The Androgenic Approach
Understanding the Three Classes of Pro-androgenic Herbs
The androgenic approach both encompasses therapeutic pro-androgenic herbs (such as Mountain Harvest Pine Pollen) and diet and lifestyle modifications (more on this later). And while the approach does breach the levy of simply taking something—whether that be pro-androgenic herbs, other nutritional and dietary supplements, and even pharmaceutical approaches and interventions—this article will focus on the Pro-androgenic herbs.
In short, the androgenic approach is a lifestyle focused on reclaiming, on redefining, and on seeking balance. It is an approach to living where—not finding—but recognizing and nurturing health, wellness, and vitality becomes the top priority. A focus seemingly at odds and diametrically opposed to a culture and society that discourages these very qualities: Health, wellness, and vitality.
Just as the medicinal plants return each spring, offering not just health but forgiveness for an ignored, polluted environment, so does health, wellness, and vitality remain ever-present—so long as we open our eyes to them. They are available and within reach, though sometimes hidden by our own blinders.
The focus of this article is on understanding the three classes of pro-androgenic herbs. Before exploring the three classes of pro-androgenic herbs, let’s first have a very brief introduction (or review) of the androgenic approach in its entirety.
What Is the Androgenic Approach?
Taking the androgenic approach is building a lifestyle focused on health, wellness, and vitality, and more specifically, an approach and focus on living which maximizes the androgenic hormones—a shorthand way of speaking about male health (physical, mental, spiritual). The androgenic approach is not ignoring all other aspects of the male experience, but rather it is tying all those aspects together into a unified whole. It is a holistic—nay, cohesive—approach.
The androgenic approach is broken into several categories and subcategories, each complementary and each offering unique approaches, unique offerings, and unique advantages. But, again, they are to be taken as a unified whole.
The internals are those tangible things which are consumed for their specific pro-androgenic properties (ie: herbs, supplements, and for some, pharmaceutical interventions).
The Internals are, for most, the easiest of the approaches. In fact, many can be purchased right here. They are tangible. You need only take them. And yet they are just one element of the androgenic approach. This article exists to deepen an understanding of the internals, going into greater depth and developing a framework to better understand the pro-androgenic herbs.
The Physicals are those things focused on the physical needs and requirements of the body. These are different from the internals because the internals are taken solely for their pro-androgenic properties, while the physicals are necessary in just meeting the biological needs of living. The physicals could (in fact, they should) be maximized for their potential pro-androgenic gains (ie: diet and exercise).
If the internals and the physicals are straightforward and concrete, the meta-internals are anything but. For some, the meta-internals are the most difficult concepts to grasp, and for others they are the simplest, they are intuitive.
Research on the pro-androgenic effects of the meta-internals is in its infancy. It is an emerging body of research—but it is there. The meta-internals include, for lack of a better way to summarize, the mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of living, of existence ((ie: relationships, work, purpose, and satisfaction).
The Internals: Herbs and Supplements
Here, when specifically referencing the internals, the reference is on Pro-androgenic herbs (and a few other, select supplements). These are tangible consumables. There are herbs that work directly and indirectly to increase androgen hormone (ie: testosterone) production and to raise testosterone levels.
Pro-androgenics, adaptogens, and tonics are very similar types of medicinal herbs, and many Pro-androgenics have wide-reaching adaptogenic properties—just as many adaptogens and tonics also possess Pro-androgenic properties.
As a group of medicinal herbs, adaptogens and tonics work to balance and enhance health holistically, including endocrine health, immune health, and cardiovascular health. Their far reaching health benefits lend them to be classified very broadly, void of nuance and detail. However, to understand these herbs and to understand how they can work to support health, the nuance and detail is paramount. That is what this article exists for: The nuance and detail will be provided below.
Above, Pro-androgenic is defined as the following:
Herbs that work directly and indirectly to increase androgen hormone (ie: testosterone) production and to raise testosterone levels.
The language here is written intentionally ambiguous and unspecific. It is written as a catch-all. Why separately state "increase androgen hormone... production" and "raise testosterone levels?" Aren't those both the same thing?
Sometimes they are the same thing—but not always.
Let’s take Stinging Nettle Root ( Urtica dioica) as an example. Stinging Nettle Root can raise testosterone levels, but it does not increase testosterone production nor does it contain phyto-androgenic plant sterols (hormones) which supplement the body's own innate, endogenous testosterone production.
What is a Phyto-androgen?
Phyto-androgen, Phyto-androgens, and Phyto-androgenic are terms we developed and that we use interchangeably throughout this article and throughout RAW Forest Foods. Understanding what they are is crucial in understanding how these herbs work.
As a group, the male sex hormones are called androgens or androgenic.
Testosterone is an androgen hormone, and its effects on the body are androgenic. In short, an androgen is any hormone that promotes male characteristics. Androgens affect and influence development of the embryo and the development of male secondary sex characteristics at puberty. Present in boys and girls and in men and women, these hormones are synthesized mainly in the testes, in the ovaries, and in the adrenal glands.
Androgens function in libido and sexual arousal in men and women, and in men and women androgens are the precursors to estrogenic hormones.
In humans, the androgenic hormones are:
- Dehydroandrosterone (DHEA), aka dehydroisoandrosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone;
- Androstenedione (A4);
- Androstenediol (A5);
- Dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
A phyto-androgens (phyto-androgen, phyto-androgens, and phyto-androgenic) are plant hormones—plant sterols—that are androgenic in nature. They are similar to phyto-estrogens, plant hormones which have an estrogenic effect on humans, only that they are phyto-androgens, plant hormones which have an androgenic effect on humans.
