- What is tongkat ali?
- Tongkat ali benefits and uses
- Scientific studies
- Side effects of tongkat ali
- Dosages for tongkat ali
- Choosing a supplement
If there is one category of supplements that’s an even bigger ripoff than weight loss remedies, it would be those marketed for so-called male enhancement.
Sorry guys, no matter what someone tells you, there’s no such thing as a pill that will make your penis bigger.
That being said, there are other forms of “enhancement” for men and some studies suggest this root may offer them. And not just for males, as there are also tongkat ali female benefits which have been purported, albeit less common.
Is tongkat ali a steroid? Nope. Some shady supplement companies try to trick you into believing it’s one but this is merely a plant extract. That being said, there is research to suggest it might affect levels of hormones (i.e. testosterone) which is something that real steroids also do. If this effect is for real, it might explain some of the purported sexual advantages for this herb.
What is tongkat ali?
Tongkat ali is the Malay language word for the Eurycoma longifolia plant. Also known as longifolia jack, this flowering shrub is native to Indonesia and the surrounding countries. Extract made from the root has a long history in traditional medicine for uses as an aphrodisiac, stamina booster, energy supplement, and the relief of various ailments.As seen in the photo, the whole roots are huge! This “shrub” is actually a medium-sized tree, reaching heights of up to 33 feet (10 meters).
It tastes extremely bitter and for that reason, the ground root is never used as a food source. Tongkat ali powder is used for tea recipes and in coffee mixtures, but not because people enjoy its earthy and smoky bitterness. These days, it’s mostly consumed in the form of a capsule.
Aside from longifolia jack, other names for tongkat ali include long jack in English and in Indonesia, pasak bumi merah. The latter translates as “red earth pegs” because there is also a red-colored variety. Malaysian ginseng, Ali’s umbrella/walking stick, and natural Viagra are all slang names. Tongkat ali in Chinese is Dōng gé ālǐ (东革阿里). However it was not originally part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
While unproven, the following ways are how it has been used in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam:
Tongkat ali benefits and uses
- Erectile dysfunction remedy
- Male infertility
- Bodybuilding and athletic performance
- Testosterone booster
- Libido enhancement
- Anti-stress supplement
- Infectious diarrhea (dysentery) relief
- Indigestion aide
- Headache relief
- Fever reducer
- Weight loss
Does tongkat ali work? It is not proven effective for any purported benefit. All of the claimed advantages are only herbal medicine uses of South East Asia. While there is exciting research for many, none have an adequate amount to validate them. It should not be used to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. (1)
What the science really says
Is tongkat ali effective or not remains to be answered. However there is a fair amount of research to suggest it may increase testosterone levels. If true, that in turn may explain some of alleged benefits for males such as helping with erections, muscle growth, and increasing libido.
WebMD reports that it’s “possibly effective for” male infertility. They say that some evidence suggests a tested supplement brand appeared to improve sperm parameters in infertile men. All other benefits they classify under the heading “insufficient evidence.”
Let’s review the research to date. Some of this you won’t find on WebMD, Wikipedia, or Examine. Instead, we went through all of the medical literature listed in the PubMed.gov database for the plant Eurycoma Longifolia. There are over a 150 hits and what follows are the most intriguing.
Does tongkat ali increase testosterone?
Many dietary supplements claim this benefit and it is true there are human trials and animal studies which have observed this effect.
The first human free testosterone study was conducted at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It involved 320 men, ranging in age from 28 to 70 years old, with the average being 51. Out of the 320, there were a group of 76 men who were diagnosed with late-onset hypogonadism (low testosterone). Over a one-month period they were treated with a daily dosage of 200 mg tongkat ali capsules.
Before and after treatment, they were graded for Ageing Males’ Symptoms (AMS) scores and serum testosterone levels.
“A highly significant increase in the testosterone concentration was calculated by means of the Wilcoxon test (P < 0.0001).”
To be exact, the average boost in free testosterone was 46%.
AMS is a well-known health questionnaire developed by German scientists for detecting signs of low T. It includes questions about anxiety, excessive sweating, facial hair growth, erections, libido and many other side effects.
“A highly significant decrease in the AMS score was calculated by means of the Wilcoxon test (P < 0.0001).”
