Tribulus Terrestris: Fertility Herb for Both Men and Women…

Tribulus Terrestris: Fertility Herb for Both Men and Women…

Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

Tribulus Terrestris. Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

While there are not many herbs that have been shown to benefit both male and female fertility, Tribulus terrestris is one of them. Tribulus has been used as a traditional fertility herb for years, in both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda. Traditional healing practices are rooted in time tested results, but scientific researchers in Bulgaria wanted to know how this herb really works. Several studies have been conducted to find out how Tribulus aids fertility, for both men and women.

Studies show the following fertility benefits:

  • Increase in sex hormone production in both men and women.
  • Increase in serum follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol in women.
  • Increase in luteinizing hormone (LH) and testosterone in men.
  • Improvement in sexual desire in both men and women.
  • Overall fertility tonic for the male and female reproductive systems.
  • May help to normalize ovulation in women with anovulatory infertility when used prior to ovulation.
  • Increase in sperm count, motility, and health.
  • Decrease in the effects of antisperm antibodies.
  • May aid the male body in producing DHEA to treat erectile dysfunction.
  • Protective to liver health; raises glutathione (strong antioxidant) levels which are important to cellular health and immunity.

Tribulus for Male Fertility

Erectile Dysfunction
The main part of Tribulus that aids in fertility for men, is a constituent called protodioscin. This constituent helps to improve DHEA levels in the male body. In men with erectile dysfunction (ED), it has been found they have low levels of DHEA. Some studies have shown that protodioscin, extracted from Tribulus, increases natural DHEA levels needed for proper erection. Protodioscin is also the main constituent that is responsible for Tribulus’ aphrodisiac qualities. An increase in sexual desire when using this plant has been reported by both men and women.

Antisperm Antibodies
Antisperm antibodies are when the body has an immune response to semen. This can happen not only to men, but to women as well. Antibodies that are triggered during the immune response work to kill the sperm because the body identifies them as foreign invaders.

    Men
    Antisperm antibodies may damage healthy sperm, causing poor sperm health.

    Women
    High numbers of antisperm antibodies in women can make it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg, and/or fertilize the egg. The heightened immune response may also affect conception.

In rare cases, both partners can have antisperm antibodies. In this situation, conception can be very difficult due to a combination of poor sperm health and the woman’s antisperm antibodies attacking the sperm. When the sperm is deposited in the vagina during sexual intercourse, the sperm will then be attacked by the woman’s antisperm antibodies and the sperm that is of poor health will likely be killed. This greatly lowers a couple’s chance of conception.

A Bulgarian study showed that Tribulus can help to reduce the effects of antisperm antibodies. Researchers had couples who tested positive for antisperm antibodies take Tribulus extract and the results of the study showed a 61% increase in conception. An extract of Tribulus terrestris, made into a tablet was given orally to the couples in the study. Men received 1 dose, 3 times a day for 60 days. Women received 1 dose, 3 times a day for 7 days, in the beginning of their cycle (follicular phase), for 6 months. The average time it took for couples to conceive was 5.2 months. This shows that consistency of use is very important!

In addition, TCM and Ayurvedic practitioners have found Tribulus to be very effective in improving sperm count, motility, and morphology when combined with dietary and exercise changes.

Tribulus for Female Fertility

Using Tribulus for Female Fertility and Ovulation Stimulation
One study performed on 36 women who were not ovulating, showed that 67% realized normal ovulation after only 2-3 months of consistent use. The women were given 300-400mg a day, from day 5-14 of their menstrual cycle. 6% became pregnant right away.

A rat study using Tribulus, published in Aug. 2011, showed that Tribulus reduced the number of cysts in the ovaries, in female rats with PCOS. High doses of the extract were administered orally. The treatment showed the ovarian cysts to have significantly decreased, and normal ovarian function was restored. While this was not a human study, it gives scientists more research to use when considering this herb for treatment of PCOS in humans. Many herbalists find Tribulus is an effective, overall female fertility tonic and ovarian stimulant, making it an excellent choice for women with PCOS. This is especially true for women who are not ovulating due to PCOS.

This herb has been found to be wonderful in aiding women with menstrual irregularities, improving timing of the entire menstrual cycle. Tribulus is a nourishing tonic for the female reproductive system as a whole, especially concerning the ovaries.

Tribulus combines well with other herbs. See below for herbal combinations…
The following herbs have been shown safe and effective when combined with Tribulus.

