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The Ayurvedic Impact

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An Indian medical system hardly known in the U.S. in the 1980s, ayurveda today is a recognized cornerstone of the natural products industry and a key piece of its future.

Growing up near the Himalayas, Shailinder Sodhi developed an early interest in ayurvedic plants and herbs, and received his BAMS (Bachelor in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) degree from Dayanand Ayurvedic College in Jalandhar, India in 1985. Coming to the United States in the late 1980s to pursue his degree in naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University, he recalled being exposed to something that he had previously only studied in books.

“In India, while we have one of the largest populations in the world, we have one of the smallest populations of patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We rarely saw this in a hospital setting,” said Sodhi, the president of Washington-based Ayush Herbs Inc., as he described how an ingredient like bacopa, which has thousands of years of use in India, increases retentive memory and actually creates nerve cells in the brain. “When I came to the United States, it was the first time I was being introduced to patients and could see what dementia and Alzheimer’s looked like. What I learned in school began to click, and I could see the real need here in the U.S.”

It was a similar situation for Dr. Muhammed Majeed, founder of New Jersey-based Sabinsa Corp., in 1988. According to Marketing Director Shaheen Majeed, the company was founded on Dr. Majeed’s long-held belief “that certain aspects of his native country’s traditional medical system, ayurveda, could address some of the health issues plaguing society.” 

With more than 800 herbs in the ayurveda arsenal, they offer a variety of benefits, including: to maintain overall health; to boost immunity; to support mental clarity and focus; to calm the nerves; to improve digestion; to protect the body from toxins and support the detoxification process; and to support innate healing processes. Yet the ayurveda tradition brings more to the table than just powerful formulas.

Even though the ancient medical system’s acceptance to the U.S. market was shaky, the strength and validity of ayurveda took root quickly. Today, it is viewed as a basis of the dietary supplement and natural products industries, and a key contributor to its future.

Core Tenants 

The Period of ancient ayurveda in India was Ca. 3500 BC to 2000 AD. Sanni Raju, PhD, Rph, CEO and chairman of New Jersey-based Natreon, Inc., described the principle of ayurvedic treatment as being entirely different from conventional (modern scientific) treatment. Ayurvedic treatment is based on tridosha, i.e., Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, and prescribes two types of medicine. One is depicted as “divine (Daivy) intervention” (permanent cure by treating with complex formulations involving minerals and botanicals). The second one is termed temporary cure (adjuvant therapy) known as manushi chikitsa. In some of these practices, the contribution of the individual ingredients (e.g. ashwagandha and amla) of the best-known ayurvedic formulation, chyawanprash, was projected.

“Ayurveda unravels the mysteries of the doshas (deficiencies) associated With health of subjects—e.g. dhatus (tissues) and mala (their residual products),” said Raju. “The deficiencies/ailments can be treated with ayurvedic formulations, which are different from the simple extracts of herbs used by following the principles of their biological effects (active principles) in terms of ayurvedic tenets, e.g., tridosha.” 

According to Dipanwita Dutta, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs with New Jersey-based HerbaKraft, Inc., ayurveda’s primary belief is that all diseases come from the imbalance in the person’s body, mind and soul. “In order to treat any ailments, source of the imbalance must be identified and treated with help of natural herbs. The very core of ayurveda is formed from basic natural theory that is used to describe the predisposition and prognosis of the disease as well as governs the choice of the therapy in the development of disease,” she said.

Ayush’s Sodhi described ayurveda and its core tenants as a “blueprint for health, if you have a guide.” “Know your body constitution and it makes a lot of sense,” he said. “It explains why one person can eat something and it does nothing to them, yet another person would have a reaction to it. It’s exactly what your constitution tells you—your inherit weakness and strength allows you to do that.

“Once you know your constitution, ayurveda shows you how diet and lifestyle, along with herbs and spices, keep the body in balance.” 

And Dutta emphasized the true science behind ayurveda, and the exciting impact it has today. “The actions of medicines are described through their various properties based inherently on their elemental composition. It is the need of the hour to use modern technology to explore the relevance of these concepts, so that they may be interpreted in light of contemporary scientific language to offer modern health care.” 

Difficult U.S. Entry 

With the practice and tenants of ayurveda being foreign to U.S. consumers, Sabinsa’s Majeed explained that initial product introductions hit some roadblocks.

“When finished product companies First tried to introduce it to the natural products industry over 25 years ago, they tried to explain the different doshas (body types, which impacts choice of remedies), but that was far too complicated,” he said. “They then marketed products that were more universal, condition-specific rather than body type-specific, which have met with more success.” 

While it took some time, Majeed credits companies that were standard bearers and retailers who were very familiar with the practice as playing a heavy role in ayurveda’s acceptance. “Ayurveda is very much complementary to the healthy lifestyle philosophy—in fact, you could say it is the original healthy lifestyle philosophy,” said Majeed. “So while the industry was more familiar with and accepting of the European and Eclectic herbal schools initially, over the years ayurveda has become a strong product category.” 

