How safe is tongkat ali

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1 Khalid Hussain, 1 Muhammad Tahir Majeed, 2 Zhari Ismail, 1 Amirin Sadikun, 1 and Pazilah Ibrahim, Traditional and complementary medicines: Quality assessment strategies and safe usage, South Med Rev. 2009 Apr; 2(1): 19-23. Published online 2009 Apr 16.

2 Hooi-Hoon Ang, Ee-Lin Lee and Hui-Seong Cheang, Determination of Mercury by Cold Vapor Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer in Tongkat Ali Preparations Obtained in Malaysia, International Journal of Toxicology January 2004 vol. 23 no. 1 65-71

3 H.H. Ang, , K.L. Lee, Contamination of mercury in tongkat Ali hitam herbal preparations, Food and Chemical Toxicology Volume 44, Issue 8, August 2006, Pages 1245-1250

4 Rajeev Bhat, A.A. Karim, Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack): A review on its ethnobotany and pharmacological importance, Fitoterapia Volume 81, Issue 7, October 2010, Pages 669-679

Scientific proof for tongkat ali

Now it's scientifically official: tongkat ali extract causes noticable muscle growth in men. The British Journal of Sports Medicine stated that in a double-blind placebo controlled scientific trial, the use of tongkat ali extract was the reason for a 5 % increase in lean body mass in the treatment group, while no noteworthy changes were seen in the placebo group. 5 % in 5 weeks is a big improvement, which becomes obvious if one calculates the increase this would mean over a course of a year (5 weeks - 5 %; 52 weeks - 50 %).

Among other interesting facts, the journal article reports: "The mean arm circumference of the treatment group increased significantly by 1.8 cm after the supplementation, from 30.87 (1.88) to 32.67 (1.96) cm (p = 0.011), but there was no significant increase in the placebo group."

The abstract of the clinical trial with healthy men can be read at the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine: content/full/37/5/464

Access is free, but requires a registration.

A printscreen of the abstract can be read here: Ergogenics-effects-EurycomalongifoliaJack.htm

As one may expect for a scientific publication, the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine is not so easy to navigate. In this specific case, the abstract on the scientific trial about tongkat ali has been put together with a number of other abstracts. The abstracts are numbered 001, 002, 003, and so on. The abstract that talks about tongkat ali's effect on bodybuilding has the number 007. Please notice that the Latin, scientific name of tongkat ali is Eurycoma longifolia. For simplicity, the abstract is reprinted at the end of this article.

There are a few things one has to pay attention to in an interpretation of the results of the cited scientific study with human subjects. For example, the tongkat ali extract used in the trial has been made in a university laboratory. It was of regulated strength. There may be a considerable difference between authentic university lab-extracted tongkat ali and the commercial products one finds on health store shelves. In my opinion, if the reason of your tongkat ali usage is muscle gain, you can ignore all products that combine tongkat ali with other herbals. Tongkat ali is one of the most expensive herbals on the market because (1) it's rare, and (2) it takes a incredibly time long to grow. Thus, any combination product is probably trying to save on tongkat ali.

The only country in the world where there still are substantial resources of tongkat ali in the wild is Indonesia. The shrub once was standard in Malaysia, but because the search for tongkat ali has turned into something like the one for truffles in France or Italy, tongkat ali has since been named a protected plant in Malaysia, and forest areas where it is still found have already been watched over by forest rangers for several years. (The Star, January 30, 2001)

While much of "Malaysian" tongkat ali sold in recent years are actually from Indonesia, it's expected that this supply line will dry up in the coming years as well. The Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who won a second term in July 2009, has stated that the protection of the Indonesian forests was a prime priority of his government. For the neighboring countries Malaysia and Thailand, the illegal exploitation of Indonesian forests is sworn to become a serious crime. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised: "The government will take strong action on the perpetrators and will take them to court where they will receive the most severe punishment." (Agence France Press, November 5, 2004 newsitems/200411/s1235957.htm)

Tongkat ali isn't a fast-growing weed like tribulus terrrestis. You can grow tribulus terrestis as effortlessly as potatoes, on practically any soil, and in the span of a few weeks. Tongkat ali, in comparison, takes years to reach maturity. Full size can't be expected in less than 25 years. The effectiveness of mature tongkat ali is said to be far superior to that of young plants. Furthermore, tongkat ali is as hard to grow as orchids. The soil needs to be sandy and has to be well drained. However, new water is needed several times a week. Tongkat ali also needs a semi-shaded environment. The plant's natural habitat is limited to tropical jungle slopes (which naturally are drained after a downpour) and which are partly shaded by the rain forest canopy while leaving some sunlight to reach the plant because of the angle of the terrain.

