Stress

Like ashwagandha, Tongkit Ali may also offer anxiolytic properties. A study of 63 people consuming the extract for four weeks demonstrated significantly lower tension, anger, and confusion. Hence, supplemental forms could help defend people against the stresses and strains of modern, hectic lifestyles, sleep deprivation, and pollution exposure. 

A 2018 study found additional evidence that this herbal supplement could bolster natural defenses against a stressful lifestyle. Participants randomized to take the herb felt more vigorous in daily life and better able to cope with the pressures on them.

Improved Body Composition

As you might expect for a supplement that increases testosterone levels, Tongkat Ali may also improve body composition. However, researchers are still trying to tease out precisely how it does it. Possibilities include: 

  • Helping the body to use stored energy more efficiently, improving fat-burning in response to exercise and fasting
  • Reducing physical fatigue, encouraging higher baseline metabolic activity and greater exertion when exercising
  • Improving individuals’ capacity to exercise, increasing energy expenditure, and muscle stimulation

Research supports some of these claims. For example, investigators conducted a five-week study of strength-training men to see if Tongkat Ali improved their lean body mass compared to a placebo. The results showed that lean mass increased and participants lost extra body fat compared to those on sugar pills. 

However, other studies found conflicting results. For instance, a cycling cohort saw no improvement when drinking a Tongkat Ali-based beverage. 

Reduced Cancer Risk

There is also tantalizing evidence that the quassinoids in Tongkat Ali may fight cancer. Researchers found that herbal extracts appeared to be toxic to lung and prostate cancer cells in test tubes.

Reductionist science is still trying to figure out which of the sixteen identified compounds is responsible for its anti-cancer properties. However, it is likely a synergistic interaction of all the most promising substances in the herb. 

Immune-Enhancing Effects

Finally, Tongkat Ali may also calm the immune system, similar to other popular herbs. Part of this effect may be due to its anti-bacterial and free radical-scavenging properties. For instance, research shows it can kill opportunistic bacteria, such as E.coli and Salmonella typhi

What Are The Risks And Side Effects Of Tongkat Ali? 

Traditional cultures have been using Tongkat Ali for thousands of years. However, there are risks (as there are with many herbal remedies). Therefore, researchers and supplement manufacturers recommend keeping dosages below 2,000 mg daily and preferably less than 1,000 mg. Furthermore, no studies explore the long-term effects of this herbal supplement supplementation. As such, we don’t know whether it is safe to take over many years.

heavy metal contamination

The main risk is heavy metal contamination. For example, a Malaysian study found that 26% of supplements had mercury concentrations above safe limits. 

Who Shouldn’t Take Tongkat Ali Supplements? 

You should avoid taking Tongkat Ali supplements if you: 

  • Have prostate cancer or a history of prostate problems. Raising testosterone may aggravate this hormone-dependent disease. 
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding. The safety of this herbal supplement during pregnancy and nursing is limited, so medical authorities advise avoiding it as a precaution.
  • Are taking various medications. This herbal supplement can interact dangerously with blood thinners, diabetes pills, and blood pressure medications.  
  • Have autoimmune disease. This herbal supplement will sometimes cause the immune system to overreact, attacking the body’s tissues and causing skin, bowel, and liver issues.
  • Have liver disease. This herbal supplement requires detoxification in the liver, which might not happen with liver issues.
  • Have low blood sugar. Those diagnosed with hypoglycemia should avoid this herbal supplement because of the risk that it could lower blood sugar levels further.

Summary: What Does Tongkat Ali Do? 

  • Boosts testosterone levels
  • May improve athletic performance (as an ergogenic aid)
  • May increase libido and sexual arousal (see this article)
  • Could improve immune function
  • Many have anti-cancer properties