Today, many dietary supplements are a direct outcome from ayurveda, according to Dutta. “Most of Indian-origin herbs used worldwide to manufacture these supplements are reported in ayurveda,” she said, noting that HerbaKraft views pharmacopeia of ayurveda as a vast treasure encyclopedia to develop new dietary supplements that can rejuvenate human health.

A Wave of Ingredients 

The common consensus is that ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and turmeric (Curcuma longa) were the first ayurveda ingredients to catch the American natural product industry’s attention in the late 80s.

“Ashwagandha’s roots have been medicinally used for thousands of years. In classical ayurveda, the described properties include: medhya (promotes intellect and cognitive development), balya (increases strength and recovery), rasayana (rejuvenator or life-extending substance) and nidrajanana (promoter of sleep),” said HerbaKraft’s Dutta. “Meanwhile, turmeric, with its active ingredients like curcuminoids and curcumin, provide many diverse benefits for human health, including preservation of brain function, high antioxidant activity, regulation of inflammation in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and cancer prevention.”

Sodhi described this period as a wave. As these ingredients were introduced and accepted in the market, so came a flood of other ingredients, each with distinctly beneficial uses. “Triphala, which is a combination of three fruits that helps with digestive issues and detoxification, entered the picture, as well as holy basil, which has traditionally been used for fever or flu, and is now a recognized immune modulator. Then amla started to catch on as the population learned about its anti-aging properties. As time passed to the mid 90s, came a wave of weight-loss products.” 

Sabinsa pioneered bringing Garcinia cambogia to the U.S. industry more than 20 years ago for weight management, according to Majeed, “and several other companies quickly borrowed our science and offered their own garcinia ingredient products,” he said. “Weight management is always a category looking for new and effective products, so it quickly became a very popular ingredient, opening the door to other ayurvedic ingredients.”

But Majeed hit what truly fueled growth and acceptance of ayurveda with the U.S. market: the investment the industry made to proving the efficacy of these ingredients, which meant producing clinical evidence.

HerbaKraft’s Dutta noted that several studies on turmeric demonstrated its ability to suppress production of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), prostaglandins and leukotriene’s while preserving the protective cyclooxygenase- 1 (COX-1). “In a Phase I clinical trial, curcumin exhibited as a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions.1” 

She further cited studies on ashwagandha showing its various medicinal values such as suppressor stress-induced changes of dopamine receptors in the corpus striatum2; hypothyroidism, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes.3 

Natreon has completed seven clinical studies on its Sensoril Ashwagandha that have shown its anti-stress, antihyperlipidemic, anti-inflammatory and Cognition enhancing properties, according to Raju. The company has also added to the impressive body of research building amla’s, also known as Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica), reputation with the company’s Capros ingredient. “Seven clinical studies and an animal study on Capros show its beneficial effects on lipid profile, platelet aggregation, inflammation and ischemia. Capros would be an excellent alternative to CoQ10 as a cardiovascular product, since, unlike CoQ10, it is water-soluble and stable and can be offered in solid dosage forms or beverages.” 

Establishing Standards 

Sodhi pointed out that his company has been and remains heavily involved in the research and development of ayurveda ingredients and products, but it is squarely focused on delivering one thing.

“Ayush is working with herbs to represent what nature has given us. We do not believe in standardizing one particular extract; what nature has given us is very balanced,” he said. “Our main activity—our standard—is to duplicate nature.” 

Meanwhile, Natreon has made standardization its focus, according to Raju, with its mantra being clinical support. “Although, the processes of preparation of ayurvedic formulations were depicted, which shows entirely different connotations, … There was no defined marker for standardization and delineation of mechanism of action on the basis of acceptable scientific principles,” said Raju. “Natreon is perhaps the first company to use scientifically sound standardization techniques and randomized, double-blind, placebocontrolled, clinical studies to the ayurvedic products and, as a result, ayurvedic products gained much deserved recognition in the Western world.

“We believe that many of the rasayanas (chemicals) proposed in ayurveda are the result of the divine knowledge of the great sages and Natreon’s goal is to vindicate those sages’ divine work with modern scientific approach—identification and characterization of the bioactives, developing analytical methodologies for standardization of the extracts and conduction clinical studies,” Raju added.

Sabinsa’s Majeed expressed a similar respect for tradition in his company’s mission, but pride that Sabinsa is not bound by it. “Ayurveda has a scientific basis and our efforts are directed towards developing a scientific rationale to enable formulators and consumers to fully understand the benefits of this rich tradition. We therefore develop scientifically standardized extracts and unique applications for ayurvedic herbs and their phytonutrient components to address various preventive health maintenance needs,” he said, adding that Sabinsa’s research efforts are directed towards ingredient forms suitable in delivery systems for nutritional and topical use. “Scientific cultivation of herbs, authentication by state-of-the-art methods and a focus on quality ensures consumer acceptance, safety and efficacy of extracts of ayurvedic herbs.

“Because Dr. Majeed and the robust R&D team have found specific benefits that are not always traditional, the company today holds nearly 80 patents worldwide,” he added.

Innovation Evolution 

For a finished product manufacturer like New York-based Quality of Life Labs (QOL), which requires published human clinical data for every ingredient it uses, it has benefited greatly from suppliers’ standardization efforts.