Due to the fact that tongkat ali is so expensive, even in Malaysia where it originated, herbal traders there now think it more economical to sell herbal fillers that are laced with sildenafil (Viagra), rather than authentic tongkat ali (which buyers request). (New Straits Times, April 10, 2004)

For those who take the so-called tongkat ali for its prosexual effects, the doupe may actually work (though the substitution can be life-threatening for those on nitrate drugs). However, for those who look for genuine tongkat ali for the aim of improving the ratio between lean body mass and fat, the stretched sildenafil will have no effect (if one disregards that for them, biceps exercise on fake tongkat ali may cause short-lived tissue expansion in the penis, rather than around the arms).

The active ingredients in tongkat ali are present only in little amounts. You would need about 50 gram of the root for one dosage, and athletes who want to get maximum results without having to take illegal steroids will typically take 2 or 3 dosages a day. Scientifically established effectiveness, dropping resources, and the natural difficulty of analyzing the composition of a natural medication are a dangerous mix. While they may soon measure authentic tongkat ali extract on gold scales, the demand of a growing market for ever cheaper products will definitely attract a huge number of cheaters. Just like in Malaysia, they may sell sildenafil-stretched herbal fillers as tongkat ali, or they will market combination products where there is less than 1 percent tongkat ali included (allthough on the label tongkat ali will surely be printed in an enlarged type font).

How to guard yourself from being cheated? Inspect the company from which you buy. Are they an established seller in the tongkat ali market? Where are they located? A trader in New York or New Mexico is very distant from the source (and the situation is no better for one in Old Mexico). 99 percent of the world's tongkat ali originates from Indonesia, and that is were you are likely to discover the best purity, and the best prices for the genuine products.

The further you're from the source, and the more intermediates handle the tongkat ali before it arrives, the larger the risk that it'll not only be diluted but even substituted.

And simply, don't trust cheap prices when looking for genuine tongkat ali.

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1 Edward Hall, Nutritional supplements and their methods of formulation

2 Low Testosterone, another Man-Made Risky Fix?

3 Catherine Ulbricht PharmDa*, Julie Conquer PhDb, Kelly Flanagan BAa, Richard Isaaca, Erica Rusie PharmDa & Regina C. Windsor MPHa, An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration, Publishing models and article dates explained Published online: 19 Feb 2013

4 Lester Packer, Sissi Wachtel-Galor, Choon Nam Ong, Barry Halliwell, Herbal and Traditional Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, CRC Press Pages displayed by permission of CRC Press. Copyright.

Eurypeptides and bogus science

I have been writing about tongkat ali long before it was popular, and I do feel some responsibility for the reputation of this marvelous herb.

In the past few years, more and more distributors of dietary supplements have jumped on the tongkat ali bandwagon, and competition between distributors has become fierce.

Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack by its Latin, scientific name) is, of course, one of the most expensive herbals around, for a good reason. Tongkat ali roots take some 20 years to reach a stage of full potency. Because the shrub is difficult to cultivate, there is no tongkat ali plantation anywhere in the world. The tree only grows on well-drained jungle slopes, partially protected by a canopy. There may be other yet to be discovered requirements for the habitat, which explains why all attempts to grow the plant for commercial purposes have so far failed. All genuine tongkat ali is harvested in the wild.


The plant's traditional geographic distribution is in the rain forests of Southeast Asia, and it still only grows in this part of the world. It once was common in all countries of Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to Indonesia, and in all of them, it is valued, and therefore was heavily harvested, for the medicinal properties of its roots. It's unlikely indeed that wherever humans encroach on rain forests, tongkat ali shrubs will be left alone.

The only country where still now, there are areas with a natural prevalence of tongkat ali is Indonesia. Not that tongkat ali would still be common in Indonesia. But Indonesia indeed still is one of a very small number of countries with considerable stretches of virgin rain forests, and only this is where tongkat ali grows naturally. Not that the further existence of these virgin rain forests would be guaranteed. They are burned down at an alarming rate.

Indonesia smoke blankets region

Forest fires rage across Indonesia and Brazil

Indonesia has been under considerable international pressure not only to control the forest fires that are causing haze problems even thousands of kilometers away, but also to do more to protect the country's rain forests which are of crucial value to the global environment. And indeed, the Indonesian former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), who has previously heeded international advice on the civil war in Aceh and other topics, has indicated that the preservation of rain forests is one of his political concerns.

