Ecdysterone will form part of a recent series on substances that can potentially improve your quality of life, in advance of our new book Reclaim Your Masculinity, we have been examining what testosterone (T) is and does, why T levels are falling across the developed world and what you can do – the foods you should avoid and the foods you should eat – to begin to restore your proper hormonal balance and with it your precious masculinity. Here, we’ll examine evidence that a compound derived from spinach can have anabolic effects that may even outstrip some of the most popular steroids. 

Ecdysterone: Popeye’s Secret Weapon?

Popeye really may have been on to something.

Ecdysterone: Popeye's Secret Weapon
Ecdysterone: Popeye’s Secret Weapon

Let there be no doubt: the modern world is waging a war against masculinity, both at the social and the molecular level. Putting the social level to one side, at the molecular level today’s man is caught in a ruthless two-pronged assault from natural estrogenic foods and industrially produced estrogenic chemicals, both of which combine to reduce testosterone levels on a global scale. 

Men today have considerably less T than men of the same age even a single generation ago. 

A 2007 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed a significant reduction in the T levels of men since the 1980s. A 60-year-old American man in 2004, for example, had 17% less testosterone than a 60-year-old American man in 1987. These findings were corroborated in a study of Danish men, who displayed a two-digit decline between the 1920s and the 1960s

Falling T levels are a fact of life for all men as they age; unless you take exogenous T, it’s as unavoidable as taxes and death, I’m afraid. After the age of 30, a man can expect to lose 1% of his T every year for the rest of his life. 

But the natural reduction all men can expect to suffer pales in comparison with the society-wide collapse in T levels that has occurred over the second half of the twentieth and the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

Apart from taking a blood test to establish whether you have low T, there are various symptoms you’ll experience if you have low T.

The main symptoms include:

  • Reduced libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fertility problems (inability to conceive)
  • Fatigue

Boys with low T may develop slower, with little or no body hair, under-developed muscles and smaller penises; and men with low T will have difficulty building muscle, no matter how hard they try.

In extreme cases of low T, usually referred to as hypogonadism, men may also develop breast tissue (gynecomastia) and osteoporosis (reduced bone density).

Hypogonadism has a variety of causes, which include:

  • Certain genetic disorders
  • HIV
  • Pituitary disorders, including pituitary tumours and injuries
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Obesity and also rapid weight loss
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Steroid use

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Obesity, in particular, is an increasingly common cause of hypogonadism.

So where does spinach come into it? 

A short video on anabolic spinach

We all know how it goes: Popeye the sailor man is taking a pasting at the hands of Bluto, his enormous bearded nemesis. Summoning every last ounce of strength, he reaches for his trusty can of spinach, opens it somehow, perhaps using his pipe or by saying ‘open sesame’ – and swallows the lot. As the Popeye theme plays, the spinach travels around his body, first down from his stomach through his legs then back up into his chest and arms. His hands become hammers and start banging on his biceps, which have turned into anvils. Endowed with mega strength, he turns the tables on Bluto and rescues his beloved Olive Oyl.

It hardly needs saying that anybody expecting such miraculous effects from spinach consumption is bound to be disappointed. Although spinach is commonly referred to as a ‘superfood’ – rich in magnesium, calcium and iron, and with potential benefits for people suffering from asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer – INSTA-GUNS is not one of the attested benefits.

There is, however, good reason to believe ecdysterone, a phytosteroid derived from spinach and also found in some arthropods (invertebrates), may confer significant strength and muscular benefits on users. An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
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Ecdysterone & Testosterone

Although ecdysterone resembles the testosterone molecule in structure, there’s no evidence that it works like testosterone. In fact, it appears to have its anabolic effects not by binding to the body’s androgen receptors like testosterone or SARMs, but by working on the body’s estrogen receptors. [R] This may explain why ecdysterone also appears to have promising potential for the treatment of certain breast cancers. [R]

At least two recent studies have demonstrated the powerful anabolic effects of ecdysterone in a clinical setting, in both animals and humans.

It would appear that the studies, both of which were conducted under the supervision of Professor Margaret Parr, were initiated at the behest of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which was almost certainly aware of the long tradition of ecdysterone use by Soviet and Russian athletes, those masters of supplementation (haha!). The Russians have reportedly been using ecdysterone since the 1980s and it has even been dubbed ‘the Russian secret’.

Average ecdysterone user

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The Studies

The first of the two studies, from 2015, was conducted on rats and noted that:

‘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, all administered in the same dose (5 mg/kg body weight, for 21 days). In C2C12 myotubes ecdysterone (1 µM) induced a significant increase of the diameter comparable to dihydrotestosterone (1 µM) and IGF 1 (1.3 nM).’ [R

That’s right: a stronger effect than dianabol, trenbolox, the SARM S1 and IGF 1 (insulin-like growth factor 1).

After this first study, Parr cautioned that ‘ecdysterone should be considered to be included in the class “S1.2 Other Anabolic Agents” of the list of prohibited substances of the World Anti-Doping Agency.’

More recently, a double-blind study, again involving Professor Parr, investigated the effects of ecdysterone on humans. [R] Athletes were divided into two groups, with one group getting a daily dose of ecdysterone and the other receiving a placebo. After ten weeks, the results were unmistakeable: the group that had received the ecdysterone had experienced significantly greater increases in muscle mass and strength than the placebo group.

The study notes that:

‘Significantly higher increases in muscle mass were observed in those participants that were dosed with ecdysterone. The same hypertrophic effects were also detected in vitro in C2C12 myotubes. Even more relevant with respect to sports performance, significantly more pronounced increases in one-repetition bench press performance were observed.’

Although ecdysterone still remains legal, Professor Parr again cautioned that it should be added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances.

The participants in the study took a dosage equivalent to the amount of ecdysterone in between 250g and 4kg of spinach a day for the low dose and between 1kg and 16kg of spinach for the high dose, underlining the need to take ecdysterone as a supplement rather than in food form. In pill form, this amounted to between two and eight pills a day, at 100mg of ecdysterone each. 

These are striking results, and in combination with the anecdotal evidence of Soviet and Russian usage, suggest that ecdysterone could have a powerful role to play in reclaiming your masculinity. Ecdysterone supplements are commonly available and are not expensive. 

What’s more, it looks like ecdysterone is more or less perfectly safe to take. Unlike with other anabolic agents, no side effects have been noted, such as liver or kidney toxicity, either in Parr’s studies or in an earlier study. [R]

We have also written a piece on another lesser known testosterone booster that can anecdotally raise libido through the roof. For more information on Bulbine Natalensis, read here.

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