That was the largest tongkat ali testosterone study but not the only one. (2)
There’s also a 12-week double-blind study involving 109 men, ranging in age from 30 to 55 years old. Using a 300 mg dosage of long jack there was not a statistically significant change seen with hormonal levels, while erectile dysfunction and libido performance increased 8.4-8.7%. (3)
Another involved both men and women, 32 and 31 in each group respectively. After using the root extract for 2 to 4 weeks, a 37% increase in free testosterone was measured. This was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. (4)
Though not all suggest that long jack works…
In a small double-blind and placebo-controlled study of 13 men, there was no change in the testosterone:epitestosterone (T:E) ratio. (5)
When it comes to animals (rats) there around a dozen studies and several observe testosterone increasing up to 30% or so. (6) (7)
Muscle strength and endurance
In both castrated and non-castrated male rats, it has been found to “significantly increase” the leavator ani muscle, which can be found on both sides of the pelvis in mammals. It’s the muscle that contracts during an orgasm. (8)
How about other muscles in the body and what happens in humans?
Bodybuilders will probably recognize the brand Onnit Labs. Based out of Austin, they make a supplement called T+ (Total Strength + Performance). They put this formula to the test in young resistance-trained men.
Florida State University carried out the 4 week study, with men averaging 21 years old who were randomly given either the long jack supplement (14 men) or a placebo (13 men). This trial was registered with ClinicalTrials.gov. (9)
Before and after the 4 week regimen of high-intensity resistance training, measurements of mood, body composition, and hormone levels were measured.
As expected, both groups had gains on the squats, bench press, and deadlift, however the supplemented group (SUP) had gains which were statistically significant on the deadlift and total weight lifted when compared to placebo (PL).
Significant differences in hormones, including testosterone, were not seen.
The other problem? Onnit Labs T+ contains more than just this root. It also has amino acids (beta-alanine, L-glutamine, and BCAAs) plus other ingredients like resveratrol, Japanese knotweed, and more. That makes this study irrelevant for measuring the effects of tongkat ali by itself.
Looking elsewhere, there are a couple others which evaluated just the root extract.
In South Africa, there was a pilot study with 12 physically active older men and women, ranging from 52 to 72 years old. After using a 400 mg dosage of the root extract for 5 weeks, the results were:
- Muscular force hand grip test: Increase of 16.6% in men and 13.7% in women.
- Total testosterone: Increase of 15.1% in men and 48.6% in women.
- Free testosterone: Increase of 61.1% in men and 122% in women.
This was such a small study it’s hard to read much into it. Both genders need testosterone and estrogen (albeit in different ratios) so the increase for the females was not necessarily a bad thing since it was said to be “well within normal physiological levels.” Whether you’re a man or woman, the levels for both of these hormones will decrease as you age. (10)
Tongkat ali vs. maca?
A number of supplements brands combine these two ingredients, including Source Naturals Male Response, NOW Foods TestoJack 200, and Li-Man. Maca is also unproven for increasing testosterone and endurance benefits, but it does have more clinical trials. For that reason, taking endurance vitamins with tongkat ali and maca plus BCAAs seems like a safer hedge for efficacy.
You can read about the benefits of maca for details on the clinical studies involving that plant. Vitamins with ginseng and tongkat ali or fenugreek are also interesting blends that might offer synergistic effects, however they haven’t been studied together. Deer antler velvet is a total hoax.
Fertility and sperm quality
While there are numerous animal studies, several for rats and one for boars, only three have been done with humans.
The first study was in vitro (lab based) using the sperm collected from 40 men. These samples were incubated for one hour in tongkat ali root concentrations of 1, 10, 20, 100, and 2,000 micrograms. Here’s what was observed:
“…significant dose-dependent trends were found for vitality, total motility, acrosome reaction and reactive oxygen species-positive spermatozoa.”
Yet this was only seen in the highest concentrations. In what they called therapeutically used concentrations that would equal what humans take (<2.5 micrograms) the beneficial effects were not seen. (11)
Next we go to a real human study, using 109 men who were 30 to 55 years of age. It’s the same one mentioned in passing on the WebMD website about male infertility.
