Tongkat Ali

Help balance testosterone and cortisol
By Shawn Talbott, PhD, LDN, FACSM

Numerous studies indicate that tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is a good first-line strategy for combating the effects of chronic stress and fatigue, as well as the stresses created by dieting and overtraining. In traditional Malaysian medicine, eurycoma is used as an anti-aging remedy because of its positive effects on energy levels and mental outlook, most likely the result of an improved biochemical balance in the ratio between cortisol and testosterone. Today we also know that restoring that hormonal balance may help to improve both sports performance and weight loss.

(First, a disclaimer. There are plenty of tongkat ali products out there. What I’m about to say applies only to water-extracted and standardized eurycoma root, the product used in the trials I refer to is Physta, jointly patented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the government of Malaysia.)

While tongkat ali has traditionally been used as a male aphrodisiac, I have run multiple clinical trials on the patented form that have revealed its benefits to both men and women. The beautiful thing about research and clinical trials is that we continue to discover more values for traditional medicines. In the clinical trial the stress hormone profile (salivary cortisol and testosterone) was significantly improved by supplementation, with reduced cortisol exposure (-16 percent), increased free testosterone status (+37 percent) and overall improved cortisol-to-testosterone ratio.

The upshot? The subjects showed reduced fatigue, heightened energy and mood, and greater sense of wellbeing.

Our testosterone levels peak in our mid-20s and dip to about 40 to 50 percent of youthful levels around age 60. Stress, poor diet and sleep patterns, and lack of exercise can cause those levels to decrease even further. There are many benefits to maintaining youthful testosterone levels, including high psychological vigor (mental/physical energy), greater muscle mass, less body fat, and improved general well-being.

One particular application would be for dieters (male and female), who can expect cortisol to rise and testosterone to fall following several weeks of dieting. This change in hormone balance is an important factor leading to the familiar plateau that often occurs after six to eight weeks. By maintaining normal testosterone levels, a dieter could expect to also maintain their muscle mass and metabolic rate, and thus continue to lose weight without plateauing.


Shawn Talbott, PhD, LDN, FACSM, is an exercise physiologist, nutritional biochemist, and entrepreneur. He is the author of seven books, and competes in ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons.