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The Androgenic Approach and the Three Classes of Pro-Androgenic Herbs

The following article introduces three classes of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs. It explains how to use, combine, and stack these herbs, including pine pollen, to aid in restoring levels of androgenic hormones such as androstenedione, testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and androsterone.

What is the Androgenic Approach?

The androgenic approach is a framework for restoring androgenic hormone levels. This approach encompasses, yet goes well beyond, the use of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs to raise androgenic, male sex hormone levels.

Rather than simply providing a guide to these herbs, the androgenic approach establishes a framework for reclaiming and rebalancing one's health, wellness, and vitality. This is particularly important in a world that often seems diametrically opposed to these objectives.

Just as medicinal plants return each spring, bringing not only health but also forgiveness in a polluted and neglected environment, so does health, wellness, and vitality remain ever-present, available, and within reach.

Our goal is to help you reconnect with that ever-present source of health, wellness, and vitality.

The androgenic approach is divided into three complementary categories and their respective subcategories. Each category provides unique approaches, offerings, and advantages, and each of the three categories intertwines with the others.

The Three Classes of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic HerbsThe Androgenic Approach Framework is a Triad Of

  • The Physicals
  • The Mental and Emotional
  • The Internals (Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs)

Triad One: The Physicals

The first triad of the androgenic approach framework is The Physicals. The Physicals consist of lifestyle modifications, such as sleep, nutrition, and appropriate exercise. The Physicals provide the foundation for healing and health. Without addressing them, true, long-term, and sustainable improvements will be, at best, nearly impossible to achieve.

Triad Two: The Mental and Emotional

The second triad of the androgenic approach framework is The Mental and Emotional. The Mental and Emotional refers to our mental, emotional, and spiritual lives, including:

  • The platonic and romantic relationships we maintain;
  • The sense of purpose and drive we possess;
  • The feelings of control and direction we have;
  • The overall level of satisfaction we experience in our lives.

There is overlap between The Mental and Emotional and The Physicals triads of the framework, and all three intersect. For example, a sense of loss of control in life can lead to chronic stress, which can cause inflammation and elevate cortisol levels, ultimately resulting in lower testosterone levels.

Research shows that inadequate sleep can cause testosterone levels to decrease in otherwise happy and healthy individuals. Low testosterone levels are correlated with depression and aggression, which can damage relationships, decrease purpose and drive, contribute to feelings of loss of control, and reduce levels of satisfaction in life.

Triad Three: The Internals

The third triad of the androgenic approach framework is The Internals. The Internals include the use of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs and supplements to restore health, wellness, and vitality by positively affecting androgenic hormone levels, including testosterone levels. This triad is the focus of the discussion here.

The Internals: Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic Herbs and Supplements

Using Herbs to Heal, Repair, and Restore Testosterone

Androgenic hormones, including androstenedione, testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and androsterone, are present in both men and women and are vital for health.

Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs can directly and indirectly raise androgenic male sex hormones.

Many of the products we offer at RAW Forest Foods are Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic, even if that is not their explicit purpose.

This is because adaptogenic and tonic herbs tend to balance and repair the endocrine system, which is responsible for making and regulating hormones. Adaptogens and tonics work with the endocrine system to restore health by achieving balance. This may include raising levels of male sex hormones.

By delving deeper into the different types of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs, we can better understand how these herbs can be used, combined, and stacked together to elevate testosterone production. Here, this broad category of herbs is broken down into three functional groups.

Defining the Three Classes of Pro-Androgenic Herbs

The three functional groups of Pro-Androgenic herbs are:

  1. The Producers
  2. The Maximizers
  3. The Supplementers

As previously mentioned, the endocrine system is responsible for producing and regulating hormones. Pro-Androgenic herbs, such as adaptogenic herbs, affect hormone levels by acting on the endocrine system.

Signaling the HPA and HPG Axis With HerbsSex Hormones and the Endocrine System

In men, testosterone is mainly produced and regulated through the Hypothalamus - Pituitary - Gonadal (HPG) Axis, which is a structure of glands within the endocrine system. In women, and to a lesser degree in men, this is done through the Hypothalamus - Pituitary - Adrenal (HPA) Axis.

Both the HPG and the HPA axis operate in a similar manner.

  1. The hypothalamus serves as the primary signal and switch to regulate testosterone production.
  2. The gonads (testes) and adrenal glands produce testosterone.
  3. The pituitary gland acts as the mediator between the hypothalamus, the testes, and the adrenal glands.

