In the world of fitness and bodybuilding, one class of compounds has been gaining attention from enthusiasts and researchers alike.
The class of compounds in question are ecdysteroids, and while their name might sound a bit intimidating, don’t worry just yet.
In today’s guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about ecdysteroids, what they are, what the different kinds are, how safe they are, what their legal status is, and whether on not there are any side effects to using them.
By the end, you’ll know everything there is to know about ecdysteroids.
Ready? Let’s go.
But First: What Exactly Are These ‘Ecdysteroids’?
Ecdysteroids are a class of hormones that are structurally similar to androgens (steroid hormones, responsible for the development and maintenance of male characteristics).
They are the androgens of insects, and their name comes from the process of molting (growth and development) in insects.
It appears that ecdysteroids have some biological effects in humans when orally ingested, and may behave like anabolic steroids without carrying the androgenic effects (1). This is quite exciting because ecdysteroids may bring benefits similar to those of steroids without the negatives, the most popular of which include:
- Impotence and reduced sperm count;
- Shrinking of the testicles;
- Early balding in men and facial hair growth in women;
- Development of breasts in men (due to the increased estrogen levels);
- Water retention and a bloated look;
- Liver, kidney, and cardiovascular damage;
- Increased cholesterol;
- Decreased ability of the body to naturally produce hormones such as testosterone;
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke;
The list goes much further than this, but you get the idea. Steroids, while having the ability to make us incredibly muscular and strong, can also wreak havoc on our health (1, 2, 3, 4). Ecdysteroids, on the other hand, appear to be much safer for us.
With that said, ecdysteroids come in many sizes and shapes, so let’s take a look at the most common ones.
Different Kinds of Ecdysteroids: The Essential List
Below, we’ll take a look at three types of ecdysteroids and their individual uses and functions within the body. This isn’t an extensive list, but these are the most studied ones with the most scientific backing.
And, as you’ll see in a bit, one, in particular, seems to deliver the greatest benefits.
Ecdysone is a steroidal prohormone (a precursor to a hormone, usually having insignificant effects on its own) to the major hormone, 20-hydroxyecdysone. It is secreted by a prothoracic gland in insects and can be found in some herbs.
Along with other ecdysteroids, ecdysone appears to play essential roles within insect organisms, including the regulation of molting and metamorphosis (5). Some research suggests that it plays a role in sleep regulation of fruit flies (6).
Big whoop, right? Who cares about its effects on some insects?
Well, it appears that ecdysone may affect humans and other mammals. The mechanisms behind its effect are still to be determined, but it seems that it may behave similarly to several steroid hormones, including mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, testosterone, and estrogen (7).
With that said, it’s worth mentioning that we still need more research before making definitive statements regarding ecdysone. The main reason is, we still don’t know what its long-term effects are, so, if you do want to take it as a bodybuilding aid, you should do so with caution.
Ecdysterone, also known as 20-hydroxyecdysone, is the most common, naturally-produced ecdysteroid, which plays a vital role in the processes of molting, metamorphosis, and more (8). Some plants also produce the hormone, and its primary purpose there is protective against insect pests.
In insects, ecdysterone acts through the ecdysone receptor, and though humans and other mammals lack it, some early research suggests that it might have some favorable physiological effects.
One study from 2006 compared the effects of ecdysterone intake versus placebo on training response and anabolic or catabolic signaling (9). In it, forty-five resistance-trained men were assigned to a placebo group or were given 200 mg of ecdysterone daily. The study lasted for eight weeks, and subjects had to donate fasting blood samples and complete a comprehensive test of their strength, endurance, aerobic capacity, and body composition three times:
- In the beginning;
- On week four;
- On week eight;
Researchers didn’t find any significant differences in training adaptations, anabolic and catabolic signaling, strength, power, endurance, body composition, testosterone, cortisol, and other markers.
One interesting study from 2019 has also found that ecdysterone-containing products appear to benefit muscle growth and athletic performance (10). More specifically, researchers wanted to examine the effects of ecdysterone in conjunction with resistance training over ten weeks.
Subjects were given various products with different doses of ecdysterone, and each product had been screened for anabolic steroids beforehand. What’s more, all subjects were tested for performance-enhancing drugs.
