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Ecdysteroid: useless stuff or a legitimate performance-enhancing supplement?

Ecdysteroid: Nutzloses Zeugs oder ein legitimes leistungssteigerndes Supplement?

Ecdysteroids are a group of naturally occurring polyhydroxylated plant sterols that have a variety of non-hormonal, anabolic and performance-enhancing activities in mammals. In this article you will learn how this could help you.

Every now and then a supplement appears on the scene that stands out from the rest. In other words, it actually works as advertised. If we're honest with ourselves, this is far from the norm. How many sports supplements have there been over the last decade that have been universally and unreservedly considered effective? One? Or maybe two? Remember, we wanted to be honest. In our opinion, the only supplement with proven anabolic and performance-enhancing effects that came onto the market during the 1990s was creatine.

And the beauty of this supplement is its simplicity. Creatine contains only one ingredient - no magic delivery system is needed to make it work - and it has extremely low toxicity and a very favorable side effect profile. It is sufficient to take 10 to 20 grams per day for a week (or three grams per day for a month) to achieve measurable gains. The effects of creatine are indeed quite phenomenal.

But wait a minute. What about whey protein, glutamine, ribose and methoxyisoflavones? Here's a question, comrades: Is there any reliable data that has been established on strength athletes? Despite the widespread acceptance of these products as performance-enhancing, body composition-improving products, there is no bodybuilder-derived data to support these properties.

Hey, it's not the messenger's fault! While we believe that some of the new stars in supplement heaven are working, until we have some amount of "population-specific data" (i.e., their effect on athletes), skeptical consumers and exercise scientists will view these products with suspicion.

However, wouldn't it be fascinating to find a safe supplement with a lot of scientific research that has somehow been overlooked until now?

As fate would have it, a batch of Russian research on a water-soluble, sugar-like derivative of cholesterol surfaced some time ago. According to this data, this compound is water-soluble, effective even at low doses (always assuming the correct starting material was used for extraction), non-toxic and effective in some people in less than 10 days.

No, this is not a bad joke. This could actually be a legitimate, yet forgotten, performance-enhancing substance. This compound is 20-hydroxyecdysone aka ecdysterone and we can say with a clear conscience that this stuff is fascinating.

What is ecdysterone?

Ecdysteroids are a group of naturally occurring polyhydroxylated plant sterols that have a variety of non-hormonal anabolic and performance-enhancing activities in mammals. Their structure comprises three hexane rings of 6 carbon atoms each and a pentane ring of 5 carbon atoms.

Originally, this group of compounds was thought to be merely specialized insect hormones that promote molting, but more recent studies have suggested that ecdysteroids should be considered a new class of sterol-based essential vitamins (Slama et al., 1996).

Of all the ecdysteroids, ecdysterone and turkesterone, both produced from Rhaponticum carthamoides - a thistle-like plant that grows in Central Asia - are considered to be the most potent.

Like many other plant products, ecdysterone has been used for centuries in the field of naturopathy to treat weakness and exhaustion, as well as to recover from various illnesses. However, unlike other medicinal herbs, ecdysterone has a wealth of research to support its effects.

So much so that the Minister of Health of the former Soviet Union authorized the use of ecdysterone as a pharmaceutical preparation to "increase mental and physical working capacity" (Slama et al., 1996). And it took over two decades for the Western world to recognize this.

What does ecdysterone do?

Unlike anabolic androgenic steroids, which have hormonal effects, ecdysterone and turkesterone appear to have several different mechanisms of action. In short, they appear to act as effective adaptogenic compounds that allow athletes to increase their workload during periods of intense activity, improve their recovery and stimulate gains in strength and endurance. In other words, these compounds appear to promote a 'super-training effect'.

Typically, such supposed miracle supplements are found in scientific studies with other species and/or trauma patients who will respond much differently to these substances than the typical exerciser. However, this is not the case with ecdysterone.

Over the past 20 years, at least seven research teams from the former Eastern Bloc have conducted extensive studies with ecdysterone. As a result of these studies, data was collected from mice, rats, cats, birds, livestock and humans, the latter being athletes at the highest level.

Here is a list of the effects that can be observed as a result of ecdysterone supplementation (Chermnykh et al, 1988; Syrov et al, 1977; Kuzmenko et al, 1999; Slama et al, 1995; Mosharrof et al, 1987; Turova et al, 1974; Gerasyuta et al, 1980; Syrov et al, 1988; Syrov et al, 1985; Kurmukov et al, 1988; Smetanin, 1986; Simakin et al, 1988; Semeykin et al, 1991):

Observed effects of ecdysterone supplementation:

  • Increased synthesis of proteins in slow and fast contracting muscle fibers.
  • Increased body weight due to an improved ratio of muscle to fat.
  • Improved removal of lactic acid (lactate)
  • Increased muscle glycogen concentrations.
  • Increased ATP and phosphocreatine synthesis.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Increased red blood cell count.
  • Improved sleep quality.
  • Increased tolerance to thermal stress.
  • Stimulation of bone growth.
  • Improved heart function
  • Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
  • Mild anticoagulant effects.
  • Increased resistance to infections.
  • Improved food conversion index (amount of food needed to produce a constant unit of living mass)
  • Mild CNS stimulating effect without accompanying increase in blood pressure.

Does Ecdysterone have any side effects?

The most intriguing thing about ecdysterone is that despite its wide range of biological activities, the benefits come without androgen-related (increased body hair, androgen-related hair loss, etc.) or other side effects such as reduced endogenous hormone production or testicular shrinkage.

This is not necessarily unexpected, considering that ecdysterone does not dock to the androgen or oestrogen receptor. Thus, men can use ecdysterone without worrying about gynecomastia, while women can use this compound without worrying about masculinization.

The safety and harmlessness of ecdysterone has never been questioned in the Eastern Bloc literature, even at doses far in excess of the 30 to 50 mg per day required for anabolic and performance-enhancing effects.

As far as we know, not one athlete has reported any significant side effects from taking ecdysterone in a study published to date. Furthermore, no obvious changes were observed in the blood values examined during these studies, such as hormone levels, blood lipid levels or liver enzyme levels.

At this point, one or two critical readers will probably ask the million dollar question: What is the difference between all the ecdysterone products available on the market? The answer is quite simple - it is the quality of these products.

Extracting ecdysterone from genuine Russian Rhaponticum is an expensive endeavor that can cost several thousand dollars per kilo. This explains why there are so many inferior products on the market.

Do we need more data on the effects of ecdysterone and turkesterone on bodybuilders? Of course - what supplement would this not apply to? And regardless of whether it's right or wrong, scientific research published outside the US seems to be viewed with skepticism by many. The "old-school" guys are quick to point out that ecdysterone is nothing new, but the same junk that was available back in the eighties. But that doesn't have much to do with reality.

The difference in the quality of the extracts then and now is enormous. People tried ecdysterone in the eighties, felt no effect and never bought it again. Today, ecdysteroids like Turkesterone are mainly bought by customers who have used these products in the past, which says a lot about their effectiveness. We see a situation where the "in the know" continue to feel effects while the rest are left out.

Although further research is needed, real ecdysterone and turkesterone appear to be promising anabolic and performance enhancing compounds. Assuming you train hard and don't eat like George Foreman, you should feel the effects in less than four weeks.

When it comes to supplements, it's not often that you get something (performance enhancements) for nothing (no side effects). This has happened with creatine and it seems to be true for certain forms of ecdysterone as well.


Feedback from users suggests that 2 things seem to be necessary to optimize the effects of ecdysterone:

  1. A diet that includes about 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  2. The use of higher dosages than recommended on the label of most products, especially for heavier athletes.


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