“We have been able to utilize a number of unique patented standardized forms of traditional ayurvedic ingredients, which evidences the fact that there is now real quality clinical research behind some ayurvedic ingredients in the marketplace,” said Dan Lifton, COO of QOL. “What is exciting to us is the ability to marry this traditional medicine with today’s technology and clinical research.”

Using curcumin as an example, Lifton noted that the growth in the number of clinical studies looking at a variety of different end-points has really fueled the market in the last three years. “So demand has increased sharply and Several new proprietary forms of the ingredient have been brought into the market,” he said.

QOL has been very successful with the launch of its Curcumin-SR, which is based on a proprietary eight-hour sustained release formulation that has been clinically shown to improve bioavailability by eight times and to result in the significant in serum conversion of the curcumin into its more bioactive “bis” form, which other enhanced forms of this compound have not been able to achieve.

“There has been a significant development of highly bioavailable versions of ingredients such as curcumin. One of the drivers of this is that many of the studies on these compounds were done at very high dosages (e.g. 5g-10g/day on the curcumin),” Lifton explained. “So offering this ingredient in a form that improves bioavailability enables you to cut down on dosage enabling consumers to get the clinically backed amounts of the product in capsules or tablets.” 

Sabinsa has played a heavy hand in the evolution of curcumin from when it was first introduced to the U.S. market, and offered its C3 Reduct as an example.

“The body of science behind curcumin is compelling and yet it hasn’t mainstreamed in term of usage. We realized some of the reasons and set our R&D scientists working on the barriers, and the result was C3 Reduct,” said Majeed. “The vivid color of curcumin is a manufacturing nightmare for many companies; our Curcumin C3 Reduct is a white powder. We were also able to increase dosage efficiency, meaning smaller capsules And tablets for consumers while achieving better potency, stability and much better bioavailability.” 

Up & Comers 

Today, there is a wide range of ingredients based upon ayurveda that are popular among consumers and most of the treat lifestyle-related conditions that have always existed, but are more prevalent today, such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and obesity, according to Majeed. In its efforts to unlock the benefits of ayurveda using modern science, Sabinsa introduced two new products from a very well known ayurvedic traditional source— vijayasar, or Pterocarpus marsupium. While this is one of the key ingredients used in the management of diabetes in ayurveda, Sabinsa’s work has made it viable for many lifestyle-related conditions.

“Recently, Sabinsa introduced Silbinol, the brand name for high purity natural pterostilbene, a stilbenoid polyphenol extracted from pterocarpus wood. Pterostilbene is also identified as a major phenolic compound in drakshasava, a traditional ayurvedic medicinal preparation used to treat cardiovascular problems,” he said.

While the above extract is aimed to provide the high purity of naturally occurring active compounds present in vijayasar, Sabinsa also introduced a water-soluble beverage grade material from vijayasar, containing broad spectrum of active compounds. This extract is standardized to two percent of pterocarposide occurring naturally in the pterocarpus wood.

“Both these extracts have immense application in management of diabetes, inflammation, cardiovascular health and improving antioxidant status of the body,” said Majeed.

HerbaKraft’s Dutta offered that an exciting ayurveda advancement is one regarding products being introduced to the U.S. market utilizing Mucuna pruriens.

“In traditional ayurvedic medicine, mucuna seed powder is used to treat diseases including Parkinson’s disease,” said Dutta, adding that its traditional use supported by laboratory analyses that show mucuna seeds contain 3. 6-4.2 percent levodopa, the same chemical used in several Parkinson’s disease drugs. “In a randomized, controlled, double-blind, clinical trial carried out by Katzenschlager et al. On Parkinson’s disease patients, 30g mucuna preparation led to a considerably faster onset of effect (34.6 vs. 68.5 minutes; p=0.021), reflected in shorter latencies to peak levodopa plasma concentrations,” she said. “In a separate clinical trial conducted by Nagashayana et al. On Parkinson’s disease symptoms in 18 clinically diagnosed parkinsonian patients, a concoction of powdered Mucuna pruriens and Hyoscyamus reticulates seeds and Withania somnifera and Sida cordifolia roots showed significant improvement in activities of daily living (ADL) and on motor examination as per UPDRS rating.”

Conclusion 

In the 21st century the missing link between ayurveda and modern science has been rediscovered, according to HerbaKraft’s Dutta. “Ayurveda has had a great increase in popularity in the last two decades and many trained practitioners of Western biomedicine are now putting its simple and profound system of understanding health and disease.” 

And Ayush’s Sodhi noted that while the U.S. market’s acceptance took time, the time is right. “The U.S. is finally catching up in the market. That’s a good thing, as it feels like people are ready to take charge of their health, which is exactly what ayurveda teaches.”

References: 

1 Anticancer Research. [2001, 21(4B):2895-2900.

2 Upton R, ed: Amer Herbal Pharmacopoeia. 2000:1-25.

3 Panda S, Kar A. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1998 Sep; 50(9):1065-8.

Extra! Extra!

For companies looking to utilize ayurvedic ingredients, visit www.niemagazine.com for participants’ advice.

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