Flat Tires and Testosterone

Tribulus terrestris in flower

Tribulus terrestris in flower

Original Image

There are some truly odd connections in life. One of them involves bicycles and ‘virility’.

For a long time I’d known that those tight spandex pants and ‘warmth’ tended to reduce fertility ( the “boys” need to be cooler than normal body temperature to work right… that’s why they are not ‘inside’ somewhere… anything that “keeps ’em warm” tends to be a contraceptive. Oddly, a tribe in some God Forsaken Place – I think it was back woods Amazon? – had discovered this, so all the guys would sit around the campfire giving the ‘dangley bits’ their own ‘hot tub’ time in cups of hot water. One wonders how they figured out ‘how long and how hot’…)

Then there’s that strange effect discovered in competitive bike riders… You know the ones, a 15 speed bike that has weight measured in ounces and a narrow “seat” that’s more like a fence top edge… Turns out they tend to put too much pressure right on the “plumbing” and tend to lead to nerve damage in the uh, um, just in the parts that, er, well, where you would really rather not have numbness and lack of sensation… So “Mr. Happy” can still get up, but you might not notice… Needless to say, some folks decided that trying to ‘look cool’ with racing seats was not as important to them. (Strange… just after that was ‘in the news’, the mountain biking fad took off with much larger seats…)

But I digress.

This isn’t about those. Those are “old news”. No, this is about something that was completely unexpected to me. Here, for decades, I’d cursed the “Bull Head Sticker” as I’d collect dozens of them in tires and feet. Sometimes resulting in the need to toss out the entire tire as not all the sticker ends could be found and removed. Once, at about 11 years old, my trusty old Schwinn 3 Speed (cost $56.50 and I washed dishes to pay for 1/2 of it. At 25 cents / hour in the family restaurant. Times were different then.) Well, that bike had collected a slow leak somewhere. After a few patches, it likely had a hidden sticker end that had punctured the tube and I needed to buy a tube and tire. But I didn’t have the money right then and resented it anyway.

Being a bit creative, and knowing about viscosity, I pondered: Could I fill the tire with something more viscous that would not leak out as fast? So I ended up running the hose over the hand pump while holding the bike up while running the pump while… An 11 year old can get creative with using legs, feet, arms, hands, knees… In the end, I slowly managed to pump my front tire full of water. There was an air bubble in the very top of the tire, but by the next day it leaked out and I ‘topped up’ with water. For the next couple of months, I road around on a tire full of water.

It worked FINE. A bit slower to get up to speed, but then you could coast a long ways ;-) It was also rather “stiff” in the turns. I got good at horsing it through the turns, but “fast changes” took more active engagement. OTOH, you could ride ‘hands free’ straight down the road with ease.

So I tell that story to let you know that when it comes to “Bullhead Stickers” and me; “we’ve met”. I’d always just thought of them as that crappy foreign weed that kills bike tires, fills shoe soles with stickers (that eventually work through thin rubber, hopefully about the time the shoes are wearing out). Were it in my power, I’d have made them extinct.

Little did I know.

While looking up some other, completely unrelated thing, about some plant or other, I ended up discovering that the plant has another reputed use.


Tribulus terrestris is a flowering plant in the family Zygophyllaceae, native to warm temperate and tropical regions of the Old World in southern Europe, southern Asia, throughout Africa, and Australia. It can thrive even in desert climates and poor soil. Like many weedy species, this plant has many common names, including bindii, bullhead, burra gokharu, caltrop, cat’s head, devil’s eyelashes, devil’s thorn, devil’s weed, goathead, puncturevine, and tackweed.

We always called it “bullhead stickers” or “puncturevine” (for obvious reasons).

Puncturevine Bullhead Stickers

Puncturevine Bullhead Stickers

Original Image

Dietary supplement

Some body builders use T. terrestris as post cycle therapy or “PCT”. After they have completed an anabolic-steroid cycle, they use it under the assumption that it will restore the body’s natural testosterone levels.

