Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/9/2022
If you’ve ever looked into increasing your testosterone levels, you’ve almost certainly seen ads and recommendations for testosterone boosters.
Testosterone boosters are dietary supplements that increase your production of testosterone, a male sex hormone that’s involved in your physical health and sex drive. Most contain herbs and other natural ingredients, and are typically sold over the counter.
Since a variety of different ingredients are used in these products, the effectiveness and safety of testosterone boosters can vary hugely from one supplement to another.
Below, we’ve explained what testosterone boosters are, as well as the latest research on their effects inside your body. We’ve also looked into the safety of several popular ingredients found in over-the-counter supplements for increasing testosterone.
Finally, we’ve shared some other options to consider if you’re interested in increasing your own testosterone production and improving your sexual health.
Testosterone is an androgen, or male sex hormone. It plays a key role in your physical health as a man. Testosterone is involved in building your muscle mass and strength, developing red blood cells and maintaining proper bone density.
Although testosterone is best known for its physical effects, it also regulates certain aspects of your mental health. Testosterone boosts your moods, increase your levels of energy and energy levels, and even affects your sex drive.
During your childhood and teens, testosterone plays a central part in the development of your male features, such as a deep voice and body hair.
As a man, testosterone is critical for your health and well-being. However, it’s common for your testosterone levels to gradually decline as you age — a process that can potentially affect your physical and mental well-being.
Common symptoms of low testosteroneinclude increased body fat, reduced muscle mass and feelings of fatigue and lethargy. Low testosterone can also reduce your level of interest in sex and cause issues such as depression and erectile dysfunction (ED).
Testosterone boosters are over-the-counter dietary supplements that are formulated to increase your production of testosterone. Most come in capsule form and are marketed for their potential effects on your sex drive, sexual function and body composition.
Because testosterone is a prescription medication, testosterone boosters generally don’t contain testosterone itself.
Instead, they’re typically made using herbal ingredients that have been associated with higher levels of testosterone in studies. Common ingredients in testosterone boosters include magnesium, zinc, fenugreek, Tribulus terrestris and boron, to name a few.
Testosterone boosters are popular, and you can find promotional content for them on most male health, sex and physical fitness websites. They’re available online from a variety of vendors and offline from health food stores, drug stores and other supplement sellers.
Since there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for testosterone supplements, it’s hard to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether or not testosterone supplements are effective.
Overall, research is mixed on the ingredients typically used in testosterone boosters. Some are backed up by scientific evidence showing that they may help to boost testosterone, while others aren’t supported by much at all.
For example, research shows that vitamin D may increase testosterone levels in men. Studies havealsofound links between increased ashwagandha, magnesium and zinc intake and higher levels of testosterone.
There’s also some evidence that Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) — a steroid hormone precursor that’s within your body to produce testosterone — increases free testosterone levels in physically active men after they engage in intense exercise.
As for other active ingredients in testosterone supplements, research findings are varied. While some are backed up by research and may be effective, many “must-have” ingredients are more hype than substance.
Many testosterone boosters are promoted as healthier, safer alternatives to medical treatments such as testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
Testosterone replacement therapy involves the use of artificial testosterone injections, patches, gels and/or creams to increase testosterone levels. It’s a prescription treatment that you’ll need to talk about with your healthcare provider.
TRT can have real benefits, but it’s also linked to several potential side effects. These include a higher risk of experiencing prostate growth, fluid retention and cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.
Since testosterone boosters vary in formula, it’s difficult to provide a fair comparison between an over-the-counter product and a prescription treatment such as artificial testosterone.
Most active ingredients used in testosterone boosters aren’t linked to any safety issues or major side effects. Reports of safety issues are uncommon, and many products containing these ingredients are used by hundreds of thousands or millions of men worldwide without any significant issues:
Ashwagandha, a herb that’s used in natural supplements for testosterone, is considered generally safe and without significant side effects. However, a few isolated cases of liver issues have occurred in people who used products containing this ingredient.
Zinc, another common ingredient in herbal supplements for testosterone, is usually safe when taken in normal amounts. However, an excessive zinc intake may cause vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea and other side effects.
