If you’re on TikTok, you’ve probably come across an unusual-sounding supplement called tongkat ali. The hype around this herb is very—and we mean very—real right now, which might have you wondering what all the fuss is about.
Here’s everything you need to know about tongkat ali, including its origins and potential health benefits (hint hint, sexual function), as well as how to gauge whether or not you should grab some for yourself.
What is tongkat ali?
Tongkat ali, also known as longjack, Malaysian ginseng, or Eurycoma longifolia, is an herb that comes from Southeast Asia, according to The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N., L.D.N. (Specifically, it’s native to Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand.) It’s been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine for myriad purposes—and is still used today for many of them.
The secret weapons of this flowering plant? It contains flavonoids, alkaloids, and other antioxidant compounds, explains Blakely.
potential Health benefits of Tongkat ali
Tongkat ali has been used in some cultures for centuries and it’s been available as a supplement for quite some time now—but demand for the herb is at an all-time high (thanks, TikTok!). Here’s a look at some of the possible health perks.
1. Stress support
Stress support is one of tongkat ali’s most notable uses these days, which makes sense considering the fact that more than three-quarters of American adults report that stress has impacted their health within the past month, per the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey.
Read More: How Stress Messes With Your Immunity—And What To Do About It
“As an adaptogen, tongkat ali has been found to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, helping to ward off anger, tension, and mental fog,” explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist, Brittany Michels, R.D.N., L.D.N., C.P.T. “As such, it can be a wonderful option for those looking to manage stress and improve mood.” One study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that supplementing with tongkat ali for four weeks worked to reduce cortisol levels and improved mood in physically active adults.
2. Improved sexual health in Men
For men looking to amp up their fertility, tongkat ali may be a useful supplement. For starters, research shows that the herb may help support healthy testosterone levels. In one particular study published in Andrologia, men with testosterone concerns who supplemented with tongkat ali for one month experienced significant increases in their levels of the important hormone.
Another study published in the Asian Journal of Andrology found that, throughout the course of nine months, daily tongkat ali supplementation supported healthy semen in male participants. In fact, they saw improvements in sperm volume, concentrations, motility (movement), and morphology (shape). According to naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C., tongkat ali works to support healthy sperm in a couple of different ways, including by encouraging normal levels of testosterone (which are linked to better sperm quality) and by reducing oxidative stress (which is linked to improved fertility).
3. Supports muscle mass
Because of tongkat ali’s relationship with testosterone, which plays a critical role in muscle growth and recovery, in addition to its antioxidant properties, the herb may actually help some people increase their lean body mass. “Its antioxidant properties help support muscles post-exercise, promoting swift recovery time and ultimately more optimal muscle growth,” says Friedman.
Read More: 5 Nutrition Tips That’ll Help Hard-Gainers Build Muscle
Another perk of tongkat ali for muscle mass: The herb has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels, per a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. “Cortisol is a hormone that can inhibit muscle growth and promote the breakdown of muscle tissue,” explains Friedman. So, by helping to balance cortisol levels, tongkat ali is good news for your gains.
What to know before taking tongkat ali
If you’re looking to boost your testosterone naturally, lower your stress levels, or increase your muscle mass, tongkat ali could support your health goals. That said, there are some people who may want to stay away from the popular supplement. A few key groups here: pregnant and nursing women, who this supplement has not been proven safe for, as well as people with hormonal issues, since it may impact testosterone levels, notes Blakely. “Those on blood-lowering medications will also want to be cautious, as tongkat ali could potentially increase the drug’s glucose-lowering effects,” Blakely says.
Additionally, Blakely recommends that people with compromised immune systems, kidney issues, liver issues, or heart conditions talk to their doctor before taking this supplement, as it can be disruptive when certain health issues in these areas are at play.
How to supplement with tongkat ali
If tongkat ali is a good fit for you, follow these guidelines for choosing a top-notch supplement and using it properly.
1. Make sure it’s third-party tested
As with any supplement, Blakely recommends looking for a tongkat ali product that is third-party tested for purity and potency. (This means the brand hired an outside agency specializing in testing supplements for purity.) “You want to make sure you’re actually getting what you’re paying for, and that it’s not contaminated with other ingredients or toxins,” she says.
2. Look for a standardized extract
Tongkat ali extract supplements are typically made from the root of the plant, notes Friedman. He recommends looking for a product that contains a standardized extract, which means that the extract has been tested for purity and potency. “Tongkat ali supplements are typically standardized to the active compounds, known as eurycomanone and/or quassinoids, which are believed to be responsible for the herb’s potential health benefits,” he explains. “The most commonly used standardization for tongkat ali supplements is 1:50 extract ratio, which means that one gram of the extract is equivalent to 50 grams of the raw herb, because it ensures a high concentration of eurycomanone and quassinoids in the final product.”
3. Check for other ingredients
Some tongkat ali supplements may contain other ingredients, such as other herbs or amino acids, with the intention of packing in additional benefits, explains Friedman. If you’re considering purchasing a product that combines the herb with other ingredients, make sure that none of the other players will impact any health conditions you have or interact with any medications you take.
4. Take it with food
“Tongkat ali is fat-soluble, which means it may be better absorbed by the body when taken with food that contains healthy fats,” says Friedman. For this reason, it’s best taken with food—ideally a meal that contains healthy fats, such as avocado, nuts, or olive oil.
5. Watch for side effects
While tongkat ali is generally considered safe, it may cause side effects in some individuals. Typically, these include restlessness, irritability, anxiety, or insomnia. If you experience any unwanted effects after adding this supplement to your routine, stop taking it and talk to a healthcare professional who can assess your condition and recommend an alternative supplement or medication to support your individual needs.