Rise of Herbal Remedies
The use of herbal medicines dates back to thousands of years. Modern science accepts herbalism (the use of medicinal plants) as a type of alternative and complementary medicine.
However, unlike modern pharmaceutical drugs, very few clinical trials have been done to actually validate the claimed benefits of these plants. It is believed that similar to pharmacological drugs, even herbal products have side effects and toxicity.
The focus of this editorial is to investigate to what extent this claim is true and what are the myths associated with herbalism and mainly Tongkat Ali’s side effects; a plant which has been in use for thousands of years as the ideal herb with unparalleled benefits.
According to a report prepared by WHO, around 80% of people in many Asian and African countries use herbal plants and medicine as a form of treatment at some point of their lives.
With the advent of better technology and medical techniques, phototherapy and phytochemistry have emerged as a branch of science involved in applying modern know-how to assess, ameliorate and test the effectiveness of medicines that are derived from purely natural resources.
Tongkat Ali the Miracle Herb?
One such herb is the Eurycoma Longifolia, more commonly known as Tongkat Ali. It is a shrub endemic to countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Throughout the ages, it has been known by various names like Pasak Bhumi, Langir Siam and Long Jack.
Yet, the one thing which has remained unchanged about it is its indisputable reputation as a medicinal plant with almost magical properties. To list a few, it has been used as an aphrodisiac, to treat male infertility, weakness, diarrhoea, dysentery, malaria, fever and even post partum recovery.
However, the most popular property for which Tongkat Ali is its ability to act as a natural testosterone booster. In fact, the recent decades have seen a boom in its popularity and it is now a major component of various male health supplements.
Previously, it was thought that there is no remedy to the gradual loss of muscle strength, decrease in sex drive, generalised weakening of bones and sexual dysfunction which develops in aging men.
Deeper studies revealed that the culprit was actually a gradual decrease in serum testosterone associated with age-related hypogonadism. It seems that with increasing age, men are unable to maintain the same testosterone levels as they had in their youth.
Being a primary anabolic hormone, this testosterone deficiency had protean manifestations throughout the body as mentioned above. Logically, it was proposed that if serum testosterone is replaced, these effects could be avoided or even reversed.
Do Tongkat Ali have side effects?
However, testosterone replacement therapy came with its own set of complications like swelling of joints and limb, thickening of blood, increased risk of heart diseases, shrinkage of testicles and most importantly a higher chance of developing prostate carcinoma.
With testosterone replacement therapy not remaining a feasible and popular choice, attention was drawn to existing centuries-old remedies. For centuries, the best way to use Tongkat Ali was to boil or infuse to roots barks and other parts and drunk as a rather bitter health supplement.
Soon, better and modern techniques were applied to extract the flavonoid present in Tongkat Ali and they became an important ingredient in male health supplements. Clinical studies and trials were carried out and it was found that Tongkat Ali actually acts as a natural testosterone booster and aphrodisiac.
But like every medicine, Tongkat Ali’s side effects were dreaded. It was thought that with the passage of time, its effects would wane. A clinical trial was carried out in Taiwan to assess the any acute, mutagenic or clastogenic effects on rats.
The administration of Tongkat Ali extracts even at high doses was found to have only effects which were beneficial to health like reduction in cholesterol levels, urea and creatinine. Therefore, Tongkat Ali’s side effects are minimal to nonexistent if taken properly.
Tongkat Ali is a natural testosterone booster; it stimulates the production of testosterone from the body rather than providing it from an external source like testosterone replacement therapy.
Hence, it does not have the complications of the latter. Nevertheless, commercialisation issues have led to the exploitation of this invaluable natural product and have led to some confusion concerning its side effects.
Firstly, with emerging popularity of alternative medicine, there has been a burgeoning of false health supplements being promoted in the consumer’s market.
The USA FDA has issued warnings against various fake companies who sell pharmaceutical drugs like sildenafil in the guise of Tongkat Ali extracts.
The uninitiated consumer experience side effects of Sildenafil like headache, flushing and blurred vision and associated it with Tongkat Ali.
Secondly, many actual Tongkat Ali preparations have been found to be contaminated with very high levels of Mercury. This is an unfortunate consequence of the processing which it has to undergo before being marketed.
However, it can be avoided by purifying and testing these supplements before marketing and distribution. Once again, innocent consumers experiencing mercury toxicity associate it with Tongkat Ali.
Ultimately, it seems that Tongkat Ali‘s side effects are actually toxicity and adverse reactions of other components which are unfortunately found mixed together with it.
The solution to this predicament is to buy health supplements only from trusted companies who have WHO-GMP certification and USA-FDA approval. Not only will this ensure that the original and purified form of Tongkat Ali is being bought but also that the benefits expected from the product will not be eclipsed by undesirable side effects.
Herbal supplements are known to be side effect free, and if this was not the case, then Tongkat Ali would not have survived hundreds of centuries as one of the most invaluable resource in nature’s medicine cabinet.