By Dr Paul Clayton, Chief Scientific Advisor, Gencor
There are many hundreds of exercise regimens to choose from that promise to increase muscle mass. But one I particularly like is called The Peak 8 regime. It is so-called because it involves eight bouts of high intensity exercise, raising the heart rate to its peak anaerobic threshold for 30 seconds. This is followed by a 90-second recovery period, and then the work/recovery cycle is repeated eight times. Even though the entire routine lasts no more than 20 minutes, it appears to be highly effective in triggering growth hormone release (Godfrey et al ’03).
But you don’t have to do this all on your own. To enhance the effects of these and other exercises, you should seriously consider fenugreek. Fenugreek is a venerable herb with a history that goes back to the ancient Greeks and to Ayurvedic medicine.
One proprietary extract of fenugreek, Testofen®, has been screened in a fascinating series of pre-clinical and clinical trials. Not all of these have been published, but I have read what is in the literature and have had access to the pre-published papers currently undergoing review, and I think that this is something of a breakthrough.
Testofen is a standardized extract of a specific strain of fenugreek, grown in carefully controlled conditions. The extract is standardized to a high content (10% by weight) of a group of saponins called furostanol glycosides.
When ingested, saponins are hydrolyzed in the gut and broken down to sapogenins. The molecular structure of sapogenins, and that of the furostanols, is constructed around a cholesterol-like complex. This not only resembles cholesterol, but also the steroid hormones that are formed from cholesterol including aldosterone, cortisol, estrogen and testosterone.
Due to their structure, one would expect the saponins to exert effects similar to those of the above hormones, and some of them do indeed do so. The ginsenosides in Ginseng, for example, reduce the adverse effects of stress by acting as partial agonists at cortisol receptors, and they exert side effects that relate to estrogen and aldosterone. The furostanols in Testofen, on the other hand, interact preferentially with testosterone metabolism.
Testosterone occurs in the blood in two forms: free (the biologically active form), and bound, to albumen and a protein called Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG). Bound testosterone is inert.
One published paper (Aswar et al ’10) clearly shows that Testofen has anabolic and androgenic properties – that is, it mimics the effects of testosterone. When the researchers examined their animal model more closely they found that blood testosterone levels were unchanged, but there was some evidence that furostanol was displacing bound testosterone from albumen and/or SHBG, raising the free/bound ratio and therefore making the testosterone more active.
Follow-up research confirmed this, showing that Testofen increases both muscle mass and physical performance in men (Wankhede et al, in press) and libido (Steels et al ‘11). As testosterone is critically important to males who wish to build muscle, this evidence has convinced me to recommend that Testofen be added to the diet and exercise regime.
Here is another case of science explaining, and helping to prove, the traditional use of a natural herb.
Dr. Paul Clayton is Gencor’s Chief Scientific Advisor. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, a former Senior Scientific Advisor to the UK Government's Committee on the Safety of Medicines and former President of the Forum on Food and Health at the Royal Society of Medicine. He is currently Visiting Professor of Pharmaconutrition at the University of Pecs (Hungary), and a Fellow of the institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour (Oxford).
1. Aswar U, Bodhankar SL, Mohan V, Thakurdesai PA. Effect of furostanol glycosides from Trigonella foenum-graecum on the reproductive system of male albino rats. Phytotherapy Research 24: 1482–1488 (2010)
2. Godfrey RJ, Madgwick Z, Whyte GP. The exercise-induced growth hormone response in athletes. Sports Med. 2003;33(8):599-613.
3. Jung DH, Park HJ, Byun HE, Park YM, Kim TW, Kim BO, Um SH, Pyo S. Diosgenin inhibits macrophage-derived inflammatory mediators through downregulation of CK2, JNK, NF-kappaB and AP-1 activation. Int Immunopharmacol. 2010 Sep;10(9):1047-54.
4. Lepage C, Léger DY, Bertrand J, Martin F, Beneytout JL, Liagre B. Diosgenin induces death receptor-5 through activation of p38 pathway and promotes TRAIL-induced apoptosis in colon cancer cells. Cancer Lett. 2011 Feb 28;301(2):193-202.
5. Steels, E., Rao, A., Vitella L., Physiological aspects of male libido enhanced by standardized Trigonella foenum graecum extract and mineral formulation. 2011, Phytotherapy Rsch, Vol. 25, 9, 1294-1300.
6. Wankhede et al. Effect of TESTOFEN on safety, anabolic activity and factors affecting Exercise Physiology. In press