Gas stations have a little of everything: Beef jerky, lottery dreams—and pills promising to skyrocket your testosterone. But do testosterone boosters work, really? And more important: Are they safe?
“Testosterone boosters may sound like a simple and effective solution to low testosterone levels, but limited scientific evidence supports their effectiveness,” says Carl Giordano, M.D., Chief Science Officer and Co-Founder of Rebesana (1).
In other words: You’re experimenting with the unknown and could be risking your health.
Here’s the skinny on OTC testosterone boosters, what happens in your body to make you want them, and potential alternatives to keep your convenience-store purchases to your tank of gas and a snack.
You know you’ve got it, but what exactly is testosterone, anyway? It’s a hormone that peaks between ages 20 and 25, and then drops–bottoming out around years 65 to 70 (and possibly beyond)—per a 2022 study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology (2).
“Testosterone is produced in the testicles and adrenal glands in men,” Giordano says. “In addition to its role in sexual development and reproduction, testosterone is involved in several other bodily functions, including bone density, red blood cell production, and mood regulation.”
So it makes sense that in the years when testosterone levels wane, taking supplements to boost T sounds pretty appealing. Plus, no ongoing doctors’ visits or needles are needed.
OTC testosterone boosters may not necessarily work, however. And you might have safer options to elevate your testosterone levels.
KNOW YOUR T
What Are Testosterone Boosters?
Testosterone boosters are supplements or natural remedies marketed as a way to increase testosterone levels, Giordano says. “They are typically marketed toward men looking to improve their athletic performance, increase muscle mass, or enhance their sex drive.”
OTC testosterone boosters can also be purchased without a doctor’s visit—and over the counter at those gas stations. You’ve probably seen several options—such as Rhino pills or Sustain supplements at your local convenience store.
What’s Inside Testosterone Boosters?
Testosterone boosters often contain compounds and ingredients that have been linked to higher testosterone—even if the supplements themselves might not be proven to work. What’s more, what you see listed on the bottle may or may not reflect what’s inside (1). That said, some common OTC ingredients include:
In one review, researchers found this amino acid increased testosterone in some male animal studies (3). “D-Aspartic Acid is thought to increase testosterone levels by stimulating the release of luteinizing hormone, which in turn stimulates testosterone production,” Giordano says.
“This herb is commonly used in Eastern medicine to enhance libido and improve sexual function,” Giordano says. “Some studies suggest it may also increase testosterone levels.”
“Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin important for bone health and immune function,” Giordano says. Some studies link supplementing vitamin D to increased testosterone in men who are deficient in the vitamin (6).
Do Testosterone Boosters Work?
That OTC testosterone lifter may not be all that.
Even though there’s some research on testosterone boosters and their ingredients, it’s not necessarily conclusive or accurate.
“Many of the studies that have been conducted have had small sample sizes or have been poorly designed, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of these supplements,” Giordano says (7).
Another important fact to consider before taking testosterone boosters: They’re not regulated by the FDA, meaning their safety and quality cannot be guaranteed.
“Some supplements may also contain dangerous contaminants or hidden ingredients that can have harmful side effects,” Giordano adds.
What’s more, according to Giordano, the time it takes for testosterone boosters to work can vary depending on factors like age, health status, and what’s actually in the capsule.
“In general, testosterone boosters may take several weeks or even months to produce noticeable changes in testosterone levels,” Giordano says. “This is because the body’s testosterone production is a complex process influenced by many factors, and it takes time for any changes in hormone levels to become apparent.”
It’s important to be aware that many OTC testosterone boosters on the market haven’t necessarily been proven effective, and they’re also not FDA approved.
Side Effects of Taking Testosterone Boosters
The potential side effects of taking testosterone boosters can vary depending on the specific ingredients used in the supplement and your health status. But Giordano notes that some of the most common side effects of testosterone boosters include:
“Testosterone boosters can increase oil production in the skin, which can lead to acne breakouts,” Giordano says.
“Some testosterone boosters may increase levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that can contribute to hair loss in men genetically predisposed to male pattern baldness,” Giordano explains
Benign prostate enlargement
Testosterone boosters may put men at higher risk for BPH (9).
Test Your Levels
What Causes Low T?
Generally speaking: testosterone levels naturally get lower with age. “The decline in testosterone levels typically begins around age 30 and continues gradually over time (and the rate of decline varies from person to person), but most men will experience a drop of about 1% per year after age 30,” Giordano says.
There are several reasons why testosterone levels decrease with age.
“One reason is that the Leydig cells in the testicles that produce testosterone become less efficient over time,” Giordano explains. “Additionally, the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in the hypothalamus and luteinizing hormone (LH) in the pituitary gland, which stimulates testosterone production, also declines with age.”
It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing physical changes that concern you, and you can get your hormone levels analyzed to see if you have a deficiency.
Getting your levels tested is helpful if you’re wanting to boost your testosterone, too.
“As we age and consider testosterone replacement therapy, it’s nice to know what level we are shooting for,” Giordano says, adding that it’s even helpful to test testosterone levels in your 20’s. “Without this early normal baseline level, it can be difficult to know what level we are shooting for once replacement starts.”
Safer Ways to Boost Testosterone
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is a medical treatment that involves the administration of testosterone, usually through injections, gels, or patches,” Giordano says. “TRT is typically more effective than other treatments for low testosterone levels because it directly addresses the root cause of the problem by increasing testosterone levels in the body.”
He explains that other treatments, such as lifestyle changes or medications, may relieve the symptoms of low testosterone, but they do not address the underlying hormonal imbalance.
While OTC testosterone boosters might seem all natural, there are some ways to help raise your testosterone, without taking anything.
Do high-intensity exercise
A 2021 study of men ages 35 to 40 revealed that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) could increase testosterone levels in men. Consistency seems to be key as the study participants followed an intense exercise program for eight weeks (10).
Maintain a healthy weight
Some research shows that extra body fat, especially around the waist, has been associated with lower testosterone levels (11). Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise may help support healthy testosterone production.
Getting enough sleep is important for overall health, including testosterone production (12). Research shows that sleep loss has been linked with lowered testosterone levels—specifically when study participants slept less than five hours per night. Aim for logging at least seven hours of sleep per night according to the National Sleep Foundation.
A balanced diet packed with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat can lead to plenty of good when it comes to health. And according to research, it can help keep your testosterone production healthy, too (14).