The product used in the trial was a branded supplement; Phytes Bioteks by Biotropics Malaysia. Its active ingredient was a freeze-dried 300 mg water extract of the tongkat ali root.
The focus was how it affected “quality of life and sexual well-being” in men. The sperm analysis was only a secondary component.
- Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
- 22 men in the herbal group and 14 in the placebo group had their semen analyzed at baseline and after 12 weeks.
For semen volume, as you see there was no change with the placebo group but a pronounced difference in the treated group.
For sperm motility, there was no improvement seen in the placebo group. For the 22 men receiving the root dosage, there was a small improvement but the biggest was seen with the subgroup of those who had low starting values to begin with (11 of the 22 men). Their improvement is the graph on the right. (12)
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that more than 90% of male infertility is caused by low sperm count (volume) and poor motility, so both of these factors are very common causes. (13)
We saved the biggest and longest for last…
As published in the Asian Journal of Andrology, this study involved men who were experiencing infertility issues with their wife/significant other.
- 350 men were recruited but only 75 completed the entire course (3 cycles of 3 months).
- 7 years old was the average age for those who completed the study.
- 3 years was their average length infertility prior to study.
- Semen was analyzed at baseline and at months 3, 6, and 9.
- Each took a 200 mg dosage of tongkat ali for their infertility; 100 mg twice daily after eating food or a meal.
- The branded supplement was the same as the last study (Phytes Bioteks).
With each tongkat ali cycle, the effects seemed to get more pronounced as seen in these graphs for sperm concentration and normal morphology, which is a measure of the size and shape of sperm.
The time-benefit effect was most dramatic when it came to semen volume…
Erectile dysfunction and libido
With pictures of hot girls in bed and brands with names like Hard Rhino, it’s pretty obvious what long jack supplements are being marketed for! Does it really work?
On PubMed you will find fewer than a dozen pieces of literature about E. longifolia and erectile dysfunction (ED). Most only involve testing in rats and yes, their results seem promising. (14) (15)
However the study claiming better results with tongkat ali vs. Viagra (sildenafil citrate) is totally irrelevant because what those animals received also had ginseng, horny goat weed, gotu kola, and flower pollen. (16)
When we extended our search to other databases like Medline, Wiley Online Library, and BioMed Central, we found a total of 7 human studies. In 2017, a meta-analysis was published on those and other papers. Here’s what they said:
“Out of 150 articles, 11 met the inclusion criteria. The majority of articles included were randomized placebo-controlled trials, multiple cohort studies, or pilot trials. All these studies demonstrated considerable effects of EL [tongkat ali] on male sexual health disorders. Among them, 7 studies revealed remarkable association between the use of EL and the efficacy in the treatment of male sexual disorders, and remaining 4 studies failed to demonstrate sufficient effects on male sexual health. In summary, there is convincing evidence for the prominence of EL [tongkat ali] in improving the male sexual health.“
Much of the cited research they used is foreign language and even for those in English, few fulfilled the standards needed for inclusion in the PubMed database. (17)
For those that are in English and met quality standards, there were some interesting findings…
Researchers in Los Angeles (Northridge) conducted a small clinical study with middle-aged men:
- Randomized, double-blind, and placebo controlled
- 26 participants; 12 receiving an herbal treatment while 14 were given placebo
- Herbal group received a once-per-day dosage consisting of 200mg of long jack and 100mg of Polygonum minus, which is an edible herb.
- 12 weeks of treatment
- Results were based on the Sexual Intercourse Attempt (SIA) diary, Erection Hardness Scale, Sexual Health Inventory of Men, and Aging Male Symptom scale.
While this was a two-ingredient supplement, the Polygonum minus was added for its antioxidant content. It’s not known for helping with ED.
Many of those tests improved significantly for the herbal group, including erections.
Erections lasted 7.47 minutes at baseline to 19.56 minutes at 12 weeks. No significant change was seen with placebo.
Even though they reportedly could get it up longer and had an improvement in hardness, satisfaction with sexual performance did not measure as being better, strangely. (18)
So if – and we stress the if – a tongkat ali dosage for erectile dysfunction works, why is that?