Once the study had finished, researchers tested all subjects and found that those who took ecdysterone-containing products saw significantly higher muscle gains and managed to increase their bench press one-rep maxes much more.
Researchers didn’t find any adverse effects on subjects’ health, mainly as it related to biomarkers for liver or kidney toxicity.
Thanks to these studies, many supplement manufacturers have jumped at the idea of marketing ecdysterone and making money off it. In the supplement industry, ecdysterone is often sold alone or as part of various ‘muscle-building’ and ‘performance-enhancing’ blends that promise superior fitness results.
But, my opinion is that we need more (and longer-term) research before making any definitive statements regarding the safety and efficacy of 20-hydroxyecdysone (ecdysterone).
The final of the three ecdysteroids we’ll be looking at today is turkesterone. While it may not be as popular when compared to mainstream supplements and drugs, turkesterone shows some promise and appears to be the most anabolic of all ecdysteroids (11).
Turkesterone is often classified as an adaptogen – a natural substance that may help the body more efficiently handle and adapt to stress. What’s more, turkesterone is claimed to help us do higher work volumes at the gym, recover better, grow more muscle and strength, and be more endurant. In other words, the compound is often compared to anabolic steroids in its supposed effects.
The only bad news right now is, very few studies have been conducted to study the effects of turkesterone in isolation. Most studies (including the ones we looked at above) have looked at several ecdysteroids as a whole.
Research suggests that, among all ecdysteroids, turkesterone was the most active and caused the highest increase in muscle protein synthesis (12).
Supplement manufacturers have begun using turkesterone as part of their products, and it can also be found under the names ecdysterone and ECDY.
With that said, we can’t be certain of the efficacy and long-term effects of turkesterone until we have more studies. More specifically, it would be interesting to see how the compound would impact humans in a long-term study with a larger pool of subjects.
Suggestion: I have used Turkesterone myself and had a good experience. It was an ingredient in a supplement called A-Bolic 4. Click this link to read my log and review and more about my experience with Turkesterone.
As a Whole
One interesting study from 2015 caught my eye (13). It’s particularly exciting because researchers conducted it to examine the effects of ecdysteroids when compared to anabolic substances.
The trial lasted for 21 days, and the animals in the study were given 5 mg of ecdysteroids or other anabolic substances per kilogram of body weight once per day.
What the researchers found was that ecdysteroids not only rivaled the effects of other anabolic substances but also did better. Here’s what they had to say:
Ecdysterone exhibited a strong hypertrophic effect on the fiber size of rat soleus muscle that was found even stronger compared to the test compounds metandienone (Dianabol), estradienedione (trenbolox), and SARM S 1.
An anabolic activity of ecdysterone was clearly confirmed by our investigation. The anabolic potency of the ecdysterone was comparable or even higher as found for the anabolic androgenic steroids, SARMs or IGF-1.
This is quite exciting and shows us that ecdysteroids might be the real deal – especially when it comes to turkesterone, as it appears to be the most anabolic of all.
The only drawbacks I could think of are that this was a short-term study (it lasted for only three weeks), and it was done on rats. How these effects might compare to a longer-term human trial is yet to be determined. But, seeing as we have to take the legal and ethical side of steroid use into consideration, it could take a while before we have any solid research on this particular question.
Are Ecdysteroids Safe For Human Intake? What Does The Research Say?
Okay, this is where things begin to blur a bit, as there are some findings on both sides of the fence.
In one of the studies we looked at above, researchers set out to determine the effects of ecdysone (7). They found that the particular ecdysteroid might have some adverse effects on the kidneys. In their words:
Our findings suggest that ecdysone induces mineralocorticoid-dependent activities that impair renal function and elicit renal injury.
But, on the other hand, the most recent study on ecdysteroids didn’t find any adverse effects (10). More specifically, researchers stated:
No increase in biomarkers for liver or kidney toxicity was noticed.
And while I’d love to give you a definitive answer to this crucial question right here and now, I simply can’t. The fact is, we are yet to study and fully understand ecdysteroids and their effects on our health and well-being.
