When you think sarsaparilla what usually springs to mind? A tasty drink? A root extract? A flavor of tea? Well, what if we were to tell you that sarsaparilla root may be able to increase testosterone levels in your body?
According to some sources they believe just that! Yet, is this just another bold claim, or is there any evidence to support the sarsaparilla root/testosterone theory?
In this article, we shall explore this idea and see if there is any truth to these sources. Do you know the answer? Find out below!
- What is Sarsaparilla?
- History of usage in traditional medicine
- Sarsaparilla health benefits
- Are there any risks or side effects?
- Sarsaparilla and testosterone
- What we recommend instead
The sarsaparilla plant (a tropical plant native to South America, the Caribbean, Mexico and Jamaica) goes by many names.
Some you are probably more familiar with than others: S. officinalis, S. japicanga, S. febrifuga, S. ornata, Ecuadorian sarsaparilla, Honduras Sarsaparilla and many more…
However, what is really interesting about this plant is the variety of ways in which it is used.
You see, for centuries it has played a central role in traditional medicine, helping to treat skin diseases, arthritis, kidney disease and psoriasis (due to its ability to decrease joint pain, itching and bacteria, as well as combat pain and inflammation).
But that is not all it is well-known for. It is also:
- Used as flavoring in drinks, teas, foods and beverages.
- Mexican and Honduras sarsaparilla is used to treat gonorrhoea, fevers and digestive disorders.
- In North America, they use Honduran and Mexican sarsaparilla to treat arthritis, eczema, psoriasis and allergic reactions.
- It can be used to increase urination and sweating – deliberately!
- It is often paired with conventional drugs to treat leprosy and syphilis.
All in all, there are 6 types you should pay greater attention to – Honduran/Jamaican, Mexican, Chinaroot, Australian, Mediterranean and Canary sarsaparilla. And most importantly… not all sarsaparillas are the same…
For instance, it should not be confused with Indian or false sarsaparilla because not only are their compositions different; the false one – for example – is actually a common impurity found in sarsaparilla preparations and contains none of the active chemicals found in true sarsaparilla.
Sarsaparilla may have first earned an introduction into European medicine in the 16th Century after explorers found it to be a safer way to treat syphilis than mercury.
Hell, it was later registered in the US Pharmacopoeia as a recommended treatment for this condition, however, its use in traditional medicine extends much further than that…
For centuries it has been used by indigenous people to treat joint problems (arthritis), blood pressure and deal with an assortment of skin issues such as psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis. There was even speculation that it could ‘cure’ leprosy due to its blood-purifying properties.
But that is not all:
- In China it is considered an aphrodisiac and sexual stimulant. Chinaroot sarsaparilla has been used since the 1960s to treat vaginal and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as tuberculosis and scabies.
- In Thailand, Korea and Sri Lanka it is used to reduce inflammation, improve circulation (and blood vessel health), and help with kidney/liver disease.
- It has even been used (in the past) to treat blood poisoning, cancer and AIDs.
Since the 19th Century, its purpose has changed a little…
On top of being a remedy for leprosy, syphilis, STDs, Rheumatism, diabetes, weight loss, limb stiffness, bone/muscle pain and carbuncles; physicians started using it to reduce water retention and encourage sweating (due to its ‘blood-purifying’ capabilities).
Even more surprisingly, sarsaparilla root started making an appearance on the ingredients lists of licorice, anise and fizzy drinks. And we’re not talking about the 1800s sarsaparilla soft drink – that was actually made from sassafras which is a different plant. No, we’re talking about coke.
However, this didn’t last long as it was discovered to cause liver damage and cancer due to a compound it contains – safrole. This resulted in it being banned from soft drinks (in the US) from the 1960s.
What should you make of this?
Quite the history right? Well, the thing to remember is that its use in a lot of these treatments wasn’t based on any scientific evidence, so its ability to help in this regard may not be entirely accurate.
Then of course there is the US’s ban of it from drinks in the 1960s…
They were alone in this decision. Many other countries, such as China, still choose to use it. However, it does make you wonder if it is 100% safe, when a country as large as the US has deemed it not to be.
You’re probably sick of hearing about all the various ways sarsaparilla has been used over the years to treat this, that and the other. And to be fair, a lot of the following sarsaparilla benefits we’ve mentioned above.
However, to help paint a clearer picture of what sarsaparilla is best known for treating, here is our list of top sarsaparilla benefits:
What condition can sarsaparilla potentially treat?
Sarsaparilla can potentially treat loads of different conditions and ailments. Below we’ll list a few:
1– Joint pain
Sarsaparilla is rich in saponins which are known to reduce joint pain (by decreasing inflammation), alleviate itching, protect your liver from damage, and kill bacteria.