SBY Orders Arrest of Illegal Logging Bosses

Quite possibly, if the tongkat ali supply from Indonesia dries up because of rain forest protection measures, or if at least there are supply bottlenecks, the price for tongkat ali root and extract may still increase substantially.

Substantial price increases are also a distinct possibility because China is becoming ever richer ever faster. And no other nation on earth is as ardent a user of natural medicines as are the Chinese. In China, herbal medicine is not fringe health care; it is on par with Western medicine.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Because China is so big, whatever is in demand in China is bound to become scarce. And the rarer an ingredient used in traditional medicine, the more expensive it is bound to become. This has already happened with another Indonesia-exported natural product, the price for which (even though it is of dubious efficacy) has already skyrocketed because it is sought after in newly rich China. The talk is of bird's nests, which now fetch thousands of US dollars per kg.

Swifts and Trade

Bird nests at around 2000 US dollars per kg

Bird nests at around 3000 US dollars per kg

In comparison, tongkat ali root (not extract) still trades at less than 50 dollars per kg.

However, unlike bird's nests, tongkat ali is not suited for direct consumption. It should either be boiled as a tea, with the roots discarded, or consumed as an extract.

It is no surprise that when a rare and expensive substance, such as tongkat ali, is traded in a highly competitive market, there will be cheats. A number products sold as tongkat ali have been found spiked with bootleg pharmaceuticals. They all originated in Malaysia.

Health Canada recalls sex enhancer Libidus due to potential risks

Press release by the Chairman of the Drug Control Authority relating to traditional medicines found to contain Tadafil

Tongkat ali extract, as opposed to tongkat ali root powder, is particularly expensive (more expensive than bootleg sildenafil citrate) because the active components are present only in small quantities.

Characterization of the Water Soluble Fraction from the Root Extract of Eurycoma Longifolia

Furthermore, there is an enormous multitude of active components that all contribute to the unique testosterone-raising capability of this herbal. The best neutral scientific source for checking the active components of tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack) is:

Global Information Hub for Integrated Medicine

While the chemical spectrum of Eurycoma longifolia Jack (tongkat ali) is well documented in the scientific literature, the scientific studies into the sexuality-enhancing and testosterone-raising effects of the roots of this plant have not been conducted with specific active components (such as eurycomanone or eurycomalactone) but with whole tongkat ali extract, that was not standardized for any single specific active ingredient.

When I say "scientific studies", then I mean studies that have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I have little trust in alleged "unpublished" scientific studies that are quoted on commercial websites, selling specific brand products.

If an alleged scientific study indeed was conducted in accordance to the accepted standards of the scientific community, and if it produced stunning results, then I wonder why it wasn't published in a scientific journal. That doesn't make sense. So, if the study wasn't plainly invented, it must have been scientifically flawed.

Furthermore, neutral, genuine science would aim to study a generic chemical for its pharmaceutical value. Studies that instead use brand name extracts of an unknown competition and standardization are most probably bogus science. Apart from that, the idea of selling pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements of secret or undisclosed ingredients and standardization totally contradicts established standards of consumer protection.

On the other hand, "standardized extract" is a catch phrase that many supplement buyers associate with superior quality.

Indeed, yohimbe bark extract that is standardized for yohimbine is superior to yohimbe bark extract that is not standardized for yohimbine. For yohimbine is the most potent of a very limited range of active components that account for the effect of yohimbe.

Yohimbe standardized for 2 % yohimbine

Indeed, too, St. John's wort that is standardized for hypericin is superior to St. John's wort extract that is not standardized for hypericin.

St. John's wort recommended to be standardized to 0.3% hypericin

If any of the major tongkat ali extract distributing companies were to come up with an extract standardized for what indeed is or are the active components, this would be a progress. But so far, there is no clear picture which of the numerous active components listed on the above referred-to page of the Global Information Hub for Integrated Medicine is to what extend responsible for which effect.

But the lure is there, for commercial reasons, to claim standardization for active ingredients.

For example for eurypeptides? At a whooping 22 %.

Peptides what? The word eurypeptides suggests that we here deal with the peptides of Eurycoma longifolia Jack.

I have found no scientific source that would refer to eurypeptides. So, the product that is claimed to be standardized to 22 % eurypeptides is standardized to something unknown in the scientific literature.

It's also not explained at websites that sell tongkat ali extract, standardized to 22 % eurypeptides, what these peptides are supposed to be.