The bottom line is, it may be a good idea to wait for more research to come out before jumping the gun and buying yourself ecdysteroids. For one, we can’t be sure it will impact you at an individual level as most of the research on ecdysteroids have had small sample sizes. Second, we also don’t know what long-term health implications these compounds might have.
What’s more, though the research so far shows promise, we need more human trials.
Are Ecdysteroids Legal and What Does WADA Have to Say?
For the longest time, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts have been looking for a safe and legal alternative to steroids. After all, the benefits they offer are tremendous, but the drawbacks, as we saw above, can be devastating to our health. And not to mention the legal problems you can get yourself into.
So, the question is, would it be a crime to get yourself ecdysteroids and use them?
Well, the legal status of ecdysteroids is somewhat fluid and will primarily depend on where you live. In some countries, these compounds are so unknown that people haven’t even written laws about them yet.
Testosterone was first isolated in the distant 1935, and its use was banned from the Olympics in 1968 (14). Since then, the manufacture, distribution, and consumption of testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs have become illegal.
Other discoveries, such as prohormones have also gone into the synthetic anabolic steroids category in the legal sense for a few reasons:
- They are precursors to steroids;
- They are synthetic;
- They are likely to bring about many of the same adverse health effects as steroids;
But, what about ecdysteroids like turkesterone? Well, they are much different, and one reason is that they are naturally-occurring rather than made in a lab.
Steroids (exogenous testosterone, for example) work by binding to androgen receptors (AR), which is excellent because it makes them incredibly potent, and the benefits they deliver can feel unbelievable (15). But, androgenic steroids also bring about adverse health effects, some of which are irreversible (1, 3, 4).
Some steroids are more androgenic and more anabolic than others, and trenbolone is a good example of one potent compound that is multiple times more effective than testosterone. But, with the increased benefits, trenbolone is also much more likely to deliver the negative effects, as well.
Still, a significant amount of people from all over the world (ranging from elite bodybuilders to everyday gym rats) are willing to put up with the risk so they can reap the benefit. As you can imagine, the steroid market, while mostly illegal, is quite big and profitable.
So, when ecdysteroids first came around, researchers were quite excited because they resembled androgenic steroids (i.e., working by binding to androgen receptors) and were naturally-occurring. So, rather than spending all of the money to synthesize them, they could instead reap them from nature, process them, slap a label, and make fat stacks.
Alas, that was not the case, as ecdysteroids behaved differently from androgenic steroids, and their most pronounced ‘drawback’ was their lack of binding to androgen receptors. Research mostly slowed down after that as most folks saw ecdysteroids as a lost cause.
Granted, research has picked up a bit, but not to the level where we can make definitive statements. Some studies have proposed that ecdysteroids should be banned and put under the doping/anabolic substances list (10, 12).
However, how their legal status might change is yet to be seen. WADA’s proposition is as follows (16):
These data underline the effectiveness of an ecdysterone supplementation with respect to sports performance. We therefore strongly recommend to include ecdysterone in the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods in sports to improve clean competition in the future. As the exact mechanism of action is not yet fully understood, we suggest to include it in class S1.2 “other anabolic agents.”
More Importantly, Do Ecdysteroids Work? What Benefits Can We Expect To Reap?
As a whole, research on humans and rodents so far suggests that ecdysteroids (and turkesterone, in particular) can deliver the following effects, some of which might not be that beneficial:
1) Improved body composition – aiding in muscle growth and fat loss simultaneously.
2) Increased appetite. This is an excellent benefit for ‘hardgainers’ who have trouble eating enough calories, but not so suitable for folks who always tend to get fat while bulking.
3) Increased rates of osteogenesis (bone growth and strengthening).
4) Improved quality of sleep – though this benefit has only been observed in fruit flies so far.
5) Enhanced resynthesis of ATP (the primary energy currency of the body), which can benefit our athletic performance.
6) A slight increase in the rates of slow-twitch muscle fiber protein synthesis.
7) Improved capacity of muscles to hold glycogen – a fuel source needed for physical activities.
8) A small boost in red blood cell numbers.
9) Faster removal of lactic acid after exercise.
10) Better cardiac function (though we need a lot more research in this area).