Magnesium is generally safe when consumed in normal doses. However, high doses of some forms of magnesium in dietary supplements may cause diarrhea. In rare cases, very high doses of magnesium can cause magnesium toxicity, a dangerous condition that may lead to death.
So, are testosterone boosters safe to use? It’s important to keep in mind that as supplements, testosterone boosters don’t undergo the same long and rigorous process of clinical trials to identify side effects and determine safety as medications.
This means that there’s still a lot that we don’t know about some active ingredients that are used in many over-the-counter products for increasing testosterone.
For example, studies on the potential toxicity of Tribulus terrestris — a plant extract that’s widely used in testosterone pills, capsules and powders marketed as improving sexual function — have mostly been conducted on animals.
Although unlikely, this means that there could be health risks associated with some testosterone booster ingredients that we aren’t yet aware of.
Other ingredients in testosterone boosters are better studied but have known safety issues that you’ll want to consider before using them.
For example, dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA — a popular ingredient in testosterone booster supplements — is known to interact with certain medications, including antidepressants, cancer medications and drugs that control estrogen levels.
If you’re considering using a testosterone booster, it’s best to take some simple precautions to reduce your risk of experiencing side effects or interactions.
Use the following tips to improve safety while using testosterone supplements:
Talk to your healthcare provider first. Normal testosterone levels fall within a fairly large range. Unless you’re close to the low end of this range, there may not be many good reasons for you to take a testosterone booster.
Before using any over-the-counter supplement to increase testosterone, try talking with your healthcare provider. They may suggest checking your level of testosterone first to see if supplements or medication are really necessary.
They will also be able to advise you on the potential risks of different products based on your health history and any current medications you’re taking.
Check the active ingredients before you buy. Remember that the active ingredients give the product its effects, as well as its side effects. Before you pick any testosterone booster, check the list of ingredients to see if it contains anything potentially unsafe.
If you see an ingredient you’re not sure about or a “proprietary blend,” consider using a supplement with better ingredients or a more transparent formula.
Follow the dosage instructions provided with your supplement. Check the label of your supplement to see how many capsules you should take per day. Avoid using more than the recommended intake, as this may increase your risk of side effects.
Be skeptical about incredible health claims. Testosterone supplements may increase your testosterone levels by a small to moderate amount, but they’re unlikely to treat very low testosterone or produce huge changes in your sex drive.
If you have clinically low testosterone, it’s better to talk to your primary care provider or a urologist than rely on over-the-counter supplements.
Finally, it’s important to be aware that although testosterone is important for your general health and well-being, it may cause certain unwanted effects in your body, especially if you have higher testosterone levels than average.
For example, high levels of testosterone can cause oily skin and may increase your risk of acne and other skin issues — a topic we’ve covered more in our guide to how testosterone can trigger acne breakouts.
High levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — a hormone that’s produced from testosterone — can also make the symptoms of male pattern baldness, such as a receding hairline or bald patch at the crown of your scalp, more severe for some people.
If you’re worried about these potential issues, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider before using any testosterone boosters or starting testosterone therapy.
While the science is mixed on testosterone boosters, most research shows that the right habits can have a positive impact on your testosterone levels.
For example, severalstudies have found that men who are physically active typically have more testosterone than their sedentary counterparts, suggesting that exercise might play a role in the production of testosterone within your body.
In general, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by keeping yourself active, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep can go a long way towards preventing testosterone deficiency and helping your body produce the testosterone it needs.
Our guide to increasing your testosterone levels covers these and other health tips that you can use to maximize your body’s testosterone production without relying solely on supplements.
Testosterone is vital for your well-being as a man. Not only does it promote strong, healthy bones and muscles — it also helps you maintain stable moods, consistent sexual desire and mental sharpness.
While most of the ingredients in over-the-counter testosterone boosters appear safe, some aren’t quite as good as others. As such, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider before adding any testosterone supplements to your regular health routine.
It’s also best not to view testosterone boosters as a panacea for any sexual health issue or as a replacement for medications for ED or other forms of sexual dysfunction.
Worried about your testosterone levels? Our guide to normal testosterone levels for men shares the healthy range for testosterone and explains the steps that you can take to get checked if you think you might have “low T.”
You can also learn more about the links between testosterone levels and sexual performance in our guide to low testosterone and erectile dysfunction.