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

The following article introduces the three classes of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs and how to use, combine, and stack these herbs—including Pine Pollen—to aid in restoring levels of the androgenic hormones (Androstenedione, Testosterone, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and Androsterone).

Choosing the Androgenic Approach

The Three Classes of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic Herbs

The androgenic approach encompasses, and goes beyond, using Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs to repair and raise androgen hormone levels.

More than offering a guide to these herbs, the androgenic approach establishes a framework for reclaiming and re-balancing—discovering health, wellness, and vitality—in a world that, all too often, rests diametrically opposed to these objectives.

Just as medicinal plants return from winter each spring, bringing not just health, but forgiveness in a polluted and ignored environment, so does health, wellness, and vitality remain ever-present. Available and within reach.

Our aim here is reconnecting—aiding you in reconnecting—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 categories of the androgenic approach are:

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

The Physicals are mainly lifestyle modifications, such as sleep, nutrition, and exercise. The Physicals provide the foundation for healing and for health, and without addressing these, true and long-term improvements in will be—at best—nearly impossible to realize.

The Mental and Emotional

The Mental and Emotional are just that: Our mental and emotional lives. This includes:

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

There is overlap within The Mental and Emotional with The Physicals, and all three categories overlap. Chronic stress, for example, is proven to lower testosterone levels, and can be caused solely by inadequate sleep.

The Internals

The Internals are what is being discussed here: The Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs and supplements which can be used to heal, repair, and restore health, wellness, and vitality through positively affecting testosterone levels.

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

Using Herbs to Heal, Repair, and Restore Testosterone 

Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs work directly and indirectly to raise androgen (male sex) hormone levels.

The androgen (androgenic) male sex hormones are Androstenedione, Testosterone, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and Androsterone. These hormones are present—and vital for health—in men and women.

Side note, in this discussion—as well as throughout the website—men and women and male and female refer specifically to biological sex.

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

The reason being is that Adaptogenic and Tonic herbs tend to have a balancing and reparative effect on the endocrine system. The endocrine system is the system the body uses to make and regulate hormones and Adaptogens and Tonics work with the endocrine system to restore health through restoring balance. This may include raising levels of the male sex hormones.

Diving deeper into the different types of Pro and Phyto-Androgenic herbs provides more understanding into how these herbs can be used, combined, and stacked together with the specific objective of elevating testosterone production. Below, this broader category of herbs will be 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

Affecting the HPA and HPG Axis Using Herbs

As mentioned above, the endocrine system is responsible for producing and regulating hormones. Pro-Androgenic herbs, just as Adaptogenic Herbs, effect hormone levels through the endocrine system.

In men, testosterone is produced and regulated primarily through a network within the endocrine system called the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Gonadal (HPG) Axis.

In women, and in a lesser extent in men, this is done through the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal (HPA) Axis.

These two systems work virtually the same:

  • The hypothalamus is the master switch which regulates (turns on and off) testosterone production;
  • The gonads (testes) and the adrenal glands (small glands sitting on top of the kidneys) produce testosterone;
  • The pituitary gland is the relay between the hypothalamus, the gonads, and the adrenal glands.

An introductory understanding of testosterone production—the HPG and HPA axis—informs the ways that the three classes of Pro-Androgenic herbs work.

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 this type of Pro-Androgenic herbs—herbs that signal an increase in testosterone production—are:

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera);
  • Cistanche tubulosa, Cistanche deserticola, and Cistanche salsa;
  • Panax ginseng, including Chinese Ginseng, Red Ginseng, and Korean Ginseng;
  • Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia);
  • Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris);
  • Shilajit (Asphaltum Punjabianum).

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

  1. Gonadotropic Releasing Hormone (GnRH) (sometimes referred to as luteinizing releasing hormone);
  2. Luteinizing Hormone (LH).

The hypothalamus—located in the brain—secretes Gonadotropic Releasing Hormone (GnRH).

After being released by the hypothalamus, GnRH travels to the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland where it acts upon the pituitary gland to signal the release of two hormones: Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).

Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) both act on the testes (the gonads):

  • LH signals Leydig cells (specialized cells in the gonads) to produce testosterone;
  • FSH signals Sertoli / nurse cells (specialized cells in the gonads) to produce and maturate sperm.
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 unhealthy and otherwise feeble, 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 effect 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—attaches—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. 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 high levels of androgenic hormones, growth hormone, insulin, and insulin-like growth factor can all a decrease in SHBG.

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

Minuscule changes in percentages of free testosterone have profound effects on the amount of available (free) testosterone in the body.

Stinging Nettle Root (Urtica dioica) contains the phytosterol ß-Sitosterol.

ß-Sitosterol (Beta-Sitosterol) out-competes testosterone in binding to Sex Hormone Binding Globulin.

That is, SHBG binds to ß-Sitosterol at a higher rate than it binds to testosterone, resulting in a higher percentage of free, un-bound, biologically active testosterone.

Stinging Nettle Root thereby maximizes the amount of testosterone already present in the body. This is the Pro-Androgenic nature of Nettle Root.

The Maximizers and Decreasing Aromatization and Estradiol Synthesis

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

Named after the enzyme aromatase, aromatization occurs in 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, is dependent 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 estrogen (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 produces by the body 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 is 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:

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

Functional Ground Three: The Supplementers

Supplementing Phyto-Androgens with Pine Pollen

The third functional group of Pro-Androgenic and Phyto-Androgenic herbs are 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-Androgens 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 both of Phyto-Androgenic herbs and of 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 the ability it has to raise testosterone levels.

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

The Supplementers — Advantages:

  • Quick. Because the androgen hormones are present in Pine Pollen, once digested or absorbed, it 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.

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 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).

Using 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.

A favorite stack at RAW Forest Foods is the following:

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

Then, the framework can be used to create a Pro-Androgenic cycle, cycling the above with the following:

  • Shilajit Extract (Capsules or Extract Powder) OR Elevated Tongkat Ali (Capsules or Extract Powder)
  • Elevated Pine Pollen and Nettle Root (Capsules or Extract Powder);
  • 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.

Product Resources

Links to the products referenced in this article:

  • Elevated Pine Pollen and Nettle Root:
  • Elevated Tongkat Ali Extract
  • Himalayan Shilajit Extract
  • Pine Pollen Alchemy — Contains Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris)
  • RAW Pine Pollen™

Further Reading And Selected Resources


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