Where it comes from: "Beta-ecdysterone, also called ecdysterone or 20-hydroxyecdysone, is a naturally occurring steroid found in plants and insects," explains Barbie Broschart, RD and a nutritional counselor. "It's used widely by body builders with hopes to build muscle or lean body tissue." It's also often marketed as a natural alternative to steroids with claims that it's a powerful growth promoter with no negative hormonal consequences.
What it'll do for you: Beta-ecdysterone has almost as many fans as it does skeptics. Many boast that the compound will increase lean muscle mass in a matter of days (learn how it supposedly works below) but others say the doses included in supplements are too small to actually be effective. Regardless, here's a look at the claims:
- Can build lean body mass
"The thought is that beta-ecdysterone promotes protein synthesis, which enhances lean body mass when accompanied by resistance training, but the evidence is lacking and inconsistent," says Broschart. Its purpose is to stimulate cellular and muscle recovery so if this actually is true, combining this supplement with high biological value proteins, like animal protein—milk, chicken, eggs, fish—will improve results. With that in mind, a group of Russian researchers looked at athletes who were put on beta-ecdysterone and a high protein diet and found that lean muscle mass increased by six to seven percent and body-fat decreased by 10 percent. However: "A study from the International Society of Sport Medicine found that ecdysterone supplementation did not affect body composition or training adaptations, nor did it influence the hormone status or general markers of catabolism in resistance-trained males," Broschart points out.
- May help treat osteoporosis
In a 2008 study, Chinese researchers found that beta-ecdysterone treatment alleviated osteoporosis symptoms in mice without any obvious side effects. This April, German researchers published a paper agreeing with the Chinese findings. The German study observed rats fed beta-ecdysterone for one month and measured the thickness of joint cartilage and the thickness of growth plates. The experts concluded that beta-ecdysterone may be a promising candidate drug for the treatment of osteoporosis but more testing is necessary before it can be approved for human treatment.
- Can help lower blood glucose levels
In a recent study beta-ecdysterone was found to help lower blood glucose levels—in patients in the normal to moderate blood glucose range—without altering insulin levels. Therefore, it could be of benefit in the treatment of type-II diabetes, and may aid weight loss.
Suggested intake: Although it is found naturally in more than 150 plants (such as Brazilian ginseng and suma roots), the most common form of ingestible beta-ecdysterone is by supplementation in capsule form.
Studies have shown that supplementation with beta-ecdysterone is safe at dosages of 5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. However, most nutritional companies use significantly lower dosages—about 50-90 mg total. And so many say that athletes would need a much larger dosage than what's included in most nutritional formulas in order to see and muscle growth-related benefits.
Associated risks/scrutiny: There has been no published research in the U.S. about the effects of beta-ecdysterone on human performance. There appears to be no negative side effects, no hormonal interactions and a very low toxicity level. There is not enough research to determine for sure if it's an effective anabolic agent in humans.
The biggest skeptics are in response to claims on supplement jars that the beta-ecdysterone can increase an unrealistic amount of muscle mass in an unrealistic amount of time.