As will be discussed, there are three classifications of phyto-androgens, but to understand these three classes, first it is paramount to understand that an androgenic hormone is a male sex hormone (like testosterone) and that some plants contain sterols (plant hormones) which, when taken, have androgenic properties in humans—these are the phyto-androgens.
The Three Classes of Pro-Androgenic Herbs
The three classes of Pro-androgenic herbs (the internals) are categorized by their main target, therapeutic effect. The three classes of Pro-androgenic herbs are:
- The Supplementors;
- The Producers;
- The Enhancers.
Stinging Nettle Root, which has been shown to increase testosterone levels but not production, is an apt example of The Enhancers because it enhances testosterone levels but does not supplement or affect production.
Each class of pro-androgenic herbs has their own inherent advantages and disadvantages, and by understanding each plant and the class of pro-androgenic it falls within, formulas can be combined to enhance the benefits of each and to minimize their deficiencies.
In this way, customers can build their own alchemist creations and better understand how our formulas work.
Supplementors are androgenic plants which contain androgen hormones. For now, no other plant is known to contain androgen levels in as high potencies as the pollen from the Pinus massoniana variety of the pine tree, this is the pollen used in all of RAW Forest Foods Pine Pollen products. Pine Pollen contains all four major androgen (male sex) hormones, Androstenedione, Testosterone, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), & Androsterone.
- Quick. Because the androgen hormones are present in Pine Pollen, once digested or absorbed, Pine Pollen raises testosterone levels almost immediately. The alcohol based extracts of Pine Pollen are the most efficient at quickly elevating testosterone.
- Minimal energy costs. Because Pine Pollen supplements the body, the effects of elevated male sex hormones can be achieved without otherwise stressing the body to produce more androgen hormones.
- Men and Women. Men and women alike suffer from androgen deficiencies, but women have a lower capacity to produce androgens because the majority of androgens are produced in the testes. Pine Pollen, containing the androgen hormones, is able to raise androgen levels in women and in men whose main source of testosterone has been compromised.
- Lack of engagement. The endocrine system produces hormones through a network of glands. Glands stay healthy when they stay active. Because Pine Pollen supplements with androgen hormones, it does not engage the body to produce the hormones (other androgenic herbs do, see Cistanche Tubulosa).
- Negative feedback. Most hormones in the body, including all the sex hormones, are regulated through negative feedback. This mechanism works like the thermostat in a house, when the temperature drops the heat turn on until the set temperature is reached. So when testosterone levels naturally dip, the body boosts production until the set level is reached. Pine pollen does not help change the set level (other androgenic herbs do, see Tongkat Ali).
- Estrogen. Testosterone is converted to harmful estrogen compounds, and safeguards should be taken to minimize how much testosterone is converted to these compounds. Pile pollen does not reduce this conversion (other herbs do, see Nettle Root).
Producers are the class of androgenic herbs that mimic the endocrine signaling process in the body, which increase the actual amount of androgen hormones the body produces. The body using three hormones to signal male sex hormone production. First, gonadotropic releasing hormone (GnRH) (sometimes referred to as luteinizing releasing hormone) is secreted by the hypothalamus in the brain, which can be thought of as the main hormone thermostat of the body. GnRH then acts upon the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland to produce luteinizing hormone (LH) or follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Both LH and FSH then act on the Leydig cells of the testis to produce testosterone.
Herbs work upon the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis to increase testosterone fall within the class of producers, because they signal the body to produce more testosterone. These would include Cistanche tubulosa, Panax ginseng, and Tribulus terrestris, because they all cause an increase in FSH and LH, which in turn encourages the Leydig cells to produce more testosterone. Another herb, Tongkat ali, intercepts the regulating mechanism to reprogram the body to “need” more testosterone, thus producing more.
- Engages glands of the endocrine system, which promotes endocrine health.
- By increasing LH and FSH, sperm quality increases, thus improving reproductive functioning of men.
- Beneficial side effects of these herbs include many anti-aging properties, including immune system regulation, muscle and bone health, and neuro-protective properties. These are classified as “positive externalities” of the herbs.
- Results are slow, usually no real improvement is noticed for 2+ weeks.
- Inefficient for women, men who are partially or fully castrated, and transgendered (female to male) men.
- For those unhealthy and otherwise feeble, could strain the body.
- Does not fully address the conversion of testosterone to estrogen within the body.
The third class of androgenic herbs are enhancers, herbs and other nutraceuticals which indirectly raise testosterone levels. This includes the root of the herb Urtica dioica (aka Nettle Root). Nettle Root blocks the loss of testosterone by sex hormone binding globulin. Free testosterone is the only type of “active” testosterone in the body, and free testosterone only accounts for 1-2% of all the testosterone in the body. The rest (98-99%) is lost to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which then converts the testosterone into estrogen metabolites through a process called aromatization.
Beta-sitosterols, the active compounds in Nettle Root, out compete testosterone for SHBG, so much so that Nettle Root will even free testosterone that has already been bound by SHBG. Nettle Root prevents the loss of testosterone and frees testosterone from SHBG. This is important in that it increased levels of androgen hormones and prevents the harmful aromatization process. This is why Nettle Root is considered a androgenic herb even though it does not contain androgen hormones and does not signal the body to produce any.
Similarly, Estrogen Detox, another maximize and detoxifier, rids the body of excess estrogen, thus favoring the amount of testosterone in the testosterone to estrogen ratio. Increased levels of estrogen inflate this ratio, making people become estrogen dominate, effectively lowering androgen levels. By detoxifying estrogen, testosterone/androgen dominance can return.
- Reduces estrogen load.
- Effective for men and women.
- Helps harmonize and restore homeostasis.
- Clears and repairs.
- Does not directly increase testosterone levels.
- Effects can be slow.
To learn more, please visit the individual product pages.