Of course, I know what peptides are: short chains of amino acids, held together by peptide bonds. When the chains of amino acids become longer (let's say: more than 50), then we no longer talk of peptides but of proteins.

Now, if those websites that claim to sell standardized tongkat ali extract would give some indication for which chemical substances they allegedly standardize their extract (if all that standardization talk is based on reality in the first place) that would be a step forward.

The Global Information Hub for Integrated Medicine, on the above-cited page states:

"Eurycoma longifolia is usually standardized to eurycomanone, 13alpha(21)-epoxyeurycomanone, eurycomalactone, and 14,15beta-dihydroxyklaineanone as reference markers for its organic extract whereas the more polar quassinoids and glycoproteins are used as standards for the aqueous extract."

I have never seen a commercial product standardized to any of these chemical substances. I would not exclude the possibility that any of the large chemical suppliers, e.g. Sigma Aldrich, sells an eurycoma longifolia extract standardized for eurycomanone or eurycomalactone, but they would likely only do so to chemical laboratories.

And I am sure that in any country, no eurycoma longifolia extract standardized to any of the above-listed chemicals would be allowed to go on sale as a health supplement without first going through the same kind of clinical trials that were required for sildenafil citrate or apomorphine.

Whole tongkat ali root, or tongkat ali extract that has been produced in a traditional manner by soaking and boiling chipped root, discarding the roots, and evaporating the water, has a known risk profile. In this form, tongkat ali has been consumed for centuries.

But standardizing tongkat ali extract for certain chemicals, the effect of which on humans has not been established in peer-reviewed clinical trials, is something else. And if the standardization is for chemicals that are given a fancy name which is not reflected in the scientific literature, it is something else again. Something of which I would not want to be part.

Or could it be that the whole eurypeptides story, too, is just bogus science?

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1 Ms. Jamilah Salleh, Protein markers useful in authenticating eurycoma longifolia contained herbal aphrodisiac products, Vejayan, J.; Iman, V.; Foong, S.L.; Ibrahim, H. (2013) Protein markers useful in authenticating eurycoma longifolia contained herbal aphrodisiac products. Malaysian Journal of Science, 32 (1). pp. 15-23.

2 Ching-Hao Li,1,2 Jiunn-Wang Liao,3 Po-Lin Liao,4,5 Wei-Kuang Huang,4 Ling-Shan Tse,4 Cheng-Hui Lin,4 Jaw-Jou Kang,5 and Yu-Wen Cheng4, Evaluation of Acute 13-Week Subchronic Toxicity and Genotoxicity of the Powdered Root of Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack), Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 102987, 11 pages

Tongkat ali reliably cures migraines

I have always been amazed by the versatility of tongkat ali.

No other herb has such a wide array of applications.

Sure, tongkat ali enhances male sexuality. That is what tongkat ali is most famous for.

And this is not a small matter. If we have solved all problems of daily life, and are of perfect health, then life still isn't worthwhile if we can't have great sex.

So, tongkat ali is for perfectly healthy people. For those who just do not get enough kick out of sex, and for those with vanity concerns such as bodybuilders and penis enlargers. Genuine tongkat ali surely helps them.

But tongkat ali is effective, too, in people who are ill. Tongkat ali has been studied, with positive results, in many conditions as different as high blood pressure and cervical cancer.

But it is not these diseases for which tongkat ali is the most impressive cure.

Most astonishing is that tongkat ali cures migraines and other persistent headaches.

I myself have suffered from migraines for decades. Until I mentioned this to the manager of the company where I regularly purchase my high-potency extract.

"Migraines?" he asked. "Nothing is easier cured by tongkat ali than migraines," he said.

On the other hand, I had been taking tongkat ali for sexual enhancement, with great success of course, but my migraines had not disappeared.

"Wrong regimen," he explained. And that is how I learned the importance of following dietary guidelines with tongkat ali.

These dietary guidelines are exhaustive, about 10 printed pages, and they incorporate a lot of traditional knowledge from hundreds of years of human usage.

After the conversation with the manager of the site were I order my tongkat ali, I observed the guidelines to the letter... not just any tongkat ali dietary guidelines but the set specific to migraine sufferers.

And during on-cycles, I haven't had a single migraine attack since. They do still occur during off-cycles, but are never severe.

Certainly, tongkat ali washes out dirty chemicals like tyramine from my bloodstream so these chemicals do not exert their disturbing effect on my cranial blood vessels.

To migraine sufferers, that is for sure, tongkat ali, combined with the time-tested knowledge how to properly use it for this condition, is a God-sent.

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