Tribulus Terrestris Overview

Tribulus terrestris (puncture vine) has been used as a supplement for treating everything from infections to high blood pressure -- but does it really work?
Tribulus terrestris (puncture vine) has been used as a supplement for treating everything from infections to high blood pressure -- but does it really work?
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When you hear the name tribulus terrestris, you might think that you're about to get a lesson in Latin. Fear not, though, tribulus terrestris is the name of a noxious weed that grows prevalently throughout most of the United States [source: USDA]. Tribulus terrestris is not native to all the places it grows now, but the herb has become naturalized in most all regions. You might also hear it referred to as "puncture vine" because of the plant's spiny parts [source: Calflora].

Though the barbed bur of the tribulus terrestris may sound intimidating, many people claim that it has quite a few functions for the body other than poking holes in the skin. You can find tribulus terrestris in the form of a supplement on the shelves of most health and fitness stores. The supplement is a combination of extracts from different components found within the tribulus terrestris plant [source: Monson and Schoenstadt].


There are several claims about what tribulus terrestris supplements can do for the body. The two most common reasons people begin taking the supplements is to increase sexual desire and to increase muscle mass. Athletes especially are attracted to the muscle-building properties promoted by tribulus terrestris claims. People have also taken tribulus terrestris to treat serious illnesses such as cancer, kidney problems and blood pressure problems [source: Monson and Schoenstadt].

These restorative properties and more are claimed to come from this prickly plant. Read the next page to discover the benefits of using tribulus terrestris.


Tribulus Terrestris Benefits

What kinds of benefits might come from a plant also known as puncture vine, you ask? Reportedly, extracts from various parts of the tribulus terrestris plant can be of great use to people who need help against infections, as evidenced in an Iraqi study. The study took extracts from the fruit, leaves and roots of tribulus terrestris plants and applied them to areas prone to bacteria and fungus. The best result from this study is the claim that tribulus terrestris plays a role in curing urinary tract infections [source: Al-Bavati and Al-Mola].

In addition to these restorative properties, some people believe tribulus terrestris can affect the body in many other ways. One of the alternate uses of tribulus terrestris is as a supplement to enhance sexual urges among both men and women. It may act as an aphrodisiac, in addition to helping men with impotence problems [source: Alternative Health Guide].


Other lesser-known benefits of the supplement make up quite a long list. For example, tribulus terrestris is said to be good for treating gonorrhea, kidney stones, high blood pressure, psoriasis and even some forms of cancer [source: Monson and Schoenstadt].

Though there are many suggestions as to what the plant might do, there have not been enough sound scientific and medical studies to prove anything definitively. What the medical community needs is a series of trustworthy studies before they can verify any benefits of using tribulus terrestris.

Read the next page to find out what the side effects of tribulus terrestris are.


Tribulus Terrestris Side Effects

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate tribulus terrestris so be aware that tribulus terrestris has not been scrutinized the way many other medications and drug treatments have. Therefore, the full spectrum of possible side effects is unknown at this time.

Considering this limitation, the information available to you as a consumer that deals with the side effects of tribulus terrestris is incomplete. Some sites even claim that there are not even any known side effects of tribulus terrestris [sources: Santoso, Monson and Schoenstadt].


One potential negative side effect includes increased levels of testosterone, since tribulus terrestris is said to boost this hormone. Testosterone might have an effect on rage, hair growth and prostate size [source: Monson and Schoenstadt].

Another could come from how you decide to ingest tribulus terrestris. If you plan to take it, you should opt for a supplement instead of trying to consume any portion of the actual spiny plant -- one man punctured his lungs after doing so.

It's important to keep in mind that the various tribulus terrestris extracts available in health stores are not all created equal (remember, there is no regulation of supplements by the FDA). One writer recommends that you find the supplement with at least 45 percent protodioscin, which is the active ingredient [source: Santoso]. Different supplements will contain different percentages of ingredients, so be sure to read the ingredients label on the bottle. Compare the labels of different brands to determine which one might work best for you. Remember to consider any medications you are currently taking that could possibly react with the other ingredients found in the tribulus terrestris supplement. And it's a good idea to speak with your doctor before adding anything new to your daily regimen.

Looking for speed, size and strength? Read the next page to see how sports athletes use tribulus terrestris.


Tribulus Terrestris in Sports

The athletic world touts tribulus terrestris as a natural alternative to artificial steroids. Some people believe using tribulus terrestris can affect the body's muscle composition and improve a person's success with bodybuilding. Tribulus terrestris may contribute to an athlete's improved performance and add to an athlete's muscle mass [source: Monson and Schoenstadt].

There are several claims circulating that say tribulus terrestris is both safe and effective in helping athletes build their muscles, and that it avoids all the negative side effects of using steroids. The theory is that there are three chemicals found within the plant that might help foster the growth of muscles and activate the production of testosterone. Those three phytochemicals, meaning chemicals found within a plant, are dioscin, protodioscin and diosgenin [source: Chinese Herbs].


It is important to remember that the scientific and medical communities have not yet verified any of the claims made about tribulus terrestris. All of the claims you hear about tribulus terrestris heightening the ability of cells and tissues to absorb the most protein and energy from food are generally speculations based on sparse studies [source: Chinese Herbs].

Visit the links on the next page to learn more about tribulus terrestris.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Al-Bavati, Firas A. and Hassan F. Al-Mola. "Antibacterial and antifungal activities of different parts of Tribulus terrestris L. growing in Iraq." Journal of Zhejiang University Science. 1/16/08. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Alternative Health Guide. "Tribulus Terrestris." (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Antonio, J. et al. "The effects of Tribulus terrestris on body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males." International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 10, 2. June 2000. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Calflora. "Tribulus Terrestris." Calflora Database. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • CDFA. "Puncturevine." (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Chinese Herbs. "Tribulus Terrestris for Athletes and Bodybuilders." (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Monson, Kristi and Arthur Schoenstadt. "Benefits of Tribulus Terrestris." MedTV. 10/7/08. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Monson, Kristi and Arthur Schoenstadt. "Tribulus Terrestris Side Effects." MedTV. 10/7/08. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Santoso, Alex. "Treat Impotence Without Drugs." Ask Men. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • USDA. "Tribulus terrestris." (Accessed 3/20/09)