Testosterone-boosting supplements have been in the crosshairs over on the Military Health System's blog, with two posts in the past month warning about the dangers of steroid use and encouraging "natural methods" for bolstering T-levels.

The hormone is vital for maintaining bone density, muscle strength and mass -- not to mention its most important role: regulating sex drive. Given its reputation as a proverbial Fountain of Youth with promises of lean bodies, ripped muscles and endurance in the bedroom, it's no surprise troops of all ages are drawn to products such as Man Primal Male, John Scott's Nitro: Test 2 and All American EFX Test Charge.

But there's a down side of testosterone-boosting supplements, according to Dr. Patricia Deuster, a supplements expert with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Dietary supplements are not regulated not tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and as many as half of those on the market may actually contain steroids, which are illegal, Deuster said.

"That's a huge concern of ours. The FDA goes after the folks but there are so many of them, it's hard for the FDA to keep up," she said.

The military doesn't routinely test for steroids but commanders can order a screening if they suspect steroid use.

Long-term steroid use can wreak havoc on health; side effects can range from irritability  to liver damage and heart problems. And most troops are of an age – 18 to 39 – where their hormone levels tend to be just fine, according to physicians and fitness experts.

Most athletes and troops actually already are engaging in healthy habits that naturally boost testosterone, such strength training, eating proteins and good fats (found in olive oil, nuts and fatty fish), reducing body fat and getting enough sleep.

But if you try these natural methods and still suspect you have low testosterone, there are solutions. Your doctor can run a blood test and prescribe a topical gel -- not a dietary supplement -- to bolster hormone levels.

"I would very much discourage the use of any of [testosterone-boosting] supplements unless they know they've been tested and are free of illegal ingredients," Deuster said. "It's just not worth it and they're usually very expensive."

Patricia Kime is the health reporter for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@militarytimes.com.

Update: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

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