Under-the-Radar Botanicals to Watch in 2018

Nov 17, 2017
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    With “natural” an industry imperative and “plant-based” consumers’ new rallying cry, you’d be hard-pressed to find a category more perfectly poised for growth than herbal and botanical dietary supplements. This nature-made category practically epitomizes what consumers imagine when their thoughts turn to alternative health-and-wellness paths—paths well worn by millennia-old healing traditions stretching from the Amazon to Asia.

    And it’s true that herbal and botanical ingredients are the historical roots—literally and figuratively—from which today’s supplement industry springs. But what makes this an especially exciting time for the sector is the extent to which contemporary science now corroborates what traditional practitioners held to be true—and the extent to which contemporary culture seems open to exploring what the category has to offer.

    Notes Shaheen Majeed, president of Sabinsa, worldwide (East Windsor, NJ), “Botanicals have a long and rich history improving human health, and consumers are aware of that. Building on that history—and reinforcing it with modern research—clearly works.”

    Growth Spurt
    It works, in fact, to the tune of $7.452 billion. That’s the dollar amount that US consumers spent on herbal supplements in 2016, pushing retail sales over $7 billion for the first time—7.7 percent above what they’d been the previous year, per the American Botanical Council's (ABC; Austin, TX) 2016 HerbalGram Herb Market Report.

    “The botanical and herbal market continues to grow and is now stronger than ever,” declares Ramon Luna, marketing coordinator, Ecuadorian Rainforest (Belleville, NJ). MarketsandMarkets estimates demand for botanical extracts alone at nearly $4 billion in 2017, he notes, with projections for it to reach just over $6 billion by 2022. “That’s a promising outlook for botanicals and herbs in general and shows that consumers are aware of the potential of natural ingredients and may even prefer them over artificial products.”

    Back to Basics
    “May” is an understatement. “Many more people are going a more natural, more holistic route away from the chemical, synthetic drug therapies of the past,” says Brien Quirk, director of R&D, Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA). That, in turn, is piquing interest in herbal and botanical remedies.

    So, too, are the rising costs of staying well. As Majeed says, “Conventional healthcare is so expensive that people are looking for ways to stay healthier.” Botanicals’ perceived simplicity offers an attractive option. “Consumers are looking for natural alternatives to Western medicine, and they’re going ‘back to basics’ when it comes to health and wellness.”


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  • Knowledge is Power
    Ironically, consumers' chief aid in returning to those basics is the anything-but-basic web of resources on the Internet—which, says Quirk, “has given consumers a huge database of information about the natural healing that can come through herbs and other supplements.”

    Majeed agrees, adding that consumers today “have access to so much more information” and can educate themselves about herbal and botanical benefits “far beyond the information legally allowed on labels and in marketing materials.”

    Such open access to knowledge has also brought consumers closer to the real, live science substantiating herbals’ and botanicals’ effectiveness. As suppliers invest in research and distribute their findings through new media, “consumers become more informed about the ingredients in products,” Luna says. The more substantiated claims that manufacturers make, the more consumers “feel comfortable toward natural products when they have vital information on how the botanicals work, and what to expect.”

    Healthy future
    So, what can we expect in the future for these extracts from the past? “The industry is witnessing an influx of lesser-known ingredients” that remain in “relative obscurity in the West,” Majeed says. “However, we expect that these are ‘ready-to-trend’ in the coming year and will catch the attention of formulators and consumers alike.”

    Their ascendance is by no means a done deal, as scandals in the herbal and botanical industry— “generally in the form of a badly designed clinical study widely reported, or inappropriate testing methods failing samples,” Majeed says—could still scuttle consumer confidence.

    Yet such scandals don’t always precipitate a drop in sales. Why? “Consumers are usually getting the results they expect,” Majeed states. “The best way to gain the repeat customers and the resulting word of mouth that grows sales is by assuring that consumers get quality products in the amounts that research indicates will provide the benefits they’re expecting.”

    So, with copalchi and curcumin already household names, we asked the botanical category’s boosters which under-the-radar ingredients they have their eyes on, and why.


