Ashwagandha sales are growing alongside more incidents of ashwagandha adulteration. In January 2019, the Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) reported1 that U.S. sales of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in the mainstream and natural channels grew, collectively, 39% in 2014-2017 ($4.53 million in 2014 to $12.24 million in 2017), reflecting the emerging interest in the ingredient in North America. (BAPP is a nonprofit educational program led by the American Botanical Council, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research.) With interest growing, the report notes, “increasing demand has created pressure for increased cultivation, which is lagging behind the demand…” In the face of this, adulteration of ashwagandha root extract continues, including “by adding undeclared extracts from aerial parts of the plant,” the report notes. At the SupplySide East trade show in Secaucus, NJ, ashwagandha suppliers talked about how they are positioning brand-name ashwagandha ingredients as a reliable source for the market.
Shaheen Majeed, president worldwide of Sabinsa Corp. (East Windsor, NJ), said that his company, a leader in the turmeric market, a skyrocketing market that continues to face adulteration threats each year, worries that ashwagandha adulteration will develop in the same way adulteration has in the turmeric market.
“What we saw in the turmeric market was that people started to adulterate it with synthetic curcumin, so we’re worried that as ashwagandha popularity increases, people are either going to start putting stems and branches and twigs from other plant parts, or they are going to try to synthetically create a withanolide”—withanolides are the primary active constituent of ashwagandha—“and systematically put it into the process. We’re very worried about that. So, companies like Sabinsa have to take [the problem] by the reins and see what we can control,” he told Nutritional Outlook.
Last year, for instance, Sabinsa launched a brand-name ashwagandha ingredient called Shagandha. The USP-verified, standardized ingredient ensures that manufacturers get a consistent supply of the ingredient.
“We’ve made sure that Shagandha is by the book,” Majeed said. “When we talk to customers, we’re confident that they can follow the USP monograph and replicate the findings over and over again. That kind of sustainability creates longevity for product in this industry.” Majeed added that while Sabinsa has supplied ashwagandha for decades, its foray into this standardized version is important given the current market landscape and risk of adulteration. Already, he said, interest in Shagandha is very high. “South Africa was one of the first places to launch a proper Shagandha formulation,” he said. “They were right off the bat.”
Bruce Brown, president of Natreon Inc. (New Brunswick, NJ), said that his company’s Sensoril brand of ashwagandha likewise finds that standardization is key not only to staying in the game but to providing a foundational ingredient off of which to base clinical studies.
“For us, it’s critical,” he said. “Sensoril is patented, and we standardize every lot sold according to our product specification that is based around three bioactives—withanolide glycosides, withaferin A, and oligosaccharides. For us, transparency and trust are critical.”
The presence of trustworthy ingredients will be especially important as the ashwagandha market continues to grow, as it shows no sign of slowing. “We’re seeing sales growth in ashwagandha as a category, and Sensoril specifically, as we look across delivery platforms, and food and beverage, into supplements—and now, into sports nutrition. We also see real growth in categories such as sleep, mood, and stress, and the reason for the growth, especially with Sensoril, is because of really strong clinical trials that are trusted by major CPG and natural food companies.”
“When you look for source, look for brands and companies you trust and know,” Brown added.
- Singh VK et al. “Adulteration of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) roots, and extracts.” Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program’s Botanical Adulterants Bulletin. Accessed online at http://cms.herbalgram.org/BAP/BAB/AshwagandhaAdulteration.html