If you have been into bodybuilding, or lifting some serious weights, you must have come across a range of supplements, promising miracle results, as powerful as anabolic steroids, minus the side effects. One such hyped and much talked about supplement is Turkesterone.
If you search the internet, the opinions are clearly divided, some claiming it to be a supplement for muscle building and fat loss, as potent as anabolic steroids. Whereas most others, are clearly against its use, due to absolute lack of evidence on its effects.
Let’s see the who’s right…
Ecdysteroids are steroid hormones that control moulting (shredding) and reproduction of arthropods [invertebrate animals, divided into four major groups: insects; myriapods (including centipedes and millipedes); arachnids (including spiders,mites and scorpions);crustaceans (including slaters, prawn and crabs].
Ecdysteroids share structural similarity to testosterone and are seen as the testosterone-like compound most active in insects. That’s the reason that turkesterone is believed to cause the same anabolic effects in humans, as testosterone.
Turkesterone is a supplement derived from the plant Ajuga Turkestanica from the Lamiaceae family native to mountain ranges of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia. This plant and other forms of the Ajuga species of flowers have been used in traditional societies as a healing tonic.
It was back in 1975 when a Russian scientist published a scientific paper on the structure of turkesterone.
Phytoecdysteroids are a family of about 200 plant steroids. They are present in about 6% of the plants in existence, although the amount present too little to be used for extraction, or show any major benefit .
More than 300 different ecdysteroids have been isolated from animal and plant sources. Some of the known ones are ecdysone, ecdysterone, 20-hydroxyecdysone, Turkesterone, cyasterone, ponasterone A, viticosterone E, integristerone A etc.
The first ecdysteroid was isolated in 1954, from pupae of the silkworm. This compound was named “ecdysone”, the structure of which was established only eleven years later.
In 1966, the discovery of the same molecules (phytoecdysteroids) in several plant species made them easily available in large amounts, and this allowed pharmacological studies to be initiated on mammals .
Such studies were at first undertaken in the hope of developing safer and more specific insecticides, and it was quickly shown that these molecules were not toxic to mammals. On the other hand, they displayed a wide array of rather beneficial pharmacological effects (e.g. against diabetes or asthenia), thus providing a plausible explanation for the properties of several plant species widely used in traditional medicine.
However, a very significant finding of these early studies was that ecdysteroids, when they occur in plants, occur at much higher concentrations than in insects, such that the same amount of ecdysteroids which was isolated from 500kg of silkworm pupae could be isolated from less than 1g of an ecdysteroid-containing plant species. This relatively high accumulation facilitated the identification of further phytoecdysteroids and prompted the search for other ecdysteroid-accumulating species in the plant world .
The distribution within a given ecdysteroid-containing plant differs, with certain plant parts possessing higher concentrations and differing profiles than other parts. The accumulation seems to favour (protect) the parts of the plants that are important for the survival of the plant. For e.g. in spinach, the growing tips of the stem and the young leaves contain higher levels than the stem and root. Flowers and seeds also often contain high concentrations of ecdysteroids, implying an important role in protecting these reproductive organs from predation .
A number of hypotheses have been put forward as to the roles of ecdysteroids in plants, but the favoured hypothesis, for which evidence is accumulating, is that they serve to deter invertebrate predators by acting as feeding deterrents or endocrine disruptors on ingestion. Since ecdysteroids are non-toxic to mammals, this makes them attractive for the protection of plant crop species.
The presence of ecdysteroids has been investigated in food plants, and it has been detected in a few species only, e.g., spinach, quinoa, yam tubers, and in some mushrooms. As the phytochemical analysis of traditional medicinal plants from around the world has advanced, it has become apparent that some of them may contain large amounts of ecdysteroids.This interesting association may indicate that ecdysteroids, alone or in conjunction with other plant secondary compounds (e.g., ﬂavonoids), may have very wide therapeutic applications .
Based on the traditional use of some of these plants, dried plant parts (or, rather, their extracts) are marketed as dietary supplements, mainly promoting their anabolic properties (in humans (bodybuilders, sportsmen), but also in animals (horses, dogs)). They are also being used externally, in cosmetics, aimed at improving skin quality/repair.
Mice studies have shown that, ecdysterone administration (subcutaneous or intravenous), at around 5mg/kg bodyweight, seems to be able to induce protein synthesis in animal organs such as the liver or skeletal muscle. Additionally, ecdysteroids may be able to increase leucine incorporation into cells at a dose of 5mg/kg bodyweight (study investigated the liver). In this regard, the ecdysteroid called ‘Turkesterone’ appears to be more potent relative to other ecdysteroids studied .
However, this seems very restrictive with regard to the multiple beneﬁcial effects already observed with animal models. The administration of the molecules was often combined with protein supplements (e.g., whey proteins) and intense physical exercise, which makes it difﬁcult to determine the effects of the ecdysteroids themselves. Ecdysteroids are currently being evaluated by WADA to possibly include them in the list of prohibited doping agents to be banned for sportsmen.
A rat study, found that, ecdysterone induces hypertrophy of muscles with a comparable or even higher potency as shown for anabolic androgenic steroids, SARMs or IGF-1. Researchers suggested that, ecdysterone should be considered to be included in the list of prohibited substances of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
A human study, in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, has been done with ecdysterone, where 45 resistance trained men, were given 200mg ecdysterone supplement daily. No results were seen in resistance training males in regards to total and free testosterone or body composition changes when compared to placebo.
Another study, investigated the effects of ecdysterone-containing products on human sport exercise. A 10-week study of strength training of 46 young men was carried out. Different doses of ecdysterone-containing supplements were administered during the study to evaluate the performance-enhancing effect.
Significantly higher increases in muscle mass were observed in those participants that were dosed with ecdysterone. Even more relevant with respect to sports performance, significantly more pronounced increases in one-repetition bench press performance were observed. No increase in biomarkers for liver or kidney toxicity was noticed. These data underline the effectivity of an ecdysterone supplementation with respect to sports performance. The researchers strongly suggested the inclusion of ecdysterone in the list of prohibited substances.
Though as of now turkesterone or other ecdysterones aren’t on the WADA banned list.
However, the problem with the above study, as pointed out by many is that, the study was on ecdysterone, not Turkesterone. And the results have never been replicated in any earlier or future study.
Also, in mammals, there is rapid catabolism/elimination of ecdysteroids, which means that large amounts would have to be used in order to maintain circulating levels above the concentration required for gene switches systems to be activated.
Therefore, with all the collective evidence on the efficacy of Turkesterone supplements on humans, we could see that, there isn’t any quality human evidence , which could prove its benefits when it comes to increase in muscle mass or fat loss.