Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is a popular herbal medicine that has been used for its aphrodisiac and testosterone-boosting effects.
Traditionally, tongkat ali was used to improve fertility and overall vitality and reduce fever and diarrhea.
Modern-day research shows that tongkat ali may indeed be beneficial for sexual health, strength, stress, fighting pathogens, and more.
This article will look in-depth at tongkat ali, its active constituents, possible benefits, and applications.
Table of Contents
- What is Tongkat Ali?
- Health Benefits of Tongkat Ali:
- Best Tongkat Ali Supplement:
- Tongkat Ali Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
- Tongkat Ali vs. Other Herbs:
What is Tongkat Ali?
Tongkat ali is a tall, shrubby tree that grows in sandy soil. It is native to Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
When translated, tongkat ali literally means “Ali’s walking stick”, which is in reference to its aphrodisiac properties. Other names for tongkat ali, depending on the country of origin, include Ali’s Umbrella, Malaysia Ginseng, Longjack, Pasak Bumi, and Tung Saw.
There are many different bioactive compounds in tongkat ali, which come from its leaves, roots, stem, and even bark.
Some of the main bioactive compounds are listed below:
- Squalene derivatives
- Biphenyl neolignans
Among these compounds, quassinoids are thought to deliver most of the health benefits. There a few different types of quassionoids found in tongkat ali, including eurycomanone, eurycomaoside, and eurycolactone.
Health Benefits of Tongkat Ali:
There are many potential health benefits of tongkat ali, due in large part to its vast number of bioactive compounds. In particular, listed below are the most well-researched tongkat ali health benefits.
1. May Increase Testosterone
The majority of research on tongkat ali has been related to testosterone and sexual health. Specifically, various clinical studies have shown that tongkat ali benefits testosterone, libido, and other aspects of sexual function.
One six-month, double-blind clinical trial in 45 men found that supplementing with 200mg of tongkat ali alongside daily exercise was associated with improvements in testosterone levels and sexual function compared to exercise alone or placebo.
In another clinical trial in 109 men aged 30-55, those who took tongkat ali (300mg) for 12 weeks had significant improvements in physical functioning, quality of life, erectile function, libido, and sperm health compared to the control group.
In another key clinical study conducted on 76 men with low testosterone, the researchers found that supplementing with 200mg of tongkat ali daily for one month was associated with significant improvements in testosterone levels and aging male symptoms. In fact, the percentage of men with normal testosterone levels increased from 35.5% before treatment to 90.8% after treatment.
Also, a double-blind clinical study involving 105 men between the ages of 50-70, those who took either 100 or 200mg of a standardized tongkat ali extract for 12 weeks had greater increases in total testosterone compared to placebo, with greater effects for the 200mg group. Moreover, both groups showed increases in free testosterone, DHEA, and muscle strength, alongside decreases in aging symptoms and fatigue, again with more pronounced effects in the 200mg group. Lastly, the 200mg group had significantly decreased cortisol levels.
Lastly, a double-blind clinical trial done on young men aged 19-29 showed that those who were supplemented with 600mg of tongkat ali for two weeks had significantly increased total and free testosterone levels compared to the placebo. However, no effects were seen for luteinizing hormone or follicle-stimulating hormone.
Summary:Clinical human research has found that tongkat ali may work to increase levels of testosterone.
2. May Boost Strength and Power
Research also shows that tongkat ali benefits exercise performance, particularly strength and power. This may be connected with the increases in testosterone seen above.
In one double-blind clinical trial in 45 men with low testosterone levels, tongkat ali supplementation plus regular exercise for six months was associated with significant improvements in peak force production, as well as significant decreases in androgen deficiency symptoms. Examples of such symptoms that were improved include lack of energy, low libido, poor strength, and feeling sad or irritable.
In another clinical trial done on young males, a combination of resistance training and tongkat ali (200mg daily) was associated with greater average and peak power compared to before the intervention. Granted, resistance training alone also led to improvements in strength and power, but tongkat ali still seemed to have a benefit.
Also, in a pilot study done on 25 physically active seniors aged 57-72 (both men and women), supplementation with 400mg of tongkat ali for five weeks was associated with significant increases in muscular strength and force, as well as enhanced total and free testosterone. All of these effects were seen in both men and women.