NOTE: there are limited human studies to support these claims, and if we’re honest they are either very old or lacking in evidence.
2 – Psoriasis
We’ve mentioned this a few times. However, if you’re not already familiar with psoriasis, a symptom of it is skin lesions.
One study has found that sarsaparilla can dramatically improve your skin, as it contains sarsaponin, a steroid that binds to endotoxins (which are responsible for causing these lesions) and removes them.
3 – Arthritis
Sarsaparilla is a known anti-inflammatory, making it ideal for treating inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as reducing joint pain and swelling.
Chinaroot in particular contains astilbin which has been found to decrease inflammation in arthritic mice.
4 – Syphilis
The physicians in the 16th Century may have been onto something when they started using sarsaparilla to treat syphilis. It has been found to act against any harmful bacteria and microorganisms.
True, it is not as powerful as modern antibiotics, but it would definitely have helped to alleviate symptoms of leprosy and syphilis.
In one study, they analysed the activity of over 60 phenolic compounds that had been isolated from sarsaparilla.
Researchers tested these compounds against six different types of bacteria and a single fungus, and found that: 18 of these compounds exhibited antimicrobial effects against the bacteria, and one against the fungus.
5 – Cancer
In one recent study, sarsaparilla proved to have anticancer properties in cell lines of more than one cancer type (in mice). In particular, preclinical studies on breast cancer tumors and liver cancer have highlighted the antitumor properties of sarsaparilla.
Now, most of these studies were done on mice or cells, so more research is needed to see if sarsaparilla benefits could really extend to cancer prevention and treatment.
6 – Protect your liver
Research on mice with liver damage has found that the flavonoids in sarsaparilla can help to reverse damage done to the liver and even make it function better.
Again, this research is exclusive to mice so more needs to be done to see if it can be applied to people.
7 – Improves bioavailability of other supplements
Sarsaparilla is regularly added to other herbal mixes to act as a synergist. This is due to the saponins it contains which are reputed to increase the bioavailability and absorption rate of other herbs.
8 – Improves gout
A traditional Chinese remedy combines Chinaroot with ash bark to help combat gout.
In one clinical trial of 90 people suffering with gout arthritis, this remedy helped to reduce blood uric acid and improve their arthritis.
9 – May fight infections
Cell based studies have revealed that sarsaparilla and its components can reduce the division of viruses which cause AIDS, oral herpes and lung infections.
Similarly, a clinical trial on 100 people with hepatitis B found that when given a Chinese remedy containing Chinaroot; it helped to kill off the virus and minimize liver damage.
In addition, it has been discovered to inhibit bacterium responsible for typhoid fever and parasites, which can cause Chagas disease and leishmaniasis.
10 – Reduce skin inflammation
During a study on mice with psoriasis, a Chinese remedy containing sarsaparilla reduced excessive skin cell division and inflammation.
Quercetin – a compound found in the root – has a similar effect, and can help to ease skin irritation and inflammation.
11 – Protect your brain
There are a number of animal and cell-based studies which shown the active components in sarsaparilla to have positive effects on your brain. In fact, they helped to reduce damage caused to cells by Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and strokes.
12 – Protect your heart
Normally after a heart attack, any new blood entering your heart could cause damage to the vulnerable tissues (ischemia-reperfusion infusion). When this happens, your recovery is hard and slow.
The astilbin in sarsaparilla was revealed to protect rats from this type of damage – as well as halt inflammation.
In addition to assisting you after a stroke, it has also been found to lower blood pressure in mice suffering with metabolic syndrome, and prevent heart cell swelling (due to its flavonoids).
13 – Obesity
When mice were fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet – and consequently gained weight, blood fat and sugar levels, and witnessed a build-up of fat on their livers – when they were given sarsaparilla, it increased fat breakdown and prevented fat storage.
14 – Reduce blood sugar
The active components in sarsaparilla were seen to lower blood sugar and reduce insulin resistance in mice. In test tubes, scientists noted how they blocked enzymes which break down complex sugars – helping to decrease blood sugar levels.
15 – Decrease water retention
Sarsaparilla is regularly used in the Canary Islands to combat water retention. During a study on rats, it increased the elimination of water and electrolytes in urine.
Looking at this list, there is no disputing the breadth of sarsaparilla benefits.
The fact that it can: block inflammatory proteins; activate anti-inflammatory AMPK-PPARgamma; reduce inflammatory messengers, cytokines and enzymes; decrease the development of immune cells (T-cells) by killing them and preventing them from reaching epicentres of inflammation, and combat free radicals; each makes it a valuable asset when dealing with skin problems.