  • Lack of libido: Damiana, Maca
  • Male Sexual Dysfunction: Korean Ginseng, Saw Palmetto, Maca or Ashwagandha
  • Female Tonic for Reproductive Health: Shatavari, Maca

Traditional Suggested Dosage of Tribulus terrestris:
Capsules: 500mg a day to start, working up to 1500mg a day as needed.
Liquid Extract (Tincture): 3-5 mL, 2 times a day.

For Men: Tribulus has been shown best to use all month long, for 3-6 months consistently.
For Women: In general, Tribulus is fine to take all month long. For women with irregular ovulation timing or anovulatory cycles, Tribulus has been shown best to use from day 5-14 of the menstrual cycle, not past ovulation. Tribulus should not be used during pregnancy.

Safety of Tribulus Use: Pregnancy Caution
Many studies have been conducted using Tribulus. No adverse effects have been reported in humans, even with long-term use, with the exception of gastrointestinal upset in some people after 6 months of consistent use. Despite safety, there have been some reports by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners warning not to use Tribulus during pregnancy. Tribulus is not recommended for use during pregnancy. A woman who is trying to conceive should only use this herb prior to ovulation. Tribulus has been shown to cause or contribute to cholestsis when used during pregnancy. Cholestasis is a liver disease that only happens during pregnancy. In women who develop cholestasis, the normal flow of bile from the gallbladder is affected by very high levels of pregnancy hormones. The gallbladder holds bile from the liver, aiding in the breakdown of fats for digestion. Cholestasis slows this function down, which may cause bile acids to spill into the blood stream.

Some animal studies have shown Tribulus to cause the locomotor disorder known as staggers in pregnancy. While another showed decreased survival rate of offspring when taken during pregnancy. This is why Tribulus should not be used in pregnancy. Discontinue use of Tribulus once you find out you are pregnant, or if you think you may be pregnant.

References:
– Stanislavov, R., & Nikolova, V. (2000). Tribulus terrestris and human male fertility: I. Immunological Aspects. Comptes Rendus de l’Academie Bulgare des Sciences, 53(10), 107.
Retrieved from: http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/full/2000crabs..53j.107s/J000107.000.html
– MacKay, D. (2004). Nutrients and botanicals for erectile dysfunction: examining the evidence. Alternative Medicine Review, 9(1), 4-16.
– Horowitz S. (2006). Treating infertility. Altern Complement Med; August:165-171.
– Bensky D, Gamble A. (1986). Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. Seattle: Eastland Press.
– americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/cholestasispregnancy.html
– Dehghan, A., Esfandiari, A., & Bigdeli, S. M. (2012). Alternative treatment of ovarian cysts with Tribulus terrestris extract: A rat model. Reproduction in domestic animals, 47(1), e12-e15.
– Romm, Aviva. (2010). Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St. Louis, Missouri: Churchill Livingstone.
– Hudson, Tori, N.D. (2008). Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Health. McGraw Hill.
– Yance, Donald R., C.N., M.H., R.H.(AHG). (2013) Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism – Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging and Chronic Disease; Tribulus: pp. 603-09. Healing Arts Press.

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[-] 85 Comments
  1. In your opinion, is this herb safe to take if you’re hypothyroid?

    • Dear Shay,

      Tribulus terrestris is not contraindicated for women or men with hypothyroidism. That said, if you are on thyroid medications, it will be best to speak with your doctor about taking any herbs with your medication.

    • Thanks for letting me know, I will speak to them as I am on meds. I’m convinced though my hypothyroid is suppressing ovulation.

  2. Hi, I’m considering trying this supplement & I have PCOS. My question is, for treating anovulation due to PCOS, would you suggest taking tribulus only on days 5-14 as mentioned in the study featured in the article or would it be better to take it continuously, regardless of my cycle? Also, is one pill per day sufficient? I read some comments here from women saying they were taking it twice per day. I appreciate your help with this.

    • Dear Kelly,

      It is up to you whether you try the amount the women in the study used or follow the traditional suggested use guidelines. No matter dose, as shared in this guide, For women with irregular ovulation timing or anovulatory cycles, Tribulus has been shown best to use from day 5-14 of the menstrual cycle, not past ovulation. The dose you choose can be spread out throughout the day, 1-3 doses is fine.

      All that said, with PCOS, dietary and lifestyle changes are equally as important as any herb a woman can try. I encourage you to learn more about How to Reduce the Damaging Effects of PCOS on Fertility Through Diet and Herbs.