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  • Nothing to Be Bitter About
    Practitioners of Ayurveda, India’s traditional medicine, built an impressive library of botanical ingredients over millennia. Only now are many popping up on Western radars. Take Andrographis paniculata—“one of the most extensively used plants in traditional systems of medicine like Ayurveda and Unani,” says Majeed. English speakers, if they know of it at all, might know it as creat or “the king of bitters,” and its traditional effects run from anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective to diuretic and carminative, Majeed says. “According to India Herbal Pharmacopoeia (1) and World Health Organization monographs (2),” he adds, “this plant is effective in bacterial dysentery, carbuncles, colitis, tuberculosis, malaria, herpes, ulcer and venomous snake bites.” More recent studies suggest utility in managing upper respiratory tract infections (3–4), maintaining healthy blood glucose levels (5), liver health (6), and joint health (7).

    References:
    1. Handa SS, Indian Herbal Pharmacopoeia, Volume 1 (Mumbai: 1998).
    2. “WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants, Volume 2,” World Health Organization, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/42052/2/9241545372.pdf. Accessed September 15, 2017.
    3. Lim JC et al., “Andrographolide and its analogues: versatile bioactive molecules for combating inflammation and cancer,” Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology Physiology, vol. 39, no. 2 (2012): 300–310
    4. Gabrielian ES et al., “A double blind, placebo-controlled study of Andrographis paniculata fixed combination Kan Jang in the treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infections including sinusitis,” Phytomedicine, vol. 9, no. 7 (2002): 589–597
    5. Agarwal R et al., “Open label clinical trial to study adverse effects and tolerance to dry powder of the aerial part of Andrographis paniculata in patients type 2 with diabetes mellitus,” Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 12, no. 1 (2005): 13–19
    6. Chaturvedi GN et al., “Clinical Studies on Kalmegh (Andrographic paniculata Nees) in infective hepatitis,” Ancient Science of Life, vol. 2, no. 4 (1983): 208–215
    7. Burgos RA et al., “Efficacy of an Andrographis paniculata composition for the relief of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms: a prospective randomized placebo-controlled trial.” Clinical Rheumatology, vol. 28, no. 8 (2009): 931–946

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  • Marrying Up
    Any herb with a name that, roughly translated, means “a woman possessing a hundred husbands” deserves attention. And that’s just what shatavari, or Asparagus racemosus, is getting. Like a hundred husbands diving into the next chore on their weekend to-do lists, shatavari’s purported benefits are myriad. Ayurvedic practitioners use it “to help balance the female hormonal system,” Majeed says, and it’s also believed to promote positive emotions while calming “fiery” ones. It qualifies as a “rasayana herb” in Ayurveda and has found extensive use as an adaptogen against what Majeed calls “a variety of stresses.” With contemporary studies “throwing some light on its medicinal properties,” he adds, its actions on everything from milk production in lactating mothers (8) to ulcers (9), immune (10), and gastric health (11) are being discovered anew.

    References:
    8. Gupta M et al., “A double-blind randomized clinical trial for evaluation of galactogogue activity of Asparagus racemosus Willd,” Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, vol. 10, no. 1 (2011): 167–172
    9. Bharti et al., “A clinical study of parinamasula and its treatment with satavari (Asparagus racemosus Willd,” Ancient Science of Life, vol. 15, no. 3 (1996): 162-165
    10. Goyal RK et al., “Asparagus racemosus—an update,” Indian Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 57, no. 9 (2003) 408–414
    11. Dalvi SS et al., Effect of Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari) on gastric emptying time in normal healthy volunteers,” Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, vol. 36, no. 2 (1990): 91–94

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  • Stone Cold
    Researchers have only recently learned what inhabitants of the Amazon Basin have known all along: It’s a veritable goldmine of wellness-giving plants. One that Ramon Luna, marketing coordinator, Ecuadorian Rainforest (Belleville, NJ), is watching is chanca piedra (Phyllanthus niruri). The whole plant can serve as a source of medicinal compounds, and WebMD states that its mode of action may be through “chemicals that might relieve spasms and fever, increase urine and have activity against bacteria and viruses. It might also lower blood sugar" (12). Luna notes that some studies (13) have “eyed it as a natural way of dealing with kidney stones.” But don’t drop your Rx just yet: “Although some studies do look promising,” he says, “there still needs to be more testing on the ingredient.” Nevertheless, chanca piedra still contains a heap of antioxidants, “making it an overall excellent choice for nutrition.”