The extract is claimed to increase the body’s natural testosterone levels
and thereby improve male sexual performance and help build muscle. Its purported muscle-building potential was popularized by American IFBB bodybuilding champion Jeffrey Petermann in the early 1970s. However, T. terrestris has failed to increase testosterone levels in controlled studies. It has also failed to demonstrate strength-enhancing properties – a finding indicating that the anabolic steroid effects of Tribulus terrestris may be untrue. Some users report an upset stomach, which can usually be counteracted by taking it with food.

So it may, or may not, have some kind of anabolic steroid effect. Who knew? (Or perhaps no one knows, as the controlled study said it failed).

Then again, it seems to do something for other animals, so maybe it’s a dose related thing…

Research in animals

T. terrestris has been shown to enhance sexual behavior in an animal model. It appears to do so by stimulating androgen receptors in the brain.T.
terrestris is now being promoted as a booster for the purpose of increasing sex drive. Its use for this purpose originated from a Bulgarian study conducted in the 1970s, which found effects on free testosterone and luteinizing hormone in men belonging to infertile couples. A research review conducted in 2000 stated that the lack of data outside of this study prevents generalizing to healthy individuals

Animal studies in rats, rabbits and primates have demonstrated that administration of Tribulus terrestris extract can produce statistically significant increases in levels of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone, and produces effects suggestive of aphrodisiac activity.
On the other hand, one recent study found that T. terrestris caused no increase in testosterone or LH in young men, and another found that a commercial supplement containing androstenedione and herbal extracts, including T. terrestris, was no more effective at raising testosterone levels than androstenedione alone.

The active chemical in T. terrestris is likely to be protodioscin (PTN). In a study with mice, T. terrestris was shown to enhance mounting activity and erection better than testosterone cypionate; however, testosterone cypionate is a synthetic ester of testosterone engineered for its longer activity, rather than an immediate effect. Testosterone cypionate has a half-life of 8 days and is administered every 2–4 weeks in humans for testosterone replacement. The proerectile aphrodisiac properties were concluded to likely be due to the release of nitric oxide from the nerve endings innervating the corpus cavernosum penis. Also, T. terrestris was shown to have strong inhibitory activity on COX-2.

For some odd reason I have this urge to get the bike out of the garage and ride around until I get a flat tire…

There’s got to be a better way to find the stuff, but bike tires seem to find it in under an hour, if past experience is any guide.

Just make sure you pick all the ‘bullheads’ out before putting any in your salad.

Post Text Digression

Some topics just seem to make frequent clusters. For no particular reason some times. Some times it’s a given person, some ‘star’ who is constantly connected to “violent events” or “green things” or just “screw ups”. Some times it’s a given chemical that keeps showing up near disease stories (even if not clearly connected).

So here we have a really odd case. Why in the world would bicycles so consistently have connections with virility, sterility, sexual dysfunction and now a connection to more function. (We won’t even mention Victorians and ‘women on bicycles’…)

I have no idea why. Yet there it is. Some cosmic connection causing these two subjects to circle about the same domain.

Unless it is just a statistical artifact.

One other odd connection of the Bullhead Sticker was a mention of use in a weapon. One of those “hyper testosterone driven war” things.

It has been reported that the seeds or nutlets have been used in homicidal weapons smeared with the juice of Acokanthera venenata in southern Africa

One can only speculate about “how”. Glued to a club? Stuck in a door mat for a midnight “knock and run”? The possibilities are large. And what is that other plant?


Acokanthera oppositifolia (syn. Toxicophlaea thunbergii Harv.) is a shrub used as the source of an arrow poison and to coat caltrops made from the sharp fruits of the puncture vine (Tribulus terrestris). All three plants of the genus Acokanthera contain toxic cardiac glycosides strong enough to cause death. This plant and other species of the genus are found in South Africa and Abyssinia.

Acokanthera schimperi is employed for the same purpose.

Abyssinia? They couldn’t just say “Ethiopia”? But at least we find out ‘how’. “Caltrops”. Or giant stickers on the ground… Guess it pays to wear thick boots in Africa.

So how good is this poison?


Acokanthera is a genus of flowering plants in the family Apocynaceae. It comprises 5 species and is generally restricted to Africa, although Acokanthera schimperi also occurs in Yemen. Its sap contains the deadly cardiotoxic glycoside ouabain. The sap is among the most commonly used in arrow poisons, including those used for poaching elephant.

Well, at least we know why nobody bothers with “Gun Control” in Africa. Dip a bullhead sticker in juice of shrub and get a sling shot… Or just use a blow-dart. If it will down an elephant with an arrow, it’s pretty strong stuff.

I think I feel an exploration of “arrow poisons” coming on. There’s likely some that grow here in the Americas too.

Right after I get back from my bike ride…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Human Interest, Plants - Seeds - Gardening, Science Bits and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Flat Tires and Testosterone

  1. GregO says:


    I remember them too. Back in So Cal as a kid I just hated them – giving me flats and sticking in my bare feet; ouch!

    We have them here in Arizona as well and maybe don’t notice them as much as just about everything out here has thorns. Nevertheless, I weed them off my property religiously.

    I read about bushmen of Southern Africa taking down game with tiny little poison arrows; their bows and arrows were just tiny little things like little toys – but utterly deadly.

    Here’s a section of a book on poison arrows – interesting:


  2. John F. Hultquist says:

    The opening photo with the pretty yellow flower was a heart stopper.
    I know the plant as “Goathead” and apparently brought home a few on a car tire a number of years ago. It is one of those things that grows with a power function. Luckily it is short rooted and easily killed. Unhelpful is how quickly is sets seeds and only a portion of those seem to sprout in a given year. Thus, once there are enough to notice where a patch exists, you are way late and have to maintain the hunt over several years.

  3. sabretoothed says:

    I’ve seen it before in health food stores, thing is does it work? I think for Testosterone, the most important thing is sleeping… http://www.usn.co.za/product/hardcore/testosterone-boosters/testo-tribulus-40.html

  4. Eric Fithian says:

    That eeevil plant, with its eeevil seeds are why my Slipstream recumbent bicycle started from Day One (11 years ago) with No-Mor-Flat “tubes” (giant O-rings) in the tires. I like my transportation to be *reliable* !
    The plant seems to require a rather arid environment to flourish; if we have a wetter-than-normal year, the patch up the street will be full of common weeds and the thorn plants will be crowded back.
    Also, I never had any problem whatsoever during an extended outing in New Jersey in 1998. I had the impression that it didn’t exist there– though I admit I never looked….
    So I should be plotting to gather the stuff, use a cotton gin to remove those damn seeds, and flog the dried remnants to the Gullible?? Sounds like a nice Plan to generate more sub-rosa, unTaxed loot…!

  5. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M. Just surprising!, is it there any issue in the universe you do not have knowledge about it or that you may not allow yourself to touch, as for not offending current accepted paradigms?

  6. philjourdan says:

    Ok, so Bullheads we have to keep. But really, has ANYONE found ANY good for mosquitoes yet?

  7. j ferguson says:

    Hi E.M.

    I never thought of putting water in bicycle tires. I’m not surprised by the effect, the thing must have been a bear to ride.

  8. Jason Calley says:

    @ philjordan “But really, has ANYONE found ANY good for mosquitoes yet?”

    Certainly. The US government has commissioned a series of nature videos of the mosquito; they illustrate life cycle and feeding habits. The videos are currently being used as training films for the IRS.

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    I remember my first introduction to puncture vine. I was near 7 years old and my parents took us to the lake for a Saturday picnic. As my mother was preparing the lunch I made a dead run for the beach and water. Just as I reached the beach I painfully realized those small plants, that I had darted into the middle of, were full of stickers. The only way out was a 20 foot walk back out, Ouch! Good thing I was a little skinny kid that went barefoot all the time. Still, it took a while to remove all the darn things from the bottom of my feet. :-( Now days I extract and burn any plants that I discover! pg

  10. philjourdan says:

    @Jason – Uncle! Ok, even Vampires need a role model. LOL

  11. Petrossa says:

    I want a gatling gun stationed at each pedestrian crossing that mows down each cyclist doing 50 mph with brakes designed for 10 mph. I want a drone that follows gangs of cyclebandits and blow them of the road where they cycle uphill 3 a breast on a winding mountain road.
    I want a law against spandex being worn in public and loud ‘racy’ tshirts, i want all roads to be paved with puncture vine. I want cycles to be taxed so high that only rich old farts can afford them. I want that cycles come with electronically regulated speedlimiters.

    Oh, did i mention? I don’t like cyclists. :-)

  12. Verity Jones says:

    Lovely post. I really didn’t know where you were going with that and, darn it, I had to Google ‘bullhead stickers’ until I scrolled down.

  13. adolfogiurfa says:

    I know what you are seeking for through these posts!: “Know thyself”, Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν

  14. John Robertson says:

    I much prefer the concept of recumbent bicycles, but all I own is a 18 speed I picked out of trash, only ride it twice a year but the seat is a work of evil.
    Why your post brought up Queen, “Bicycle races for Fat bottomed Girls”, I have no idea but for sure the best bicycles are those without the castration bar.Mens bicycles? What were they thinking?

  15. Sera says:

    I’ve got a Fisher HK II and use these strips to prevent punctures and snake bites- have not had a problem in 14 years.


    The strips I used were actually MUCH cheaper, but could not find them on the web. Think I bought them at Wally World, or somewhere. You could probably make them yourself using something from the garage.

  16. Sera says:

    @ Petrossa:

    I don’t mind the spandex or ‘colors’, I don’t wear them myself, but I draw the line with black socks.

  17. j.arimathea says:

    Pretty obvious, but how much water do you need to poach an elephant in, and how much salt?

  18. Chuckles says:

    Like Verity, I also had to do a search for ‘bullhead stickers’, only to discover that they were my old ‘friends’, that in my miss-spent youth were called ‘devil thorns’, and I can certainly confirm the square law attraction for any form of pneumatic tyre. Very nasty.

    On the ‘water in tyres’ idea, a friend used years ago to dine out on a story about his time as a teenager working for a lower tier motor racing team out in the lesser and far flung colonies.
    There were a couple of motor racing classes for tyro and aspiring racers, known as ‘Formula Ford’, ‘Formula Vee’ and similar. These were open wheel single-seater racers (like Indy), with strict specs for a single engine and narrow chassis specs, both for safety and to give close racing.

    His team principal was a grizzled old veteran, who was approached by one of the brash youngsters who wanted to know how to jump the learning curve and prepare his car to give himself an ‘edge’ against the competition.
    Said veteran huddled down and got suitably conspiratorial, and whispered,’Water in the tyres, it gives you the speed edge down the main straight…’
    Our young Einstein duly applied this vital knowledge, and poste haste trundled out onto the track, all four tyres suitably topped up with H2O, and accelerated off down the pit straight.
    All went well until he came to the sharp right-hander at the end of the straight, at which point he learnt much about inertia, momentum, and gyroscopic effect, as he headed dead straight into the gravel traps and barrier.

  19. jim2 says:

    EM – Use a paint roller on a long pole. If there are any stickers of any kind, they will stick to it.

  20. DocMartyn says:

    People get all shirty about the side effects caused by drugs sold by ‘big pharma’ that have undergone years of testing, yet are quite happy to ingest unbeknown amounts of a cocktail of untested compounds because its ‘natural’.
    Foxglove and Psilocybin are natural, as are Atropa belladonna and Conium maculatum.

  21. E.M.Smith says:


    Yeah, I’ve noticed that… I like to remind folks that Hemlock and Queen Ann’s Lace are “natural” too… Which is why I generally only will try eating some plant after a lot of research… I like that there were lab tests done with animals and humans… Generally like to see long term feeding studies too.

  22. punmaster says:

    I want a law against spandex being worn in public and loud ‘racy’ tshirts, i want all roads to be paved with puncture vine.
    Even on the reasonably athletic women? Men, yes, but give us a break.
    On the subject of spandex, I wrote a song with this verse :
    There’s a treadmill in our place
    She says I need the exercise
    There are mirrors in here, too
    Has she seen her butt and thighs?
    Now the walking isn’t bad
    But I cannot even glance
    When she gets on that machine
    In those yellow spandex pants
    Should any of you like to hear the whole thing

    As for the stickers, they are everywhere in the South. Downright unpleasant when you don’t wear shoes.

    Old age and treachery always beats youth and enthusiasm.

    [Reply: You had too much “stuff” after the basic link. Chose “share” under the video and copy that only. You had:
    “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp4M0lmiwkY&list=UUkAXPmi_cddhwH-_S3nOKaw&index=8” and need to just leave out the “&list=UUkAXPmi_cddhwH-_S3nOKaw&index=8” parts. -E.M.Smith]

  23. Petrossa says:

    Chuckled dutifully :-) For some strange reason females don’t cycle over here. At least not that i noticed, it’s hard to see at that speed when you try not to get killed by a gang of them on a pedestrian Xing. My wife and i came to an agreement, we both make our own meals. I couldn’t eat what she does and live. ;)

  24. Zeke says:

    Which one of us hasn’t tried some herbal secret for enhancement or augmentation at at least once in life? (:

    DocMartyn says:
    6 March 2013 at 11:20 pm “People get all shirty about the side effects caused by drugs sold by ‘big pharma’ that have undergone years of testing, yet are quite happy to ingest unbeknown amounts of a cocktail of untested compounds because its ‘natural’.”

    The ultra eco-puritans won’t let the non-organic tomato pass their lips, for that is a great sin. In fact, I knew one person who would not even use a plastic shower curtain. But they forget their health and eco-ethics when it comes to any and all mind altering substances. And these are harmful to brain development and function. The male brain is not fully developed until the age of 24, and so the most vulnerable to brain damage are also the most likely to use the recreational drugs. Schools even mandate their use in order to control students. Wherever one may stand on these issues, I do appreciate the inconsistency in the thinking.

  25. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Punmaster; Thanks for the smile 8-) reminds me of Homer & Jethro songs of mirth and disappointment. pg

  26. adolfogiurfa says:

    @Zeke:brain damage?…..That´s caused by “thinking”!

  27. DocMartyn says:

    Zeke, I can beat that. If I have a specialty it is in the study of oxidative/nitrosative stress. So I made some catalytic antioxidant, superoxide dismutase/catalase mimitics that were non-toxic.
    I passed them out to friends and collaborators and we had all sorts of fun. My friend in Cambridge mound that these ROS scavengers slowed down the rate of microglia growth, the brains macrophages. After a bit of effort we found that hydrogen peroxide was a mitogen, a growth stimulant, of one of the brains immune cell types.
    Which means if we cut down on the amount of peroxide in the brain we cut down the amount of microglia and open ourselves up to a build-up of crud and bacteria infections………………
    Never saw that coming.
    That’s biology, you never know how interconnected things are, it does make sense on closer investigation.

  28. punmaster says:

    @ E.M.
    Thanks for fixing that.
    For those you who got a smile out of that, thank you.

  29. Zeke says:

    Not bad, DocMartyn. (:

    It reminded me of a little history I found on the subject. The first scientist/inventor to recognize the importance of the cerebral cortex (as opposed to the “white matter” where the glia are) in cognition was Emanuel Swedenborg in the 1700’s. He also postulated the existence of neurons, brain frequencies (which he called “tremulations”), the location of higher thinking capacities and planning in the frontal lobes, and he defined, correctly, the very different abilities of the right and left hemispheres.
    I also have found interesting comments he made about the cerebellum which agree with current research.

    But in general, brain scientists emphasize chemicals way too much.

  30. Zeke says:

    @Adolfo, fun remark (: But it contains a lot of truth in it.

    There are a lot of thinking processes that are carried out simultaneously in the brain, and in other parts of the body (not all neuroscientists study the brain). The trouble comes when one part of the brain, the left/syllogistic/verbal powers, attempts to tyrannize and exclude all of the other thinking centers…And as the person who introduced me to Gurdjieff, you know that some of the most useful centers are practically unknown to us.

