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Are Testosterone Boosters Safe?

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 06/08/2022

Updated 05/19/2024

Maybe you know your testosterone is low or just want to perform better at the gym. In any case, anyone looking to increase their testosterone has probably come across supplements claiming to correct the issue. This leaves many guys wondering if testosterone boosters are safe.

What’s the deal with these things? Are testosterone pills safe at any age? Is it bad to take testosterone boosters at 30? At 60? What about at 20?

These dietary supplements promise to increase your production of testosterone. Most contain vitamins, herbs, and other natural compounds that allegedly elevate muscle strength, sperm count, and more. They’re typically sold over the counter and aren’t approved by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

Since numerous ingredients are used in these products, the effectiveness and safety of testosterone boosters can vary hugely.

Below, we’ll explain what testosterone boosters are, whether they’re safe and effective, and other options to consider if you’re interested in increasing your own testosterone production and improving your sexual health.

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Testosterone boosters are over-the-counter dietary supplements formulated to increase production of testosterone. Most come in capsule form and are marketed for their potential effects on sex drive, sexual function, and body composition. 

Testosterone is an androgen (male sex hormone) that plays a key role in your physical health as a man. This hormone is involved in building muscle mass, supporting energy levels, developing red blood cells, and maintaining proper bone density. It also boosts sex drive.

What’s in Testosterone Boosters?

Since actual testosterone is a prescription medication, testosterone boosters generally don’t contain the hormone itself.

Instead, they’re often made using herbal ingredients associated with higher levels of testosterone in studies. Common ingredients in testosterone boosters include magnesium, zinc, fenugreek, Tribulus terrestris, and boron — to name just a few.

Where Can You Buy Testosterone Boosters?

Testosterone boosters are popular, and you can find promotional content for them on most male health, sex, and physical fitness websites. They’re available online from a variety of vendors and offline from health food stores, drug stores, and other supplement sellers.

Do Testosterone Supplements Actually Work?

Since there’s no one-size-fits-all formula to boost testosterone, it’s hard to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether testosterone supplements are effective.

Part of this depends on why you’re using them — and whether you’re dealing with lower testosterone levels.

During your childhood and teens, testosterone is central in the development of male features, such as a deep voice and body hair. It’s common for testosterone levels to gradually decline as you age — a process that can potentially affect your physical and mental well-being.

Low T Symptoms

Common symptoms of low testosterone (hypogonadism) include: 

  • Increased body fat

  • Reduced muscle mass

  • Feelings of fatigue and lethargy

  • Reduced interest in sex

  • Increased risk of depression and weak erections or erectile dysfunction (ED)

  • Increased risk of infertility

Research is mixed on whether the ingredients typically used in testosterone boosters can address these problems.

For example, research shows that vitamin D may increase testosterone levels in men. Studies have also found links between increased ashwagandha, magnesium, and zinc intake and higher levels of testosterone.

There’s also evidence that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) — a steroid hormone precursor in the body that produces testosterone — increases free testosterone levels in physically active men after intense exercise.

As for other active ingredients in these men’s health supplements, research findings are varied. While some are backed by small studies and may be effective, many “must-have” ingredients are more hype than substance.

Most active ingredients used in testosterone boosters aren’t linked to any safety issues or major side effects.

Men often worry about their sperm production, cholesterol, and testicle health when taking testosterone products. So it’s good to know that these usually aren’t seriously affected by a testosterone-boosting supplement.

Reports of safety issues are uncommon. And many products containing these ingredients are used by hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people worldwide without any significant issues:

  • Ashwagandha. An herb used in natural supplements for testosterone, ashwagandha is generally considered safe with little risk of significant side effects. However, a few isolated cases of liver issues have occurred in people who used products containing this ingredient.

  • Zinc. Another common ingredient in herbal supplements for testosterone, zinc is usually safe when taken in normal amounts. That said, excessive zinc intake may cause vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and other side effects.

  • Magnesium. Magnesium is generally safe in normal doses. But high doses of some forms of the mineral in dietary supplements may cause diarrhea. In rare cases, very high doses could result in magnesium toxicity, a dangerous condition that may lead to death.

So, are testosterone boosters safe to use? It’s important to keep in mind that unlike FDA-approved medications, testosterone booster supplements don’t undergo the same long, rigorous process of clinical trials to pinpoint side effects and assess safety.

This means there’s still a lot we don’t know about some active ingredients used in many over-the-counter products for increasing testosterone.

For instance, studies on the potential toxicity of Tribulus terrestris — a plant extract widely used in testosterone pills, capsules, and powders promising to improve sexual function — have mostly been conducted on animals.

Although unlikely, this means there could be health risks associated with certain testosterone booster ingredients we aren’t yet aware of. 

Other ingredients in testosterone boosters are better studied but have known safety issues you’ll want to consider before using them. 

For example, DHEA is known to interact with some medications, including antidepressants, cancer medications, and drugs that control estrogen levels.

Since testosterone booster formulas vary, we can’t really make a fair comparison between an over-the-counter product and a prescription treatment such as artificial testosterone.

Are Testosterone Boosters Legal?

Most testosterone boosters are legal. But those in the form of over-the-counter supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so they don’t have to be tested for safety or prove their effectiveness through clinical trials.

There might be rules for some competitive and professional athletes, but for most guys, taking a supplement to boost testosterone is perfectly legal.

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If you’re considering using a testosterone booster, it’s best to take some simple precautions to reduce your risk of side effects or drug interactions. 

