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Bulgarin tribulus, scientific name Tribulus terrestris, is a flowering plant in the Zygophyllaceae, or creosote bush, family. It is indigenous to southern Europe, southern Asia, Australia, and Africa, but has been introduced to North and South America. Bulgarian tribulus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and in ayurvedic medicine to treat low libido in both men and women, urinary infections, cardiovascular conditions, and as a general tonic. Limited clinical studies have been done, however, and more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of this herb on human health. Side effects of Bulgarian tribulus appear to be minimal.
Bulgarian tribulus is also known as puncture vine, Mexican sandbur, cat head, goat head, bai ji li, and gokharu. This plant is touted as an aphrodisiac in both TCM and ayurvedic medicine. It is said to work by raising the luteinizing hormone (LH) levels in the bloodstream. The high LH levels then cause the body to raise its testosterone levels, which increases libido. Bulgarian tribulus is not a hormone or steroid in and of itself.
This herb is mildly diuretic and has been used to treat kidney stones, incontinence, gout, and prostate problems. Chinese studies reportedly show that Tribulus terrestris decreases the frequency of angina pectoris. It may also lower bloodstream cholesterol, normalize high blood pressure, and lower blood sugar levels.
It is believed that Bulgarian tribulus works on the body by relaxing smooth muscles and increasing blood flow. Some Russian studies indicate that taking an extract made from Tribulus terrestris may lead to increased muscle mass. This plant is said to be helpful in improving athletic performance and has reportedly been used by Bulgarian Olympic athletes since the 1970s.
Research into the effectiveness of Bulgarian tribulus calls into question most of the health claims made about it. Recently, studies have shown that taking 10-20 mg per kilogram of body weight resulted in no increase in testosterone, androstenedione, or LH when compared to those not taking the supplement. In another small study, 15 people were given Bulgarian tribulus, 3.21 mg per kilogram of body weight, or a placebo, for eight weeks. There appeared to be no change in weight, dietary intake, body fat percentage, or mood in either group. Upper and lower body muscle endurance increased in the placebo group, but the group taking tribulus only experienced increased lower body strength.
This herbal supplement is available in capsule, tablet, and extract form. It may be purchased at health food stores, local markets, or from online vendors. The generally recommended dose is 85-250 mg three times per day. It should be taken with meals to reduce the likelihood of stomach upset.
Side effects are uncommon, but do occur. These side effects may include gynecomastia, or an increase in breast size in males, and some gastrointestinal complaints. Those with a hormone-dependent illness, such as breast cancer or prostate cancer, should avoid Bulgarian tribulus. Persons with chronic illnesses and women who are pregnant or nursing, among others, may want to check with their healthcare provider prior to taking this herb.
Just because a supplement is natural does not mean that it may not cause side effects, and some of the tribulus side effects are concerning. I would be reluctant to take any supplement that may interfere with hormonal balances. That sounds like a pretty serious side effect to me.