Arthropods such as spiders, insects, and shellfish produce hormones called ecdysteroids designed to help them in the process of molting, or shedding of their exoskeleton. One of the most common of these hormones is ecdysterone. It is also produced by certain plants as a phytoecdysteroid, which helps them defend themselves from insects that may attack. Also known as 20-hydroxyecdysone and 20-beta-hydroxyecdysterone, it can be isolated relatively easily from plants, particularly the Cyanotis vaga. The extract is used to produce a supplement known for its potential to build muscle and reduce fat.
Ecdysterone is popular among some bodybuilders due to its potential positive effects on the human physique. It is sometimes promoted as having the potential of giving people some of the same proportional strength that insects have. The supplement is used to help increase lean muscle mass, particularly when combined with a high protein diet, as it is thought to improve synthesis of protein. Body fat is also known to decrease with use of the extract, thought to be due to its effect on the metabolism. The supplements may be used as an alternative to anabolic steroids and are thought to be as or more effective in helping to create a more muscular, chiseled body.
One of the reasons ecdysterone is popular for bodybuilding is its reputation for causing fewer side effects than traditional steroids. Promoters of its use typically consider it much safer and less likely to have negative effects on the body. It does increase testosterone production in the body, however, and therefore may still lead to masculinizing effects in women such as facial hair and a deepened voice. It is also hard on the digestive system, often leading to issues such as nausea, gas, and diarrhea.
Some research has indicated that ecdysterone may have other positive effects which could make it a potential treatment for certain issues. It has been shown to decrease blood sugar levels and help keep them balanced, which could make it useful for treatment of diabetes. The increase in testosterone caused by its use may be helpful for improving male sexual function. Certain studies indicate it may have a positive effect on the immune system, and may help boost it for those with reduced immune function. Those suffering from muscle wasting, or catabolism, as well as overall feelings of fatigue and weakness may benefit from taking an ecdysterone supplement.