Having a basic understanding of testosterone production, the HPG and HPA axis, can provide insight into how Pro-Androgenic herbs function and how the different types of Pro-Androgenic herbs can be used together.

Signaling Testosterone: Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone and Luteinizing Hormone

The Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Gonadal (HPG) Axis and the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis function as both lines of communication within the endocrine system and as glands that secrete hormones.

For the purposes of this text, two hormones are involved in signaling the production of testosterone:

  1. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), sometimes referred to as luteinizing-releasing hormone.
  2. Luteinizing hormone (LH).

To understand how testosterone production is signaled, it can be helpful to think of the HPG and HPA axes in a linear way. First, there is the hypothalamus. Second, the pituitary gland. Thirdly, the gonads or the adrenals.

The hypothalamus, located in the brain, secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Once produced by the hypothalamus, GnRH travels to the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland.

At the pituitary gland, GnRH signals the release of two hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

Once secreted by the pituitary gland, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) travel to the gonads. Once LH and FSH arrive in the gonads, they signal the production of testosterone and the production and maturation of sperm.

  • Luteinizing hormone (LH) signals the production of testosterone in Leydig cells, which are specialized cells in the gonads.
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) signals the production and maturation of sperm in Sertoli cells, which are specialized cells in the gonads.

Functional Group One: The Producers

The Producers are the first class of Pro-Androgenic herbs. These herbs modify the endocrine signaling process in the body, working at the on-off regulatory switch of the hypothalamus.

The Producers can increase the production of testosterone.

Examples of Pro-Androgenic herbs which signal an increase in testosterone production:

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Ashwagandha is a rasāyana (adaptogenic) Ayurvedic herb that has been used for 3000 years. As a rasāyana, Ashwagandha may help reduce stress and anxiety, improve overall well-being, and benefit androgenic hormone levels, potentially increasing testosterone levels, improving sperm quality, and enhancing sexual function and muscle strength.

Cistanche tubulosa: Cistanche tubulosa (Rou Cong Rong) has been used for centuries in Chinese Herbal Medicine. As an adaptogen, Cistanche tubulosa may help improve immune system function (immunomodulatory) and reduce inflammation (anti-inflammatory). Within Chinese Medicine, Cistanche is used to tonify the Kidneys, improve sexual function, and improve longevity. Contemporary research suggests that Cistanche tubulosa may benefit cognitive function (nootropic), bone health, athletic performance, and testosterone levels.

Panax ginseng Root: Panax ginseng Root, commonly known as Chinese Ginseng, Red Ginseng, and Korean Ginseng, Panax ginseng is one of the most important vital tonic and adaptogenic herbs used in Chinese Herbal Medicine. For centuries, it has been used to promote overall health, healthy aging, and longevity. It is believed to improve immune function (immunomodulatory), cognitive function (nootropic), physical and athletic performance, energy and vitality, and support healthy aging. Recent research indicates that Panax ginseng may also improve sexual function in both men and women by reducing stress and improving sex hormone levels.

Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) Root: Tongkat Ali has been used for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, as an adaptogenic herb to support overall health and as an aphrodisiac to promote libido. As a Pro-Androgenic herb, research indicates that Tongkat Ali benefits male sexual function, improves libido, treats erectile dysfunction, and enhances fertility. As an adaptogen, research suggests that it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and supports energy levels and athletic performance.

Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris): Tribulus has a long history of use in Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine, where it has been used to improve male sexual function, enhance athletic performance, and support overall wellness and vitality. Research indicates that Tribulus may benefit testosterone levels and nitric oxide production, both of which are important factors for male sexual health.

Shilajit (Asphaltum Punjabianum): Shilajit has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine as a rasāyana. Unlike any other medicinal herb or mushroom, Shilajit is a mineral-rich exudate formed over thousands of years through a process of organic decomposition and geological formation. It has been used both as a cure for the most difficult-to-treat illnesses and as a rasāyana to rejuvenate and rebuild the body and promote longevity. Contemporary research supports the traditional rasāyana uses of Shilajit and indicates its usage in promoting male sexual health and wellness.

How Do Pro-Androgenic Herbs Increase Testosterone Production?

The Producers work at the hypothalamus to elevate secretion of GnRH. As we learned above, GnRH travels to the pituitary gland where it signals the release of LH and FSH. LH and FSH then travel to the testes where LH activates Leydig cells to produce testosterone and FSH activates Sertoli cells in sperm production. Initiating this cascading hormone response at the hypothalamus is how The Producers increase testosterone levels.

The Internals — Advantages:

  • The Producers work with the body to engage the glands of the endocrine system, promoting endocrine health.
  • By increasing LH and FSH, sperm quality increases, thus improving fertility in 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.

