Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

Are Testosterone Boosters Safe? (From a Nutritionist)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 17, 2022

There is growing concern about using testosterone boosters because they have been linked to increased health risks, such as heart attack or stroke.

While it’s true that these supplements can cause side effects, the assumption that they’re unsafe can be misleading.

So, my research team consulted various medical sources and sought the expert opinions of dietitians to find out if T boosters are safe.

In this article, you will learn whether they are safe when used in prescribed amounts and how to avoid health risks.

Article Summary

  • Testosterone is vital for gaining lean muscle mass, optimal bone density, heart health, and sex drive.
  • Supplemental testosterone is considered safe when taken in prescribed amounts.
  • Like any supplement, T boosters may have potential side effects, including male breast enlargement, hair loss, and skin problems.

Are Over-The-Counter Testosterone Boosters Safe?

container of supplements and a paper bag

Yes, over-the-counter testosterone boosters are safe, but you need to choose them based on criteria other than popularity.

The effectiveness of T boosters varies depending on the ingredients in the product, and some of these supplements may have certain health concerns.

I've run into several testosterone boosters containing poor quality and ineffective ingredients, which can expose you to serious health risks.

The key to ensuring safety when using a testosterone supplement is always to check and read the label.

Make sure the manufacturer disclosed the complete list of ingredients and the individual doses. Also, choose products that your doctor or FDA approves.

Some manufacturers don’t disclose the complete ingredients in the products, especially when they contain anabolic steroids.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances that mimic the effects of the natural testosterone that our bodies produce.

Still, they often come with certain risks, including erectile dysfunction, acute liver damage, and prostate cancer [7].

It's always recommended to do thorough research before buying any of these advertised testosterone products.

What Do Testosterone Boosters Do?

Testosterone boosters are herbal supplements that increase testosterone, the main male sex hormone. Optimal levels of testosterone are necessary for muscle mass growth, red blood cell production, and certain body functions like sexual function.

Many athletes and gym-goers use T boosters because they can boost endurance and promote muscle building.

They typically contain zinc, fenugreek extract, and vitamin B6 that are scientifically proven to boost testosterone levels.

Here are the benefits of taking testosterone  boosters:

  • Healthy heart [1]
  • Less fat and increased muscle mass [2]
  • Stronger bones [3]
  • Increased sex drive [4]
  • Managed erectile dysfunction [5]
  • Improved mood [6]

Testosterone Booster Side Effects

shirtless man and a man combing his hair

Testosterone supplements may have potential side effects, including:

Male Breast Enlargement

Enlargement of the breasts sometimes happens among men who take testosterone supplements because as T levels go up, our bodies convert some of it to estrogen. An increase in estrogen may cause you to feel a bit of breast tenderness and growth [8].

The good news is, for most men, breast enlargement is not noticeable, and the effects wear off after a few weeks because T levels are already higher than estrogen.

Hair Loss

It's not testosterone that causes hair loss — a prevalent testosterone myth. Hair loss can happen when testosterone is converted to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by an enzyme called 5α-reductase [9].

There are medications called 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors that may help prevent hair loss because they prevent testosterone from being converted into DHT.

Acne

man pointing at his acne

Boosting testosterone levels beyond the normal range can also cause acne.

It's because testosterone can increase your sebum production, which causes dead skin cells to form a plug in the pore, leading to acne breakouts [10].

Some ways to manage or treat acne are using topical creams that kill bacteria and limiting the consumption of supplements that boost testosterone.

Loss Of Libido

Certain supplements that contain steroids can affect testosterone and cause sexual dysfunction, such as loss of or decreased sex drive [11].

Shrinking Testicles

Shrinking of the testicles or testicular atrophy is usually caused by low testosterone. But, it can be caused by a hormonal imbalance that disrupts testosterone production, such as anabolic steroids.

So, make sure to check whether your preferred testosterone booster has anabolic steroids.

Prostate Enlargement

Some studies link testosterone with enlarged prostate [12]. However, results from studies are mixed, and there's not enough evidence to show that increasing T levels cause prostate enlargement [13].

Increased Aggression

Based on some studies, higher testosterone levels have been linked to increased aggression [14].

However, review studies also show that though testosterone is linked to aggression, the connection between these two is weak [15].