Research out of the National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine in Taiwan discovered an alkaloid in the plant believed to be responsible; 9-hydroxycanthin-6-one (9-HC-6-one).
They isolated this compound and tested it in rats for erection and ejaculation performance. They claimed to rule out it working by way of nitric oxide (as many had suspected) and instead said it was…
“…by blocking cell surface and internal calcium channels with a higher potency for internal calcium release.”
In plain English, it’s believed to help stimulate the penile cavities so they can fill up with blood. (19)
Side effects of tongkat ali
Based on studies to date, side effects of tongkat ali are uncommon and when they occur, are relatively mild. In a study involving 126 Japanese men and women, a 200 mg daily dosage was used over four weeks. It was reported that “no severe adverse events were observed.” (20)
In the study involving 109 middle-age men, common reactions like headache, back pain, muscle sprain, and eye discomfort were not reported. For the 11 reactions that were reported, they were ruled as “unlikely” to be related, especially since the placebo group had even more reactions; 14 total. (21)
In the four week bodybuilding study discussed above:
- 2 men reported acne
- 1 reported paresthesia (tingling or burning sensation)
- 2 reported increased libido
That last “side effect” is really a benefit. As far as the paresthesia, the researchers said that is typical with beta-alanine, which was part of that supplement.
Side effects of the liver and kidney are common with many other supplements. Related parameters were measured such as liver enzymes, creatinine, urea, serum electrolyte, and others. No changes were detected. A good sign!
The root has been found to cause relaxation of aortic rings in rats, which in theory may lower their blood pressure. In human trials, changes in blood pressure have not been observed. (22)
Is tongkat ali good for diabetics?
Changes in fasting blood sugar were not observed after treatment in any human study, which implies there are no known dangers specific to people with diabetes. In lab research, there is actually evidence to suggest it may be helpful.
Out of 59 plants screened, 2 were found to increase glucose uptake in cultured cells by more than 200% in a dose-dependent manner. That means increased insulin sensitivity. Longifolia jack was 1 of those 2 plants.
It also was found to suppress lipid accumulation.
If these are happening in the body, both would be considered beneficial for diabetics. So far these haven’t been tested in humans. (23)
Does tongkat ali cause hair loss?
This side effect has not been documented in any human study but considering that the longest was only 9 months, it may be too short of a time to evaluate this.
In theory, some have raised the concern that if it increases testosterone, that in turn may worsen male pattern baldness.
It is true our bodies convert testosterone to DHT, which is believed to be a cause of hair loss. Finasteride (Propecia) works be blocking this conversion process. Yet the theory that higher or healthier testosterone levels should be avoided is a stretch in logic. Under that same premise, you could argue the case for castration!
Plus, it’s not about the levels of T but rather how much is getting converted to DHT which is the issue.
We have not seen any customer reviews for tongkat ali pills, tinctures, or teas that bring up changes in hair growth. While anything is possible, there’s no evidence to currently support it has side effects for hair in men or women.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
As with many herbal supplements, Eurycoma longifolia has not been studied in pregnant women. After childbirth, it has been reported as one of several herbs used by mothers in villages throughout Lao, yet its safety during that time and how it may affect breastfeeding is totally unknown. Being that it may influence hormones (testosterone) and the fact that no one knows if tongkat ali during pregnancy is dangerous to the baby, this supplement should be avoided by expectant mothers. (24)
Given the limited number of human trials and published case studies, it’s unknown as to which over-the-counter and prescription medications it interacts with. Based on the limited data available, tongkat ali may interfere with:
- Birth control
- Hormonal therapies
- Anti-diabetic drugs – e.g. Lantus Solostar (insulin glargine), Januvia (sitagliptin)
- Erectile dysfunction treatments – e.g. Viagra, Cialis
- Blood pressure and heart meds – e.g. beta blockers, thiazide diuretics, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers
All drugs in a given category may be contraindications. Specific drugs listed are only the most common examples.
In a study with 14 healthy young males, it was found that the herb decreased the bioavailability of proporanolol (Inderal) by 29%. That’s a popular beta blocker used for high blood pressure. (25)
The other drug interactions listed are theoretical, based on changes seen in studies.