The Internals — Disadvantages:

  • Results can be slow; usually, no true improvement is seen for 2+ weeks.
  • Inefficient for women, men who are partially or fully castrated, and trans men.
  • For those who are unhealthy and otherwise feeble, it could strain the body.
  • Does not fully address the conversion of testosterone to estrogen within the body.

Functional Group Two: The Maximizers

The Maximizers are the next class of Pro-Androgenic herbs. These herbs alter how the body utilizes testosterone. By altering the utilization of testosterone, The Maximizers affect the testosterone already present and can indirectly (different from other Pro-Androgenic Herbs) raise testosterone levels.

The Life Cycle of Testosterone

Immediately upon release, as the body produces testosterone, the majority of it becomes unavailable. This is partly due to a protein called Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds itself so tightly to testosterone that testosterone can no longer have the beneficial effects on the body that it would otherwise have.

Of all the testosterone present in the body, only 1-2% of it remains active. Active testosterone is known as free testosterone. Roughly 44% of testosterone is lost to SHBG.

The role of SHBG is to regulate different sex hormones, including testosterone, the biologically important androgen hormone DHT, estrogen, and to a much lesser extent, estradiol (E2), in the body.

However, problems can arise as levels of SHBG increase, causing greater levels of free testosterone to be lost and inactivated.

Many factors can result in an increase in SHBG. Age, obesity, liver disease, hyperthyroidism, and some medications are all known to increase SHBG. High estrogenic states also cause SHBG levels to rise, as does long-term calorie restriction and anorexia.

High levels of androgenic hormones, growth hormone, insulin, and insulin-like growth factor can all cause a decrease in SHBG.

The Maximizers and Using Pro-Androgenic Herbs to Elevate Free Testosterone

In addition to Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, testosterone can be lost through aromatization.

Aromatization, named after the enzyme aromatase, occurs in both men and women and is the process of converting testosterone to the estrogenic female sex hormone estradiol (and to a lesser extent, the androgenic hormone androstenedione into the estrogenic hormone estrone).

Aromatization has a two-fold effect on testosterone levels:

  • Firstly, aromatization results in testosterone being lost to the process;
  • Secondly, aromatization results in estradiol, which can negatively affect the ratio of male sex to female sex hormones.

Health in men, just as in women, depends in part on correct levels of estrogen and estradiol, but too much of either has deleterious effects on health.

Safely decreasing aromatization can have the effect of increasing testosterone and decreasing estradiol. Controlling aromatization is an additional way to use Pro-Androgenic herbs to maximize androgenic hormone levels in the body, as well as to promote healthy levels of estrogenic hormones.

Peak Performance Estrogen Detox

We developed Peak Performance Estrogen Detox specifically to support customers in balancing estrogen levels, including endogenous estrogenic hormones produced by the body and exogenous hormones from outside the body (primarily Phytoestrogens from plants, including soy and hops, and xenoestrogens from plastics, such as phthalates).

Peak Performance works on several levels to decrease estrogen load and resolve estrogen dominance, one of which is through lowering aromatization—preventing the synthesis of estradiol from testosterone.

In decreasing aromatization, the loss of testosterone, and the synthesis of estradiol, the Peak Performance Estrogen Detox formula contains (among others) Apigenin, Chrysin, and Grape Seed Extract.

Apigenin, a flavone extracted from chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Chrysin, a flavone extracted from passion fruit flowers (Passiflora incarnata), and Grape Seed Extract all lower the conversion of testosterone to estradiol—that is, they all lower the rates of aromatization.

By lowering aromatase activity, Apigenin, Chrysin, and Grape Seed Extract exert a Pro-Androgenic effect on testosterone levels. They are Maximizers—maximizing how the body utilizes testosterone. The Peak Performance Estrogen Detox formula also contains ß-Sitosterol (as well as the above three Maximizers and 12 other active compounds).

The Maximizers — Advantages:

  • The Maximizers may reduce estrogen and estradiol load.
  • Effective for men and women.
  • Promotes and restores homeostasis.
  • Clears and repairs.
  • Protective.

The Maximizers — Disadvantages:

  • Do not directly increase testosterone levels.
  • Effects can be slow.

Functional Ground Three: The Supplementers

The third functional group of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs is The Supplementers. These herbs supplement the body with androgenic hormones.

Within the main grouping of Pro-Androgenic Herbs, The Phyto-Androgens are The Supplementers. They are synonymous.

What are Phytosterols and Phyto-Androgenic Hormones?