Infertility

man covering his crouch area

Too much of anything, including testosterone supplements, can be harmful.

It may cause an imbalance of hormones that can lead to problems in sperm production.

One study about the effects of testosterone on sperm count showed that men who took testosterone supplements have lower sperm count [16].

Other Side Effects

In some rare cases, testosterone products may lead to certain health concerns, such as: 

  • Acute liver failure
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Kidney problems

It usually happens when testosterone products are not used following the recommendations.

"Testosterone abuse, usually at doses higher than those typically recommended and usually in combination with other Anabolic-androgenic steroids, is associated with major safety risks affecting the heart, brain, liver, mental health, and endocrine system."— U.S. Food and Drug Administration

According to studies, a rise in testosterone causes the body to produce excessive red blood cells [17,18]. Too many red blood cells result in thickening the blood, causing an increased risk of a blood clot, heart disease, and stroke.

Individuals who abuse excessive doses of testosterone show withdrawal symptoms like: 

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Lack of appetite
  • Decreased libido
  • Insomnia

Alternatives to Testosterone Boosters

stack of fruits and vegetables and a man doing exercise outdoors

While testosterone boosters are usually safe, they may not be for everyone, such as individuals who have heart problems.

So, here are three natural ways to maintain healthy levels of testosterone.

Lifestyle Changes

Certain lifestyle modifications are known to increase testosterone levels, including:

  • Exercise  - Doing regular exercise, especially weight lifting, and high-intensity interval training helps in boosting testosterone levels. One study shows improving body composition (reducing fat and increasing muscle mass) and enhancing respiratory health can increase T levels [19].
  • Proper Diet - Eating testosterone-promoting foods, such as leafy green vegetables, oysters, fatty fish, red meat, and others, can increase T levels. They contain essential vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin D and magnesium, which promote testosterone.
  • Quality Sleep - A study showed that T levels of men who only slept 5 hours every night dropped to 15% [20]. Maintaining testosterone levels and good day-to-day functioning requires adequate and high-quality sleep.

Natural Supplements

bowl of powder and scattered pills

Other than lifestyle modifications, supplementation with vitamins and minerals can also help in boosting testosterone levels, such as:

Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)

Testosterone boosters shouldn’t be confused with Testosterone Replacement Therapy.

TRT is a medical treatment prescribed by your doctor. Your doctor should do a physical exam and blood test to diagnose whether you have testosterone deficiency syndrome or hypogonadism. It’s best to consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and treatment.

TRT helps by replacing testosterone in your body that is not naturally produced. It comes in different forms, such as: 

  • Testosterone pills
  • Patches
  • Gels
  • Injectables

TRT is usually prescribed to middle-aged men or individuals with low testosterone.

Majority of men who had TRT report improvements in their energy levels, sex drive, and body composition. Doctors only recommend TRT to patients with medical conditions called hypogonadism, and only after they tried other natural means, including lifestyle modifications.

TRT is generally safe, but it also has potential side effects, such as acne breakouts, decreased sperm count, and increased heart attack and stroke risk.

Are Testosterone Supplements Safe?

Supplemental testosterone is considered safe when used in adequate quantities, according to the label recommendations.

However, before purchasing any testosterone boosters, make sure you examine the contents and dosages.

Like other supplements and medications, taking too many T boosters or consuming hidden ingredients such as anabolic steroids could cause potential side effects.

But when these supplements are used properly, they can boost low testosterone and can help:

  • Increase muscle mass
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Better sex drive
  • Improve mood and well-being

It’s crucial to consult your healthcare professional or a fitness trainer before using any supplement or medication for testosterone to avoid harmful side effects.


References:

  1. https://www.ecrjournal.com/articles/testosterone-and-heart
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10442580/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5036835/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16670164/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5649360/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32657051/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548931/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430812/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4174066/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051853/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5828928/#r6
  12. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-93728-1
  13. https://bphnews.com/news-posts/2016/07/15/testosterone-replacement-therapy-does-not-increase-risk-of-luts-bph-worsening/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3693622/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31785281/
  16. https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(13)03053-7/fulltext
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4022090/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4022090/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5924956/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445839/

Was this article helpful?

About The Author