Since no one knows which medications it interacts with, you should not use this supplement if you are on any medication, unless your doctor explicitly gives you permission to do so.
Dosages for tongkat ali
Given the unpleasant taste of this root, gelatin capsules or Vcaps filled with the powder are the preferred way for how to take tongkat ali. Prior to the prevalence of cheap capsule technology, the daily consumption of coffee, tea, and tinctures was how it was traditionally taken as part of traditional medicine practices in Southeast Asia.
Which concentration ratio is best?
Comparing the milligrams per serving can be confusing because you also have to factor in the strength, which is a measure of the active ingredients. Those levels can vary immensely between water extracts, ethanol extracts, and unrefined raw root powder.
Many products advertise a 200:1 ratio, which means that 200 kg of the herb is used to produce 1 kg of the extract. Some claim a 125:1, 100:1, 50:1, or even a 30:1 ratio.
Guess what? The ratio doesn’t matter!
Even though the supplement industry still reports this information, it’s a very outdated methodology since it doesn’t tell you the amount of the active ingredient in the extract.
If a poor quality extraction method was used with the 200:1 ratio, it may actually produce less of the active ingredient than a high quality tongkat ali 30:1 process.
In short, what you need to pay attention to is the listed percentage of glycosaponins and eurypeptides. The latter includes eurycomanone (a type of quassinoid) which is the main ingredient believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects.
How many milligrams per day?
Almost all of the human studies used Physta Longjack LJ100, which is made by the company Biotropics Malaysia. This formulation is standardized to contain 40% glycosaponins and 22-28% eurypeptides.
Using the LJ100 formula, the maximum dosage of tongkat ali was 400 mg per day in the Japanese immunity study, while the others researching ED and sexual health used 200 mg. Since side effects were limited or non-existent with these amounts, they seem to be safe dosages at least for short term cycles of weeks to a few months. Neither dose has been studied for a year or longer.
Conveniently there are many supplements on the market, including those sold in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom, which use LJ100 as their source. Often they list a comparable amount per day, such as this bottle from Source Naturals which lists 80 mg per tablet and a suggested dose of twice daily with meals (160 mg total).
Using high amounts is not recommended and could be unsafe. There are no published case studies on a tongkat ali overdose, yet there is plenty of informal evidence suggesting that high amounts are dangerous.
Reviews on Reddit include a man who claims to have taken 2,500 mg of LJ100 for 10 days and he experienced terrible side effects such as being jittery, anxious, rapid heartbeat, “emotional” and insecurity. Furthermore, he didn’t even get a libido boost. (26)
When to take tongkat ali?
Splitting the daily amount into two equal-sized dosages is how the supplement was taken in all of the human studies. Taking it with or without food was not discussed in every study but for those which did address it, they noted the capsule(s) being taken with or after eating a meal. Presumably, tongkat ali at breakfast and dinner are the best times to take it.
Does it need to be cycled?
For best results, it is often recommended to use tongkat ali on cycle. That means a consecutive period of taking the supplement, followed by a shorter period of not using it.
A weekly cycle may be 5 days on with 2 days off. Rinse and repeat for 3 cycles (21 days), followed by a rest period equal to the cycle length (7 days).
Others advocate for shorter and longer cycling periods, which usually have ratios of around 66% to 75% on and 25% to 33% off (e.g. using for 3 months, stopping for 1 month).
Ultimately though, using longjack on a cycle is not backed by any science, at least currently. The “cycles” mentioned in the human study did not have the same meaning. The origin of this idea stems from cycling with actual testosterone and that has no relation to a dietary supplement which might influence testosterone levels.
Tongkat ali coffee
In modern times, this is arguably the only non-capsule method worth considering. It works because the flavor of long jack is naturally bitter like coffee, with smoky undertones too. Ground coffee beans are pre-mixed with the root powder and brewed just like a normal cup of jo.