    References:
    12. “Chanca Piedra,” WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-441-CHANCA%20PIEDRA.aspx?activeIngredientId=441&activeIngredientName=CHANCA%20PIEDRA. Accessed September 15, 2017.
    13. Manjrekar AP et al., “Effect of Phyllanthus niruri Linn. treatment on liver, kidney and testes in CCl4 induced hepatotoxic rats,” Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 46, no. 7 (2008): 514-520

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  • The New Kale
    Tiring of spinach and kale? Looking for a hot new green that not only packs impressive nutritionals but has an alluring history dating back to the age of the ancient Mayans? Luna suggests you give chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) a try. The leaves of this plant common to Mexican are as culinarily intriguing (despite having stinging hairs that you need to cook to de-sting) as they are medicinally so, and Luna adds that high levels of antioxidants, calcium and iron “make chaya a novel ingredient” for the next generation of greens-based superfoods. As for its wellness benefits, a recent in vivo study (14) on diabetic rats found that four weeks of treatment with a chaya extract yielded a hypoglycemic response related to decreases in glucose absorption rather than to insulin secretion or starch-digesting enzymes. The researchers also note that the plant appears to reduce hyperlipidemia, and they suggest functional beverages as an applicable use.

    References:
    14. Ramos-Gomez M et al., “Phytochemical profile, antioxidant properties and hypoglycemic effect of chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) in STZ-induced diabetic rats,” Journal of Food Biochemistry, vol. 41, no. 1 (2017): e12281

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  • What's Old Is New Again
    “Traditional Chinese medicine goes back thousands of years,” notes Brien Quirk, director of R&D, Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA). Looking ahead, he and his colleagues are placing bets on four traditional Chinese medicine herbs “with significant health benefits that we think have strong potential to become popular botanical ingredients.” He calls Baikal skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) “a potent anti-inflammatory with effects on joint health and an anti-anxiety actor that works on GABA”—gamma-aminobutyric acid— “receptors.” A 2015 animal study (15) suggests it contains compounds that protect cognitive health, too. Yuan zhi (Polygala tenuifolia) also appears to moderate mood and cognition; a 2011 study (16) in rat models found that 3,6'-disinapoyl sucrose (DISS), an active oligosaccharide ester present in the plant’s roots, significantly inhibited activity of monoamine oxidase (MAO) A and B and blocked elevation of plasma cortisol levels—all signaling an antidepressant effect. Finally, among Sophora flavescens's benefits are anti-itch and antihistamine effects (17) when ingested, while, studies link Rehmannia glutinosa to, among other effects, bone health (18) and blood sugar control (19).

    References:
    15. Ma P et al., “Baicalin alleviates diabetes associated cognitive deficits via modulation of mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling, brain derived neurotrophic factor and apoptosis,” Molecular Medicine Reports, vol. 12, no. 4 (Oct 2015): 6377-6383
    16. Hu Y et al., “Possible mechanism of the antidepressant effect of 3,6'-disinapoyl sucrose from Polygala tenuifolia Willd, Journal of Pharmacy Pharmacology, vol. 63, no. 6 (June 2011): 869-74
    17. Yamaguchi-Miyamoto T et al., “Antipruritic effects of Sophora flavescens on acute and chronic itch-related responses in mice,” Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, vol. 26, no. 5 (2003): 722—724
    18. Oh KO et al., “Effect of Rehmannia glutinosa Libosch extracts on bone metabolism,” Clinica Chimica Acta, vol. 334, no. 1-2 (Aug 2003): 185-195
    19. Zhang R et al., “Hypoglycemic effect of Rehmannia glutinosa oligosaccharide in hyperglycemic and alloxan-induced diabetic rats and its mechanism,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 90, no 1 (Jan 2004): 39-43

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