HOWEVER, despite all of this, most of these claims are based on either its individual components or were done on rats and cells.
There are sadly very few human studies – three to be precise – which can confirm whether or not each of these benefits are transferable to humans.
So before you jump on the sarsaparilla bandwagon and add it to your basket; we suggest that you step back, do your research and lean on the side of caution. It is your body we are talking about after all – why subject it to something when there is no proof that it works?
Remember how we told you to be cautious? Well, we didn’t just say it for the hell of it. There was a reason. But not the one you’re probably thinking of.
For instance, sarsaparilla is generally considered safe – yay! It is only when it is taken in excess that it can cause stomach irritation, nausea and loose stools (or when its dust is inhaled that it can trigger a runny nose and symptoms of asthma).
However, given that herbs and supplements – such as sarsaparilla – are not subjected to rigorous FDA safety testing; then there is a danger that there may be more potential side effects to sarsaparilla than we are aware of.
Similarly, the fact that it is banned in the US because of suspected liver damage – ironic, we know given that some claim it can protect your liver – it does make you wonder – is there more to sarsaparilla root than we originally suspected?
Here is what we do know:
- Sarsaparilla may interact with certain medication i.e. Digoxin, Bismuth and Lithium, as it can increase the bioavailability of other drugs.
- Sarsaparilla may make kidney disease worse, so avoid if you’ve got kidney problems.
- May increase diuretics as it naturally boosts urination. This can lead to dehydration.
- One for the ladies – DON’T take If pregnant or breastfeeding.
Yet this isn’t the only risk sarsaparilla poses.
You see, aside from it majorly lacking in human studies (there are only three – yes THREE!), there are also tonnes of fraudulent marketing and misinformation in relation to this root.
1 – Sarsaparilla is wrongly marketed as containing anabolic steroids like testosterone
Now, whilst the plant steroids in this root can be chemically synthesized into these steroids in a lab; this WON’T happen in your body.
This means any bodybuilding supplements which contain sarsaparilla – and market this fact – are wrong as it doesn’t have any anabolic effects.
2 – False ingredients
You might recall us saying that not all sarsaparilla’s plants are the same. Indian sarsaparilla is a prime example, as it doesn’t contain the same active chemicals of sarsaparilla (Smilax genus).
They are vastly different, and won’t produce the same results.
3 – Only buy from reputable sources who can confirm the quality of their ingredients
Quite often sarsaparilla is grown in contaminated soils rich in heavy metals (lead, mercury and chromium). These metals are absorbed into the root and could make you ill.
And this is the big question – is there anything to the sarsaparilla root/testosterone connection? Unfortunately it’s not good news…
Like so many other sarsaparilla benefits, there is no evidence to suggest that sarsaparilla can increase testosterone. Nor is there any proof that it may help you to develop more muscles.
The idea is based on pure speculation.
You see, sarsaparilla is ripe with steroidal saponins, which are wrongly seen as prohormones that can be converted into testosterone by your body. THIS ISN’T TRUE.
Sure, you could extract this active compound and in a lab turn into something similar to steroids. But in your actual body, it won’t happen. It’s just not possible.
And this is a problem because there are a whole range of bodybuilding supplements which include sarsaparilla on the premise that it will help you to build muscle, burn fat and enhance your physical performance. NONE of this has been proven.
Should men use Sarsaparilla to boost testosterone?
Ummm… no. No you shouldn’t.
Like we said above, saponins CAN NOT and will NEVER be able to be converted into testosterone. So despite products claims that it is an anabolic steroid, it is not.
This is a blatant lie, and anyone who continues to claim it is true is either openly lying to you or hasn’t done any testing or research into what sarsaparilla can actually do.
Whilst sarsaparilla may not be the solution to your testosterone woes; there are other routes you can take which can give you the boost that you crave.
Natural testosterone boosters such as TestoGen are specially formulated from proven herbal ingredients which have been purposefully chosen for their ability to trigger increased testosterone production in your body.
So unlike some synthetic products which opt to fill your body with fake testosterone. TestoGen differs because it chooses to support your body’s own natural ability to create testosterone, thus ensuring that your body is 100% safe and free from side effects.
What’s really sad about the sarsaparilla situation, is that despite the numerous phytochemicals it contains, there is simply not enough proof to back up its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and skin/joint healing claims.
There are only three human studies in existence – THREE – nowhere near enough to put you at ease.
Add into the mix, the fact that sarsaparilla root can in no way boost testosterone, and what you’ve got is a plant with the potential to improve your health, but with nothing solid to support it.
For that reason, if you’re serious about elevating your testosterone levels, we suggest sticking to proven natural testosterone boosters such as TestoGen who can validate every one of their claims.
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