- Pleasant tasting way to drink the powder
- Many brands include other potentially useful herbs – e.g. Gold Choice instant tongkat ali ginseng (Panax Quinquefolious) and Stiff Bull with maca and guarana
- Only available as instant coffee
- Does not provide accurate dosing per serving
- When to drink it is only early in the day, due to the caffeine from coffee
- Tastes good because of added sweeteners like sugar or corn syrup solids
- Most major brands include creamer agents which use unhealthy fats like hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Other bad ingredients may include stabilizers, emulsifiers, anticaking agents, and sodium silico aluminate
- Most are not vegan and contain caseinate or other dairy derivatives
- All are imported brands not sold at U.S. stores
As you see, the coffee mixture benefits are far outweighed by the disadvantages.
This is based on our review of all the popular brands including Alicafe, Gold Choice, Ganocafe, Strongman Natural Herbs, and several others. Unless you live in Malaysia, Singapore or a nearby country, you won’t find these at any American grocery store. To buy them you have to go through an online source like Ebay.
If you want to take this supplement as a coffee mixture, the best way will be to make your own brew. Buy pure tongkat ali that has been ground into a fine powder, measure out the recommended dosage, and stir into your cup of coffee after brewing. The reason you don’t want to add it before is because the constituents of the root won’t all percolate through the drip.
Choosing a supplement
Where to buy tongkat ali
Not at your local Walgreens or Walmart. To the best of our knowledge, they do not even sell it.
For example here in Los Angeles, we could not even find it for sale at Whole Foods or a popular independent health grocer (Erewhon Market). To date, we have only seen the pure extract being sold at one store (Lassen’s).
At some of their locations, chain stores like Walmart and CVS do sell products which contain this ingredient. One example is Irwin Naturals Testosterone UP supplement. It contains 100 mg of LJ100 per 3 liquid softgel dose, along with tribulus extract, Asian ginseng, and other ingredients.
The pure root is available on the websites of Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World, and GNC. Since their prices aren’t always cheap, we never shop at their brick and mortar locations and therefore, can’t comment on in-store availability.
For reputable brands like Source Naturals, we would not be opposed to buying them from a trustworthy seller on Ebay. However, neither Ebay or Alibaba is ideal for buying the bulk powder or generic capsules. You can’t always be confident the seller is giving you real authentic tongkat ali, nor will you necessarily know the extraction process used.
Major online retailers like Amazon, Vitacost, and GNC will be your best options for where to buy it.
Reviews of supplement brands
What is the best tongkat ali supplement?
Online you will see many brands and most you have probably never heard of before. Tongkat Ali XP (includes XP 2D and XP Xtreme), Nu Prep, Gano Excel, Longpower, Pure Science SD-200, Tonex, Eurykuat, Vitroman X-power, Beiklin, and Herbolab (UK brand) are not exactly household names!
Aside from not knowing anything about these companies, nor personally reviewing their products, the problem is that many of these purported testosterone boosters use Indonesian tongkat ali extract, not the standardized LJ100.
The same holds true for Ron Teeguarden’s Dragon Herbs Tomkat. The label lists 80% Sumatran tongkat ali, 10% He Shou Wu and 10% Changbai mountain ant powder.
For the starring ingredient they only say it’s a 125:1 extract, which doesn’t tell you anything about the potency (or lack thereof) for the active compounds. Even though Dragon Herbs is a well-known and respected TCM manufacturer, we would pass on their Tomkat supplement.
Don’t worry about finding organic tongkat ali. Some obscure brands claim to be, yet they do not have the USDA certified seal on the bottle, nor do they provide proof of their organic source. For non-GMO, you can find a couple verified options.
The best tongkat ali will be a supplement brand that uses LJ100. Developed and patented by Biotropics Malaysia, this extract uses quality control to ensure a standardized amount of active ingredients (glycosaponins and eurypeptides). That provides for more predictable and safer dosing. LJ100 is the same source used in many of the human studies.
This ingredient is not always on the front of the bottle. Tongkat ali vs. long jack are the same thing and they don’t tell you anything about the source. To find out if it’s LJ100, flip to the back and read the label.
You can buy Source Naturals tablets on Amazon which uses pure LJ100.
Our favorite is actually a blended product that contains LJ100 along with fenugreek, quercetin, ashwagandha, and other compounds. It’s called Genius Test.
To reiterate, remember that tongkat ali benefits for males are unproven. To date there is not enough evidence to conclusively prove anything in humans. It should be used as a dietary supplement only and NOT for the treatment of any disease.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.