Phyto-Androgens are plant (phyto) sterols (steroid hormones). These phytosterols are analogues to the human androgenic male sex hormones. Phyto-Androgens have the effect of increasing testosterone levels through supplementation.

Pine Pollen is the main representation of both Phyto-Androgenic herbs and The Supplementers. While other sources of Phyto-Androgens do exist (including David’s Lily), levels are too low—or production too absent—for them to hold any relevance.

Using Pine Pollen as a Phyto-Androgenic Herb to Increase Testosterone

As mentioned, Pine Pollen contains analogues of the male sex hormones androstenedione, Testosterone, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), & Androsterone. A 2019 research paper states that “Pinus species are a rich source of testosterone.” Supplementing with Pine Pollen supplements the body with these phytosterols.

In our opinion, the Phyto-Androgens naturally present in Pine Pollen account for only a small percentage of the wide range of benefits Pine Pollen offers, including its ability to raise testosterone levels.

To learn more about this, see the articleThe Pro-Androgenic and Adaptogenic Effects of Pine Pollen.

The Supplementers — Advantages:

  • Quick: Because androgen hormones are present in Pine Pollen, it raises testosterone levels almost immediately once digested or absorbed. 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.

The Supplementers — Disadvantages:

  • 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 turns 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. Pine pollen does not reduce this conversion (other herbs do, see Nettle Root).

Supplementing Phyto-Androgens with Pine PollenUsing Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic Herbs

As we increase our understanding of how the body signals, produces, and regulates testosterone (and other sex hormones), and as we increase our understanding of the different types of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs, we increase our ability to use these herbs (and how to stack and combine them) with the greatest effect.

What follows is a generalized and simplified discussion offered for illustrative purposes only. It is not prescriptive—nor is it a product recommendation or suggestion.

Pro-Androgenic Herbs and the Top-Down Approach

The Three Classes of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic Herbs are presented in an order-of-operations, top-down approach, where the second builds upon the first, and the third builds upon the second and the first:

  1. The Producers;
  2. The Maximizers;
  3. The Supplementers.

For example, if only one herb or formula (product) will be used, choose a Producer. If two will be used, choose a Producer and a Maximizer. If three will be used, choose a Producer, a Maximizer, and a Supplementer.

Again, this is a simplified approach, and there are exceptions. Each person is unique, and it is impossible to create a one-size-fits-all rule, but the three classes do provide a framework of choosing herbs, ingredients, formulas, and products and how to effectively build stacks.

The Following is a Favorite Stack at RAW Forest Foods

  • Cistanche tubulosa Extract Powder (A Producer);
  • Peak Performance Estrogen Detox (A Maximizer);
  • Forest Prana Elixir Pine Pollen and Nettle Root Tincture (A Supplementer and Producer).

The Framework Outlined Here Can Be Applied to Create A Pro-Androgenic Cycle With

  • Mountain Manna Himalayan Shilajit Extract Capsules or Powder OR Tahna Prana Elevated Tongkat Ali Extract Capsules or Powder
  • Forest Prana Elixir Pine Pollen and Nettle Root Capsules or Powder;
  • Forest Manna RAW Pine Pollen™ Capsules, Powder, or Tablets.

Hopefully, these examples illustrate how it is possible to mix and match, maximizing the approach while avoiding redundancy.

Integrating The Internals (Pro-Androgenic Herbs) Into the Androgenic Approach

Just the three classes of androgenic herbs are presented in an order of operations, so is the androgenic approach:

  • The Physicals
  • The Mental and Emotional
  • The Internals

Here, it is our opinion that—as a general rule—working through The Physicals to The Mental and Emotional and then to The Internals is the most effective and beneficial approach. It is not the easiest, but it is the most effective and beneficial. However, the focus in this article is on using Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs, not on these other important areas, so we will leave it at that.

The Three Classes of Androgenic Herbs

Product Resources

Links to the products referenced in this article:

Forest Prana Elixir Pine Pollen and Nettle Root (Previously Elevated Pine Pollen and Nettle Root)

Tahna Prana Elevated Tongkat Ali Extract

Mountain Manna Himalayan Shilajit Extract

Mountain Alchemy Pine Pollen Elixir — Formulated with Tribulus terrestris (Previously Pine Pollen Alchemy and the Endocrine Strengthening Formula)

Forest Manna RAW Pine Pollen™

Further Reading And Selected Resources

* Throughout this discussion, as well as the website as a whole, when referring to biological processes, the terms "male" and "female" and “men” and “women” are used to denote biological sex. We recognize that one's gender and one's biological sex may not align.


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