What is modern research showing? Historically, ashwagandha research has focused on stress/focus/mood/sleep, muscle health, and sexual health.
In addition to studies on stress and anxiety, Arjuna Natural says it’s completed several studies on Shoden involving non-restorative sleep, exercise endurance, male vitality, immune health, and even animal health.
Ixoreal is continuing research on its KSM-66 ashwagandha ingredient in the areas of energy, stamina, enhanced mental function, reduced stress, deeper sleep, enhanced immune function, endurance, and improved athletic performance, Kilham says.
Natreon’s research on its Sensoril ashwagandha ingredient includes studies on stress, sleep, focus, energy, muscular strength, and joint health, Brown says. The company is also performing emerging research in gut health and in women, whom he says might benefit from the mood, stress, and sleep benefits ashwagandha can provide in the face of menopause-related symptoms.
And this is only the beginning, companies say. Says Brown: “Standardized ashwagandha in today’s market has only begun to explore all the health benefits of consuming ashwagandha, including cognitive and adaptogenic benefits.”
NutriScience’s Lelah adds: “As an herb, ashwagandha is definitely a treasure house and could provide direct and indirect solutions to address various lifestyle conditions such as weight management, blood sugar support, etc., but [it] will take time to clinically study and unravel.”
As more research is done on ashwagandha and its various active constituents, ashwagandha will have potential to play in many health product markets, including in supplements, foods, and even beverages like coffee.
Sleep support is already a major opportunity—not only for ashwagandha but for the dietary supplements industry at large. Brown notes that ashwagandha, as part of Ayurveda, has been used to support healthy sleep habits for thousands of years. “Ashwagandha is seen as an innovation for the sleep category, which has been defined by melatonin,” he says. As the lesser-known sleep ingredient, ashwagandha is already benefitting from melatonin’s name recognition, Brown says, with Sensoril ashwagandha already being combined with melatonin in products on the sleep shelf. Arjuna’s Antony says that the sleep category is also now a big focus for his company.
There is also interest in combining ashwagandha with hemp cannabidiol (CBD). “As the CBD market continues to evolve and differentiate, we see ashwagandha becoming a common ingredient within CBD products,” Brown says.
Kilham says, “Ashwagandha fits into formulas very well, is naturally bolstered by the other adaptogens, and works with broad-spectrum botanicals like turmeric and CBD hemp oil.”
Finally, says Brown, “Several companies have begun to further explore the benefits of ashwagandha in combination with probiotics. Nature’s Way Fortify Daily Probiotic Mood & Stress is designed to promote digestive health through probiotics as well as support relaxation and a positive mood through the addition of 250 mg of Sensoril ashwagandha. The microbiome and the connection between the gut and brain is only beginning to be explored, and we expect to see continued innovation in the digestive health category for ashwagandha.”
All of this movement will further growth of the ashwagandha market. There is still lots of room to grow.
“Ashwagandha may not be a household name, but it is getting there,” says Arjuna’s Antony. “One of the reasons for the growth of ashwagandha as an ingredient is the awareness that stress has effects across the entire body. The growing awareness of the need for a holistic approach to health is lifting the consumer segment up—and ashwagandha along with it.”
Of course, when an ingredient becomes popular, it also becomes vulnerable to economic adulteration, and here, companies making ashwagandha products should be wary of low-quality ingredients on the market. Unfortunately, says Kilham, not all are aware. Incentives for adulteration are ripe, he says. For instance, “Shortage of supply due to heavy rains last year will plague manufacturers this year.”
Making ashwagandha a household name will take commitment from all who buy and sell this ingredient to not only increase consumer awareness but to protect the integrity of the market. To that end, NutriScience’s Lelah warns, “We commonly see plain ashwagandha powder and low-active ingredients being marketed in the ashwagandha space, which apart from possibly only having a placebo effect also dents consumer confidence in all supplements.” He adds: “The ‘plain powder’ and low-active products are a concern in this area as there is no traceability. Also, once powdered, it would be very difficult to find adulterants.”
Brown emphasizes that the ashwagandha market needs to continue to invest in cultivating and sourcing the highest-quality ashwagandha plants possible.
Manufacturers must also help teach consumers about the importance of the active components in ashwagandha and their bioactivity, Lelah says. “Consumer education is a slow process,” he says. “Consumers do understand there are actives, but the ‘last mile’ enlightenment is challenging.”
“While ashwagandha has been around for thousands of years, it is still relatively new in the mainstream market,” says Arjuna’s Antony. “Consumers are just learning about its benefits, and they still have a lot to learn, as do manufacturers. As more research is conducted, ashwagandha will likely fit into new product categories, thus fueling more growth for the unique ingredient.”
Brown says: “Our belief is, we are just at the beginning of the journey for ashwagandha.”
2020 Ingredient Trends to Watch for Food, Drinks, and Dietary Supplements:
- Smith T. “Herbal supplement sales in US increase by 9.4% in 2018.” HerbalGram, no. 123 (2019). Accessed at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue123/files/HG123-HMR.pdf