Ants are the strongest creatures pound for pound in the world and are without a doubt one of the hardest working as well.
Chinese medicine, one of the oldest and most successful forms of medicine known, considers the consumption of these hard working creatures to improve the energy and strength of those who consume them.
It is suggested to be an energy tonic and improve overall endurance and strength throughout the body.
What does modern, evidence based medicine have to say about this?
Although it is hard to measure many of the energetic qualities of Chinese medicine, we can measure the cell growth, and other aspects of an organism. Using cell cultures, blood tests, and animal models, we are able to identify markers that suggest the chemicals contained within the black ant has any effects on humans.
Through a variety of lab tests, and clinical trials on this popular Chinese health supplement, researchers have been able to identify several mechanisms at play that back up it's traditional uses.
In summary, black ant delivers the nutrition perfect for improving power and strength to the muscles and joints, and even has compounds that directly stimulate growth.
Lets take a closer look.
In traditional Chinese medicine, black ant is considered a premier Qi tonic, considered by some to be even more powerful than the highly esteemed Ginseng.
It is considered an adaptogen and is in the same class of “superstar” Chinese tonics as Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), cordyceps, reishi (Ganoderma), and schizandra. All of which have a significant amount of scientific data to support their use as adaptogens (which I will no doubt write about in future articles).
Are all black ants the same?
Polyrhachis vicina Is generally the species used. Polyrhachis as a genus contains 697 species. These insects can be found in the high mountains of China, and as far south as Southern Australia.
Polyrhachis is the genus where the majority of study has been done by far, however, some other ants have also been used as food and likely contain very similar compounds.
More research is needed however to determine the different medicinal uses of other ant genus'.
Black ants contain a rich source of nutrients and in fact, contains the HIGHEST amount of Zinc of all known living organisms.
Black ants contain up to 67% protein content, with very low fat (10%). The fat that black and does contain is roughly 68% omega-6.
The high protein content of black ants make them a suitable addition to athletic regimines as a protein source. Ants can be powdered and mixed with other powders or in shakes to deliver a healthy punch of protein as well as electrolytes.
The protein contained within ants is of a very high quality, as the amino acids are in great ratios to what is needed for human beings.
The limiting amino acids (the smallest concentrations) are methionine or cysteine. Therefore by combining foods such as nuts, beans, beef, or eggs will make this protein even more effective for muscle building or athletic applications.
The minerals (electrolytes) contained within are also quite rich, most notably calcium, zinc, magnesium, and chromium. As mentioned earlier, black ants contain the highest known concentration of zinc in the natural world. Zinc is necessary for a huge amount of processes within the body including blood production.
Healthy blood = more oxygen carrying capacity to the muscles = better athletic performance
Ants only contain small amounts of carbohydrates, most of which are in the form of an insoluble fiber called chitin (the exoskeleton). This is a perfect compliment to the high protein as it is well agreed upon that high protein diets do very well with high fiber intake alongside.
Ants for Power
Your muscles need zinc for muscle contraction to occur, and for the cells to divide and grow (resulting in muscle growth). This is how the high levels of zinc contained in black ant contribute to the beneficial effects on power in the human body.
Ecdysterone is an insect hormone contained in high amounts in black ant, and even in some plants.
It is structurally very similar to androgens (male hormones such as testosterone), and many suggest its use as a safer alternative to anabolic steroids.
More study is needed to determine the effectiveness of this compound however and it should be noted that black ant does NOT contain testosterone, no matter how similar ecdysterone may be, it is not going to be as powerful as natural testosterone. The similarities deem a closer examination however and would explain many of black ants effects on muscle growth.
Effects on Sexual Activity
Yes, ants help with power in the bedroom as well. The high nutritional content of zinc is also at least partly responsible here.
Zinc is an essential mineral in a variety of sexual functions from spermatogenesis, to formation of an erection.
In terms of traditional Chinese medicine, black ant also tones the kidneys, which are considered the source of sexual energy.
Effects on the Immune System
We can also relate at least some of the positive effects ants have on the immune system to the zinc content.
Chinese medicine has used ants for this purpose for a long time, and considers it bi-directional. Meaning it has the ability to both improve a poor immune system, and dial back an overproductive one (as in the case of autoimmune disorders), making this an extremely valuable (and safe) tonic for the immune system.
But... "Supplementing Insects is Weird"
Actually its not.
Consuming insects as food or medicine is not a new concept, and likely predates human history. Only in the past few hundred years have western cultures stopped eating insects. Much of the world still consumes them regularily and in some places insects are a delicacy.
In the future it is likely that we will see more insects incorporated into the western diet due to their easy cultivation and potent nutritional profile.
If you are willing to eat the skin of an animal, or roots found growing in the dirt alongside these creepy crawlies, then there is little reason you should avoid eating insects. It has simply become another pointless societal norm to avoid eating insects. This truly makes about as much sense as avoiding corn as a nutritional source because it has a yellow colour and you think yellow is "gross".
Fortunately, however, in modern times we have the ability to extract the desired constituents from these insects in either a liquid extract, or powder form where it can then be encapsulated, added to smoothies, or baked with.
We can now "eat" bugs, without having to actually eat them.
How Can I Take Black Ant?
Taking this “herb” (used in this context to describe a medicinal compound from nature) before a workout, will deliver the best results.
The effects are generally felt quickly, and build over time.
Another great use is as a tonic during times of particular weakness, or for the very old or very young to generate strength, or to increase sexual activity in those with low sex drive.
It is easiest to take this supplement as a liquid tincture or powdered capsule, however it can also be added to smoothies, or used in baking.
In places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, where this supplement is very popular, it is sold in many health clubs as a preworkout elixir. Students in these areas also commonly consume this to prevent burnout from a busy workload, and to improve their concentration.
Follow the dosage on the label when you purchase black ant concentrated extracts. Raw black ant powder can be consumed liberally as a form of nutrition. Consider the fact that it is roughly 67% protein by weight. using this you can work out how much protein you need in your workout regimen.
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- Duan, T., Bi, N., & Huang, M. (1999). The treatment of intrauterine growth retardation with ant polyrhachis vicina roger. Indexed for Medline (Chinese Journal), 34(5), 290-292.
- Food and agriculture organization of the united nations. (2013). Chapter 6: Nutritional Value of Insects for Human Consumption. In Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security. Rome.
- Teeguarden, R. (1998). Radiant health: The ancient wisdom of the Chinese tonic herbs. New York: Warner Books. Pg.210-211
- Shen L, Li D, Feng F, Ren Y. (2006). Nutritional composition of Polyrhachis vicina Roger (Edible Chinese black ant). Journal of Science and Technology. 28. 107-114.