What is Tribulus and what is it good for?
Tribulus terrestris is a perennial trailing plant that grows predominantly in India. It has been used for centuries in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as an herbal tonic for sexual dysfunction and certain urinary disorders. Tribulus seems to work by facilitating the absorption of essential fatty acids (EFA), which are used by the liver to manufacture certain hormones. In men, the secretion of leutinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland appears to be increased. In women, it appears to increase secretion of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol. Studies of this herb are ongoing. Herbs currently being studied for similar effects are Maca, a Peruvian perennial that grows in the Andes mountains, and Muira puama, an Amazonian plant.
Tribulus is not the same as horny goat weed, a popular libido-enhancer currently on the market. This herb is called Epimedium (Epimedium grandiflorum).
Tribulus (Puncture vine,Tribulus terrestris) Raw Material Quality
By Ted Waszkuc, Ph.D., NOW Foods Methods Development Scientist
There are two main reasons leading to variations in plant herbal extracts from different sources. One is that the choice of plant parts - like roots, leaves and stems or fruits of the particular species - might be different. The second reason reflects differences in the plant origin, as the natural composition of plant from identical species may vary depending on climatic and regional differences. The Tribulus story is rather striking example of how the plant’s geographic origin can effect its phytochemical composition and nutritional quality.
The genus of Tribulus (family of Zygophyllaceae) comprises about 20 species of creeping perennial shrubs or herbs, of which species named “terrestris” – Tribulus terrestris L. - is the most common one. The plant grows worldwide in subtropical countries of Asia and Africa, but also in southeastern Europe (primarily Bulgaria).
Like other weedy species, Tribulus has many common names. Puncture vine, caltrop and goat’s head are the most widely used. Tribulus terrestris L. is a ground-hugging herbaceous perennial plant that grows as a summer annual in colder climates. Its reddish branches spread radially from a central point up to a diameter of about 3 feet, bearing small, oblong leaflets which may form flat patches along the ground. Fruits are easy to identify due to their unique shape comprising four single-seeded nutlets bearing two sharp spines that can puncture bicycle tires or cause considerable pain to bare feet. The goat’s head common name for this plant reflects its fruit’s characteristic shape.
In countries like India and China fruits of T.terrestris has been used since ancient times for the treatment of various urinary and cardiovascular complaints, as an antiseptic and a temporary anti-inflammatory remedy. In ancient Greece puncture vine was used as a physical rejuvenation tonic. Its aphrodisiac properties have also been noted since early times. Modern scientific research has recently confirmed most of the traditional observations.1,2,3,4
Puncture vine made its way to the New World on ships from the Mediterranean, finding true niche in the U.S. Southwest. In some regions it is considered an invasive species, even growing wildly in sidewalk cracks.
T. terrestris extract used as a single herbal product ingredient has recently become popular in natural health products. It has been marketed as a general tonic to increase energy levels and herbal remedy for sexual dysfunction, especially in men. Athletes from Eastern Europe, primarily Bulgaria, have used it successfully since 1980’s to improve strength and stamina.5 In recent years, Tribulus has also developed a following among body builders and exercise enthusiasts in Western World. It is believed that T. terrestris affects testosterone production by triggering the body into releasing luteinizing hormone (LH).4 LH is responsible for “telling” the body to produce more testosterone. By promoting the production of the body’s own hormones, it works within the body’s natural limits to help men, especially older men, achieve their strength and muscular potential. Tribulus will not cause the body to indefinitely produce more and more of any hormone, but rather it balances natural hormone levels. In fact, one recent study found that T.terrestris caused no increase in testosterone or LH production in young, healthy men.6
Tribulus owes its health and medicinal effects to the specific group of steroidal glycosides belonging to the wider class of natural products called “saponins”.7,8 Saponins constitute a vast group of glycosides, either steroidal or triterpenoid in nature, which are ubiquitous in plants; their generic name derived from Latin word: sapo, saponis - which means soap - reflects detergent-like ability to form foamy solutions in water. Tribulus steroidal saponin content varies depending upon the source of saponin within the plant (e.g. fruit, leaves or steams). There are two types of Tribulus steroidal glycosides: spirostanols in fruits9 and furostanols, mainly found in leaves.10,11 The active phytochemical in T. terrestris plant is proven to be steroidal saponin of furostanol type called protodioscin.12
Tribulus terrestris grown on different soils does not consistently produce the same levels of steroidal saponins.The protodioscin content of T. terrestris varies greatly depending on the geographic region in which it is grown. Analysis of products selected from the U.S. market found lower levels of protodioscin in the majority of samples.13 It was found that the level of protodioscin changes substantially with the plant part (leaf, stem or fruit) and origin (Bulgaria, India or China) of the Tribulus. All samples from Bulgaria contained a rather high percentage of protodioscin, with most of it in the leaves (1.34%), significantly less in the stems (0.27%) and fruits (0.24%). The phytochemistry of Chinese and Indian Tribulus differed considerably from that of Bulgarian origin. Samples from India and China showed totally different profiles in saponin content with protodioscin as only a minor compound: 0.063% in fruit from China and 0.024% in stem from India (leaf samples were not available).13 Consequently, Chinese and Indian T.terrestris does not have the same pharmacological and physiological functions as Bulgarian Tribulus.
NOW Foods uses Tribulus powder extract manufactured from genuine Bulgarian leaves containing not only standardized, high protodioscin level, but all steroidal saponins characteristic to the plant. The quality of the product is assessed by High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). This allows us to assure that only top quality active ingredients are used in our products and to guarantee their authenticity and potency.
1 Al-Ali, M., et al., Tribulus terrestris: preliminary study of its diuretic and contractile effects and comparison with Zea mays. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 85, 257-260 (2003)
2 Phillps, O.A., et al., Antihypertensive and vasodilator effects of methanolic and aqueous extracts of Tribulus terrestris in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 104, 351-355 (2006)
3 Zhang, J-D, et al., Antifungal activities and action mechanisms of compounds from Tribulus terrestris L. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 103, 76-84 (2006)
4 Gauthman, K., et al., Aphrodisiac properties of Tribulus terrestris extract (Protodioscin) in normal and castrated rats. Life Sciences 71, 1385-1396 (2002)
5 Antonio, J., et al., The effects of Tribulus terrestris on body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 10, 208-215 (2000)
6 Neychev, V.K., et al., The aphrodisiac herb Tribulus terrestris does not influence the androgen production in young men. J. of Ethnopharmacology 101, 319-323 (2005)
7 Wu, G., et al., Steroidal glycosides from Tribulus terrestris. Phytochemistry 42, 1677-1681 (1996)
8 Bedir, E., et al., Biologically active steroidal glycosides from Tribulus terrestris. Pharmazie 57, 491-493 (2002)
9 Wang, Y., et al., Steroidal saponins from fruits of Tribulus terrestris. Phytochemistry 42, 1417-1422 (1996)
10 De Combarieu, E., et al., Furostanol saponins from Tribulus terrestris. Fitoterapia 74, 583-591 (2003)
11 Conrad, J., et al., A novel furostanol saponin from Tribulus terrestris of Bulgarian origin. Fitoterapia 75, 117-122 (2004)
12 Gauthaman, K., et al., Sexual effects of puncture vine (Tribulus terrestris) extract (protodioscin): an evaluation using a rat model. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 9(2), 257-265 (2003)
13 Ganzera, M., et al., Determination of steroidal saponins in Tribulus terrestris by reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography and evaporative light scattering detection. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 90(11), 1752-1758 (2001)