Finally, a study done on 16 elite rugby athletes aged 20 to 23, engaging in resistance training plus tongkat ali supplementation (400mg) for three weeks was associated with significant increases in one-rep max strength and muscle thickness. However, the resistance training without tongkat ali experienced similar benefits too.
Summary:Human trials indicate that tongkat ali may improve physical strength and power.
3. May Help With Stress Reduction
Beyond the physical benefits, tongkat ali may have some mental health benefits too, such as lowering stress and improving mood.
In one clinical study on 63 individuals with elevated stress levels, those who supplemented with tongkat ali for four weeks had significant improvements in tension, anger, and mental fog compared to the control group. Moreover, the treatment group had significantly increased testosterone and decreased cortisol levels compared to placebo, indicating a healthier hormonal profile.
In another clinical study on 93 moderately-stressed individuals, supplementation with Eurycoma longifolia (50mg) alongside a multivitamin appeared to significantly improve mental health, emotional well-being, vitality, stress, and social functioning.
Also, a study done on mice showed that treatment with tongkat ali seemed to have an anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effect similar to that of diazepam (a common anti-anxiety medication), whereas no benefits were found for anxiety in the control group.
Fourthly, one study looked into the effects of tongkat ali supplementation on lighting-induced stress and sleep disturbance in pigs (due to the environment they were put in). They found that the pigs who supplemented with tongkat ali had significant decreases in restlessness, anxiety, and other stress-related behaviors compared to the control group.
Summary:Clinical studies show that tongkat ali may benefit mental health by reducing stress and anxiety.
4. Anti-Diabetic Properties
There are also a few studies that show the potential anti-diabetic effects of tongkat ali.
One study involving mice found that taking tongkat ali for eight weeks helped to reduce high blood sugar levels. Specifically, the researchers found that tongkat ali seemed to reduce cholesterol levels and glycogen deposit in the liver, while also improving beta cell function. This is important since beta cells are found in the islets of the pancreas that help to make insulin, which helps the body utilize blood sugar.
In another study done on diabetic rats, supplementation with tongkat ali was associated with significant decreases in blood sugar and oxidative stress compared to the placebo. These effects were similar to the common diabetic drug, gilbenclamide.
In another study, researchers looked into the anti-diabetic potential of 59 medicinal plants, and found that Eurycoma longifolia was one of just two plants that were effective at increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake, and reducing fat accumulation. Overall, these effects on blood sugar and fat accumulation may make it useful as a diabetes treatment.
Lastly, in a study done on hyperglycemic rats treated with four different medicinal plants, the researchers found that tongkat ali extract supplementation was associated with significant decreased in blood sugar.
Given these promising initial results, clinical trials are needed to confirm these effects in humans.
Summary:Lab-based studies indicate that tongkat ali may reduce elevated levels of blood sugar, increase insulin sensitivity, and improve glucose uptake. Human research is needed to confirm these findings.
5. Antimicrobial Properties
Tongkat ali is also known for its antimicrobial activity against bacteria, parasites, and viruses.
In one lab-based study, an extract of tongkat ali appeared to inhibit the growth of harmful yeast and bacteria, but not against beneficial bacteria.
In another study, stem and root extracts from Eurycoma longifolia were shown to have antimicrobial effects against bacteria and fungi, with slightly better performance from stem extracts.
Another lab-study found that tongkat ali extracts were effective in inhibiting the growth of both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, although it didn’t inhibit the growth of E. coli.
Also, an in vitro study found that various quassionoids isolated from tongkat ali showed a number of different anti-parasitic properties, such as against flatworms and malaria parasites.
Similarly, an in vitro study found that a few different quassinoids from tongkat ali showed anti-malarial activity against Plasmodium falciparum, which is a deadly pathogen involved in the development of malaria.
Summary:Lab-based research has found that tongkat ali may be useful for inhibiting harmful bacteria, fungi, and pathogens. Human studies are needed in order to verify these findings.
6. Anti-Cancer Properties
Lastly, tongkat ali may have anti-cancer effects, which appear to stem mainly from it’s cytotoxic (cell-killing) actions.
