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Consumers are interested in ancient health beliefs, even if they’re not quite aware of it. They are taking supplements like curcumin (Curcuma longa), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and ginseng (Panax ginseng), among many others, which are derived from ancient systems like traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and ayurveda.

September 7, 2023

4 Min Read
Ancient systems
The purification ritual done at Tirta Empul Temple, where visitors pray for physical and spiritual healing. (Bali, Indonesia, September 5, 2019).Editorial Credit: Henri Fitriadi / Shutterstock.com

Ancient healing systems like TCM and ayurveda have been a difficult concept for Western scientists to understand because they are so different from Western medicine. However, a growing body of research is accumulating on TCM and numerous ayurvedic herbs, and their potential benefits are becoming more widely recognized.

When it comes to TCM specifically, research is still limited on the efficacy of traditional Chinese ingredients, but the available evidence suggests that they may be effective for a variety of conditions. Some of the most popular TCM ingredients in the United States include ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi) and cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) mushrooms, goji berry (Lycium barbarum), green tea (Camellia sinensis), ginseng, eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and epimedium.

Read all about how ancient systems are informing modern Western product development by downloading this free digital magazine. The articles include:

Viewpoint: People are into ancient beliefs about health, whether they know it or not

Like folklore and old wives’ tales, exotic alternative healing modalities have a core consumer base in the U.S., says Content Director Todd Runestad. Consider the healing properties of chicken noodle soup for a cold, or the rise in curcumin sales as inflammation awareness has grown, he suggests. And even though shoppers are all in on curcumin, ashwagandha, ginseng and ginkgo, asking them to see a TCM practitioner or describe ayurveda is not likely.

East meets West

TCM’s combination of Confucian principles, herbal remedies, nutrition and other qi-based healing modalities has more than 2,000 years’ worth of empirical evidence. Modern research done on TCM herbs, however, isn’t exactly the type of study demanded in the Western world, Vicky Uhland reports. People are familiar with acupuncture, she found, but specific herbs currently receiving attention outside of the acupuncture arena include: the Chinese mushroom poria (Poria cocos), Panax ginseng, Japanese flag (Acorus gramindeus), schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) and Chinese licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis).

Cordyceps is a showstopper—and not just on TV

The parasitic fungus long revered in TCM turns people into zombies on HBO, but in reality, consensus has grown around the use of cordyceps for increased energy and vitality, exercise performance, and to help subjects regain vigor after severe illness, Hank Schultz discovers. For example, a 2020 study solely on Cordyceps militaris on exercise performance found it had an effect on biomarkers related to adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—or energy—generation, as well as increased grip strength.

Pete Croatto describes how ayurveda and ayurvedic herbs have been used for millennia for inflammatory disorders and geriatric health problems. These wellness issues happen to be on the upswing with people in the market for natural supplements and whole-body health support. Besides turmeric and ashwagandha, ayurveda has plenty of other botanicals that can be a source of inspiration for nutraceutical innovation, but it will take time for manufacturers to invest, develop and market these ingredients to brands.

Has the curcumin buzz busted?

Has curcumin reached its ceiling, or is the flat year merely a correction for the outsized, Covid-fueled craze? Todd Runestad wonders about the No. 1 ayurvedic botanical sold in the U.S. today, according to SPINS sales data of conventional and natural markets. Aside from curcumin, other ayurvedic herbs like ashwagandha, bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) and shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) are growing quickly in the consumer market.

When worlds collide

Traditional ayurveda and modern science both recognize the potential health benefits of herbs, Blake Ebersole explains. The two disciplines both rely on rigorous observation to determine the efficacy of herbal remedies. Other similarities between the old and the new include a holistic approach to health, use of natural products like adaptogens and antioxidants, and a fine focus on the digestive system.

Examples of ancient systems takeaways for your business include:

  • As TCM companies conduct gold standard research, expect an increase in ingredients and supplement formulations targeted to specific health conditions. That can be a particular plus in the West, where personalized medicine is on the rise.

  • Nutrition Business Journal recorded a whopping 60.2% growth for mushroom ingredients in 2020. That market continues to show strong double-digit growth and it’s expected to grow by 16.9% this year to hit $189 million in sales.

  • Ayurveda recognizes the interconnectedness of the mind and body. Similarly, modern science acknowledges the role of psychological and mental factors in physical and general health.

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