Here’s what we recommend.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider First

Before using any over-the-counter supplement to increase testosterone, get in touch with your healthcare provider. They may suggest checking your level of testosterone first to see if supplements or medication are really necessary.

They can also give you medical advice on the potential risks of different products based on your health history and any current medications you’re taking.

Check the Active Ingredients

Remember, active ingredients are behind a product’s effects and side effects. Before buying a testosterone booster, check the list of ingredients to see if it contains anything potentially unsafe.

If you see an ingredient you’re not sure about or a vague “proprietary blend,” consider using a supplement with better ingredients or a more transparent formula.

Follow the Dosage Instructions

Check the supplement label to see how many capsules you should take each day. Avoid using more than the recommended intake, as this may increase your risk of side effects.

Be Skeptical About Incredible Health Claims

Testosterone supplements may increase your testosterone levels by a small to moderate amount. But they’re unlikely to treat very low testosterone or produce huge changes in sex drive.

If you have clinically low testosterone, it’s better to consult your primary care provider or a urologist than rely on over-the-counter supplements.

Consider Potential Side Effects

Finally, know that although testosterone is vital for general health and well-being, too much of it could cause unwanted effects in your body — especially if your testosterone levels are already higher than average.

For example, high levels of testosterone can cause oily skin and may increase your risk of acne and other complexion issues.

High levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — a hormone produced from testosterone — can also make the symptoms of male pattern baldness, such as a receding hairline or bald patch, more severe.

If you’re worried about these potential issues, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider before using testosterone boosters or starting testosterone therapy. 

Choose your chew

Many testosterone boosters are promoted as healthier, safer alternatives to medical treatments like testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). But that’s not your only option.

Here’s how men can increase their testosterone without unsubstantiated supplements.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Testosterone replacement therapy involves using artificial testosterone injections, patches, gels, or creams to increase testosterone levels. As a prescription treatment, it’s something you’ll need to discuss with your healthcare provider.

TRT can have real benefits, but it’s also linked to several potential side effects. These include a higher risk of prostate growth, fluid retention, and cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack, as well as testicle shrinkage, and infertility.

Exercise and Other Lifestyle Habits

While the science is mixed on testosterone boosters, research shows that the right habits can have a positive impact on your testosterone levels.

For instance, several studies have found that physically active men generally have more testosterone than their sedentary counterparts. This suggests that exercise plays a role in the production of testosterone within your body.

Other research has found that poor sleep habits — like not getting enough shut-eye each night — can reduce testosterone levels in otherwise healthy men.

In general, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by keeping yourself active, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep can go a long way toward preventing testosterone deficiency and helping your body produce the testosterone it needs. 

Our guide to increasing your testosterone levels covers these and other health tips for maximizing testosterone production without relying solely on supplements.

Still, the best way to address low testosterone is to reach out to a urology professional or another healthcare provider to discuss your concerns. 

They may order blood tests to check your levels of luteinizing hormone, screen for heart disease and obesity, and eventually prescribe FDA-approved medications for specific conditions associated with your symptoms.

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Testosterone is vital for your well-being as a man. Not only does it promote strong, healthy bones and muscles, but it also helps you maintain stable moods, consistent sexual desire, and mental sharpness.

Are test boosters safe? Here’s what to remember about testosterone boosters:

  • While most over-the-counter testosterone boosters appear safe, some aren’t quite as good as others.

  • Additionally, ingredients can vary, so some may cause side effects or interact with medications.

  • As such, you’re wise to talk to a healthcare provider before adding any testosterone supplements to your routine.

  • It’s also best not to view testosterone boosters as a panacea for any sexual health issue or as a replacement for medications for ED or other forms of sexual dysfunction.

Worried about your testosterone levels? Our guide to normal testosterone levels for men shares the healthy range and explains steps you can take to get checked if you think you might have low T.

You can also learn more about the links between testosterone levels and sexual performance in our guide to low testosterone and erectile dysfunction.

20 Sources

  1. Cinar V, et al. (2011). Effects of magnesium supplementation on testosterone levels of athletes and sedentary subjects at rest and after exhaustion.
  2. Clemesha CG, et al. , C. G., Thaker, H., & Samplaski, M. K. (2020). ‘Testosterone Boosting’ Supplements Composition and Claims Are not Supported by the Academic Literature.
  3. Ho CH, et al. (2021). Androgenetic Alopecia. StatPearls.
  4. Kraemer WJ, et al. (1998). The effects of short-term resistance training on endocrine function in men and women.
  5. Leproult R, et al. (2011). Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men.
  6. Liu TC, et al. (2013). Effect of acute DHEA administration on free testosterone in middle-aged and young men following high-intensity interval training.
  7. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. Ashwagandha.
  8. National Library of Medicine. (2021). Could you have low testosterone?
  9. National Library of Medicine. (2021). DHEA.
  10. National Library of Medicine. (2020). Testosterone.
  11. National Library of Medicine. (2020). Testosterone Levels Test.
  12. NIH (National Institutes of Health). (2022). Magnesium.
  13. NIH (National Institutes of Health). (2021). Zinc.
  14. Osterberg EC, et al. (2014). Risks of testosterone replacement therapy in men.
  15. Pilz S, et al. (2011). Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men.
  16. Pokrywka A, et al. (2014). Insights into Supplements with Tribulus Terrestris used by Athletes.
  17. Prasad AS, et al. (1996). Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults.
  18. Vaamonde D, et al. (2012). Physically active men show better semen parameters and hormone values than sedentary men.
  19. Wankhede S, et al. (2015). Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial.
  20. Wein, H. (2013). Understanding How Testosterone Affects Men.
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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