One lab-based study found that quassinoids from tongkat ali had a number of different anti-cancer effects against prostate cancer cells. Specifically, the treatment inhibited prostate cancer cell growth, and increased cell cycle arrest (which stops cancer cell progression), among other actions.
In another in vitro study, a freeze-dried leaf extract of tongkat ali showed cytotoxic effects against breast cancer cells, and seemed to slow the overall growth of breast cancer cells.
Another in vitro study found that eurycomanone extract from Eurycomia longifolia slowed the growth and decreased overall activity of lung cancer cells.
Also, an in vitro study revealed that a few different quassinoids from the roots of tongkat ali, including eurycomanone, slowed the growth of leukemia cells while exerting no toxic effects on the health of normal cells.
Finally, an in vitro and in vivo combination study showed that extracts from tongkat ali appeared to slow the growth and spreading ability of colon cancer cells.
As of yet, there are no human trials that have been done with tongkat ali and any type of cancer.
In vitro research indicates that tongkat ali may have the potential to inhibit cancer cell growth, however, human clinical studies are required for confirmation.
Best Tongkat Ali Supplement:
As noted in this article, tonkgkat ali benefits the body in a variety of different ways, especially hormonal health. This leads to the question, what is the best tongkat ali supplement?
We recommend looking at Lost Empire Herbs. Lost Empire makes some of the best tongkat ali supplements that we’ve come across.
Their tongkat ali supplements are independently tested for purity and potency. You can read through the CoA (certificate of analysis) on the product page, this is refreshing as few companies are transparent enough to include this information for customers. They also have a 365-day money-back guarantee.
Lost Empire’s pure, high-quality products are the best way to supplement with tongkat ali.
Tongkat Ali Safety:
Overall, research across a wide number of animal and human studies has shown that tongkat ali is generally safe to take and free of side effects when taken in the recommended doses.
However, a few populations may be at a greater risk from tongkat ali supplementation, such as people taking propranolol and hypoglycemic agents (e.g. sulfonylureas, metformin, meglitinides).
Additionally, it should be used with caution in individuals with weakened immune function, and avoided by people with various cancers, heart disease, liver disease, and sleep apnea.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Pregnant or lactating women should not use tongkat ali due to a lack of sufficient data.
Based on human evidence, tongkat ali seems to be safest and most effective in the 200-400mg range. Tongkat ali should be taken every day at this dosage.
Look for a product standardized for eurycomanone, typically in a 100:1 extract.
Supplements may come in powder, capsule, or liquid extract form.
You can also drink tongkat ali coffee.
The roots or whole plant can be consumed, but tongkat ali is nearly always consumed as a supplement due to ease of use.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Tongkat ali, scientifically named Eurycoma longifolia, belongs to the Simaroubaceae family of shrubs and trees.
It can be identified by many of its features, such as its tall, slender trunk with long leaves that are spirally arranged and resemble an umbrella appearance when viewed from the base of the tree.
Also, tongkat ali has bell-shaped, purplish-crimson colored flowers with small fruits that are red (when ripe), smooth, and oval-shaped.
History & Traditional Use:
Tongkat ali has a rich history of use in folk medicine and other traditional medicine systems, especially in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries.
Traditionally, individuals would consume tongkat ali as a water decoction. It has been used by indigenous tribes to treat fever, malaria, and jaundice.
Most often, tongkat ali has been used as an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer, but it had many other uses too. For example, primarily the roots (but sometimes the stem, leaves, and bark) were used for diabetes, anxiety, constipation, aches, aging, loss of strength, stress, high blood pressure, and a few other ailments.
Tongkat Ali vs. Other Herbs:
Tongkat ali is often compared with many other different types of herbs. We have put together a few helpful articles going over common comparisons.
Tongkat ali has been used for many years in traditional medicine for sexual dysfunction, low libido, malaria, anxiety, fever, and other concerns.
Modern research has shown that tongkat ali has a number of beneficial bioactive compounds, and may very well have benefits for testosterone and sexual function, strength and power, stress reduction, diabetes, infections, and cancer.
Importantly, tongkat ali is deemed safe to consume for most people when taken in the recommended dosages.
Always consult your doctor or healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen.