Tongkat Ali Health Benefits and Uses
By Cathy Wong | Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician | Updated November 21, 2018
Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is a tree native to Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The root of the tree contains compounds called quassinoids and alkaloids and is the part of the tree that is used medicinally. Tongkat ali is typically consumed in dietary supplements, tea, energy beverages, or in coffee drinks.
Other names for tongkat ali include Eurycoma longifolia Jack, longjack, long jack, payung ali, Malaysian ginseng, tung saw, umpudumaidu, and wonod mondou.
Uses for Tongkat Ali
In alternative medicine, tongkat ali is said to raise testosterone levels, promote muscle strength, and address a number of conditions such as erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, fatigue, and stress.
1) Erectile Dysfunction and Low Libido
Tongkat ali is often touted as a remedy for erectile dysfunction. There’s some preliminary evidence that it may help. For instance, a small study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers found that twelve weeks supplementation of a product containing a Eurycoma longifolia extract and Polygonum minus (an antioxidant) helped to enhance sexual performance and erectile function.
Related: Erectile Dysfunction: 5 Natural Remedies That May Help
Another study, also published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, suggests that a tongkat ali extract may aid in the treatment of low libido and erectile function. Involving 109 men between 30 and 55 years of age, the study found that the extract may help increase erectile function, sexual libido, sperm motility, semen volume. Loss of fat mass in those who were overweight was also noted.
2) To Build Muscle
Tongkat ali may increase muscle mass and strength due to its purported effects on testosterone levels. It is sometimes used as to boost athletic performance, physical strength, and to promote fat loss. In a preliminary study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that 100 mg/day of a Eurycoma longifolia extract for five weeks increased muscle mass and strength in men participating in an intensive strength training program compared to those who participated in the program alone.
Tongkat ali may also help to increase muscular strength in older adults, according to a pilot study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2014. For the study, 13 men and 12 women between the ages of 57 and 72 took 400mg of a tongkat ali extract daily for five weeks. At the study’s end, tongkat ali was found to have raised free and total testosterone levels and muscular force.
A study involving male recreational athletes, however, found that 150 mg/day for seven days before an endurance run (plus an hour before the run) didn’t increase endurance compared to a placebo.
Related: Creatine for Muscle Strength
Tongkat ali shows promise in the treatment of infertility, suggests a preliminary study published in the Asian Journal of Andrology in 2010. Researchers found that 200 mg/daily supplementation with Eurycoma longifolia in men for three to nine months resulted in higher semen volume, sperm concentrations, the percentage of normal sperm morphology, and sperm motility, and resulted in spontaneous pregnancy in 11 of the participants' partners after treatment.
Some research suggests that tongkat ali may help to relieve stress. The available research includes a small study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Investigators assessed stress hormones and mood state in 63 people before and after taking a tongkat ali supplement for four weeks and found significant improvements in the mood states of tension, anger, and confusion as well as decreased salivary cortisol and increased testosterone in those taking the tongkat ali extract.
Related: 9 Essential Oils for Stress Relief | 6 Stress-Busting Herbal Teas | 7 Natural Remedies for Anxiety
5) Late-Onset Hypogonadism
Tongkat ali may improve symptoms of late-onset hypogonadism, according to a study published in Andrologia. For the study, 76 people with late-onset hypogonadism were given 200 mg of a standardized tongkat ali extract for one month. Results suggested that the tongkat ali extract was improved scores on the Ageing Male’s Symptoms scale and testosterone levels.
Related: Can DHEA Raise Men's Testosterone Levels? and Can Fenugreek Boost Testosterone?
Because so few studies have tested tongkat ali’s effects in humans, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of this herb. The studies that have been done have typically used 200 mg per day for up to nine months. Noted side effects include restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia.
Since tongkat ali may raise testosterone levels, it should not be used by people with conditions that would be adversely affected by higher testosterone levels such as heart disease, hormone-sensitive cancers, liver or kidney disease, or sleep apnea.
Tongkat ali should not be used by pregnant or nursing women or children and by those with medical conditions. People with weakened immune systems should avoid tongkat ali. The herb may interact with medication (such as blood pressure medication, anticoagulant and antiplatelet medications, drugs that lower blood sugar or insulin levels, immunosuppressant drugs), and other supplements.
Concerns have been raised about mercury and lead contamination in tongkat ali products. According to one study, 26% of products tested contained 0.53-2.35 ppm of mercury and did not comply with the quality requirements in Malaysia.
You can find out more about how to use supplements safely, but if you're considering using tongkat ali (or any other form of alternative medicine), be sure to consult your primary care provider first.