  31. Jason Calley says:

    For some really interesting articles concerning research into brain functions and holographic (“distributed” models) theories of memory, see the “Shufflebrain” page at Indiana University: http://www.iub.edu/~pietsch/home.html

  32. DocMartyn says:

    Jason, in truth we have no idea how the damn things work. Lets start with simple stuff, how do we explain the result of diethlyether/anesthetic, LSD, cannabis, alcohol, fever and fatigue?

    Can’t can you. I had a friend who designed and developed anesthetics. The fantastic thing was was about half the anesthetics they designed based on rule of thumb models worked! The other half didn’t.
    Drove him and others nuts.
    We do not know how general anesthetics work. We have guesses, we have plausible explanations for different effect, but they are all post-hoc plausible explanations.
    We cannot synthesize a compound, test it in isolation on different systems, then state ‘Here is how it will work’.
    So until we can explain how, say halothane causes unconsciousness, amnesia, analgesia, loss of sensory processing and depression of spinal motor reflexes i am going to steer clear of explanations of how we think.

  33. Zeke says:

    The most basic question about the human brain revolves around the possibility that neurotransmitters are frequency-specific. Of the 15 neurotransmitters any given neuron may use in firing the synapse, which one is selected and why?

  34. E.M.Smith says:


    Good question. No answer…


    I thought we knew, in a gross way, how anesthesia worked. (Sci. Am. article about 1987?) That it dissolved into the cell membrane changing the thickness. That’s why any fat soluble gas tends to cause anesthesia (though all the subtle variations in kind, degree, which brain centers, etc. are opaque at best). Then gasses that make the cell membrane thinner are anti-anesthetics. So nitrogen becomes an anesthetic at 200 feet of diving, and we switch to helium, but at some depth, we had to add some nitrogen back as the ‘anti’ effect was over stimulating…

    As per all the other bits: Yeah, show me how any of it really works… it’s a lot of speculation in many cases.

  35. DocMartyn says:

    Sorry Chief, that was the way people thought they worked, but that wasn’t true. Too many anomalies in the whole field.

  36. E.M.Smith says:


    Well. Turn my back for a measly 30 years and folks find new things. What’s the world coming to!

  37. Zeke says:

    I would pay good money for a brain science book that says what Doc is saying. (;

  38. Jason Calley says:

    @ DocMartyn What we know about the brain is MUCH, MUCH less than what we don’t know. More importantly, what we know about consciousness is almost zero. Imagine Mug and Wug, two cavemen maybe 100,000 years ago. They have noticed that the Sun rises at a different point on the horizon during that part of the year when it is coldest. Now imagine Newton explaining celestial mechanics. When we consider the state of our understanding of what self-awareness is, we are much closer to Mug and Wug than we are to Newton. Most scientists (97%! (just joking!)) believe that mind is a creation of brain, an “emergent phenomenon of a complex system.” Maybe. Maybe not. I suspect that their certainty is based more on a desire to repudiate the “ghost in the machine” than it is based on the evidence.

    As Doctor Pietsch, author of Shufflebrain, says in the first paragraph of his book, “I am an anatomist. I say that with pride and satisfaction, even now. And during much of my career, I was certain beyond a conscious doubt that the truth about life would reduce directly and explicitly to the architecture of the things that do the living. I had complete faith, too, that my science would one day write the most important scientific story of all: How a brain gives existence to a mind. But I was wrong. And my very own research, which I call shufflebrain, forced me to junk the axioms of my youth and begin my intellectual life all over again.”

    Seriously, I recommend his book (it is free online http://www.iub.edu/~pietsch/shufflebrain-book00.html ).

  39. DocMartyn says:

    Just what the world needs, another UNTESTABLE theory of the mind.

    Get back to me when he comes up with a model that has testable predictions.

  40. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jason & DocMartyn:

    Do remember that the best physics to date postulates several dimensions of existence that are not perceptible to us. This has two very important essential conclusions:

    1) Limiting our understanding to what can be perceived is highly likely to miss a great deal of truth.

    2) “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    “Do not too early slam shut the door of insight in the name of reason. -E.M.Smith”

    But do challenge insight with reason; often and with vigor…

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