11) Slight blood-thinning (anticoagulant) effects that could, at least partially, explain ecdysteroids’ ability to lower blood pressure.
12) Some mild antioxidant effects.
13) A stimulating effect on the central nervous system, which could indicate that ecdysteroids might be a good pre-workout supplement.
Turkesterone, in particular, appears to be the most active ecdysteroid out there, capable of bringing about many of the above effects. As of right now, it’s not a stretch to assume that turkesterone has many qualities that will benefit bodybuilders.
Can We Expect Any Side Effects and Health Implications From Ecdysteroids Intake?
The most interesting bit about ecdysteroids is that they appear to have a broad biological activity, even bodybuilding benefits, without delivering the most common drawbacks of steroid use:
Early balding, increased body hair, testicular shrinkage for men, and masculinization (increased body hair, deepening of the voice, facial changes, and more) for women.
This is logical when you think about it because ecdysteroids don’t appear to bind to androgen or estrogen receptors and thus are unable to bring many of the negative effects that steroids can.
As far as dosing goes, some early research seems to suggest doses ranging from 25 to 50 mg per day to induce anabolic effects in humans. In the study from 2015 we looked at above, researchers used doses of 5 mg per kilogram of body weight (13). For an average 80-kilogram person, that would come out to be well above (8 to 16 times over, in fact) the necessary 25-50 mg.
Do we need more research before concluding on the efficacy and safety of ecdysteroids (turkesterone, in particular)? Of course we do. Every compound out there, even creatine, can benefit from more extensive research. With that said, turkesterone and ecdysterone show some real promise as anabolic agents and some researchers have not only taken note of these compounds but have also proposed that they are put in the list of banned substances.
It’s not often that a new compound comes around and works while not having any side effects. In fact, creatine is pretty much the only other compound I can think of right now and even it can bring drawbacks such as stomach distress and bloating. Turkesterone and ecdysterone seem to be the other useful compounds, and we should expect their popularity to increase steadily over the next few years. And with that, we should also see more human trials come to the surface to tell us more about ecdysteroids.
Plus, assuming you take care of your nutrition and program your training sensibly, you can reap some real benefits from ecdysteroids in as little as one month of regular use.
A Quick Recap
- Ecdysteroids are a class of hormones that are structurally similar to steroids and are the androgens of insects. Their name comes from the process of molting in insects.
- It appears that ecdysteroids have some biological effects in humans when orally ingested, and may behave like anabolic steroids without carrying the typical side effects that steroids often bring.
- Ecdysone is a steroidal prohormone (a precursor to a hormone, usually having insignificant effects on its own) to the hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone and it appears to behave similarly to several steroid hormones including mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, testosterone, and estrogen (7).
- Ecdysterone, also known as 20-hydroxyecdysone, is the most common, naturally-produced ecdysteroid. Several studies suggest that it may have some anabolic properties in humans.
- While it may not be as popular when compared to mainstream supplements and drugs, turkesterone shows some promise and appears to be the most anabolic of all ecdysteroids (17). It’s also classified as an adaptogen – a natural substance that may help the body more efficiently handle and adapt to stress. What’s more, turkesterone is claimed to help us do higher work volumes at the gym, recover better, grow more muscle and strength, and be more endurant.
- Research seems to show mixed results when it comes to the safety of ecdysteroids.
- Well, the legal status of ecdysteroids is somewhat fluid and will primarily depend on where you live. In some countries, these compounds are so unknown that people haven’t even written laws about them yet. Some studies have proposed that ecdysteroids should be banned and put under the doping/anabolic substances list (10, 12).
- As a whole, research on humans and rodents so far suggests that ecdysteroids (and turkesterone, in particular) can deliver a wide range of incredible benefits and that turkesterone is the most potent one.
- As far as dosing goes, some early research seems to suggest doses ranging from 25 to 50 mg per day to induce anabolic effects in humans.
If you want to try Ecdysteroids for yourself, I suggest giving Turkesterone a try. If you want to learn more about it, click this link to read my log and review of A-Bolic 4 which contains Turkesterone.
A-Bolic 4 is the only product I am aware of that contains Turkesterone. If you want to check it out on Amazon, click this link.
Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment below and then go Pump Some Iron!