Adaptogenic herbs in 2018 continued their double-digit sales growth, according to leading suppliers, a boom based on the usual factors of trending lifestyle conditions and solid science, but also on a rare confluence of factors such as supplier brand-building partnerships and innovative technologies in ingredients that deliver more for less.
The boom has also introduced the category to the usual problem of supply shortages that lead to ingredient adulteration issues. Reputable brands have solid supply partnerships, but the problem remains a concern for brands, especially as consumers demand greater transparency and traceability back to the farm for their products.
The stress and anxiety of modern life are not going anywhere (hello, meditation and mindfulness), and adaptogenic sales are buttressed by continuing research demonstrating efficacy—in particular, the category’s new reach into the sports and performance markets.
“Additionally, enhanced mental function is a major trend now,” said Kartikeya Baldwa, CEO of Ixoreal Biomed, supplier of the KSM-66 brand of ashwagandha, now found in more than 700 products and 550 brands around the world. “This is because no drugs can actually provide this, while the adaptogens can.”
All these factors make for one frothy ingredients category. So much opportunity! So many challenges! Leading suppliers rise to the top like cream. Their business strategies are instructive to responsible brands that want to create innovative products to attract repeat buyers.
“The adaptogen market continues its growth as consumers seek natural alternatives to manage stress and improve well-being,” said Bruce Brown, president of Natreon, supplier of the Sensoril® brand ashwagandha, which is now in more than 350 products and 100 brands worldwide. “Key categories of adaptogens such as ashwaghandha, amla, shilajit, reishi mushrooms and cordyceps are all growing as the modern science supporting their role in human nutrition continues to grow.”
And adaptogens are making waves outside of the pill bottle. Chocolates and other bars, energy drinks, reset beverages and even veggie burgers now include adaptogenic ingredients.
Innova Market Insights reported a 48-percent increase in the number of food and beverage launches in 2018 compared to 2015, with the largest growth in the U.S. market. Further, one in three product launches of category leader ashwagandha have been under sports nutrition category globally between 2015 and 2018. Two in five product launches featured an energy or alertness claim. The American Botanical Council (ABC) estimated a 25-percent increase in ashwagandha sales alone in the natural retail channel for 2018.
“We at Lodaat see double-digit growth and, in some instances, triple-digit growth in adaptogens,” said Rajiv Khatau, director of ingredient supplier Lodaat Pharma (Lodaat stands for Live One Day At A Time). “We see that brands and consumers are looking for natural botanicals that can support key therapeutic categories: anxiety support, sport nutrition, brain reflex, energy, sexual health. These factors along with favorable demographics makes this an opportune time for brands to introduce botanical formulations.”
Yet all is not quite rosy in adaptogens. According to New Hope Network NEXT Trend Database, which tracks product launches at Natural Products Expo West, the three-year trendline of adaptogenic products has shrunk, meaning product innovation is making room for other “hotter than ever” superstar ingredients. In 2016 there were about 500 products exhibiting at Expo West containing adaptogens, while at the 2018 show the number of products was about 350.
Within that data set, however, there is much froth. In supplements, for example, the use of adaptogenic ingredients amla, shisandra and maca are all way up. And in beverages, while the number of adaptogenic drinks has shrunk, from approximately 80 to approximately 60 products, certain ingredients are rising to the top.
“The volume in the drinks segment is concentrated in innovating with ginseng, goji, maca and matcha, which take up 75 percent of the space,” said Amanda Hartt, NEXT Data & Insights market research manager. “Newcomers not to be ignored are ashwagandha, amla, holy basil and cordyceps.”
The upshot is that while the overall category of products aimed at the natural retail sales channel may have shrunk in terms of presence on the trade show floor, some specific ingredients are rising. There are varying factors at work for that, and not to be ignored is the role of research that validates ingredient efficacy.
Research continues to validate ingredient efficacy that leads to brand uptake. Ashwagandha remains the principal ingredient of the adaptogen set.
“If you look at the books on ashwagandha,” said Anand Bodopati, science director for KSM-66, which boasts 13 published human clinical trials, “it does 30 things. We focus on four areas—two for the mind, and two for the body.”
The company has conducted research on stress relief and brain health as well as sports performance and sexual health. “The running theme,” Bodopati said, “is focusing on things that may affect your productivity.”
For example, in a study on 64 people with a history of chronic stress, 300 mg twice daily of the KSM-66 type of ashwagandha for 60 days led to a big drop in cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”), which both helped them deal with stress better and had them report a better quality of life.1
Another popular herb in the adaptogen space is rhodiola. People take it (at a 400 mg dose) to “feel like a billion bucks,” according to Chris Kilham, the Medicine Hunter. A recent study in the United Kingdom found 400 mg of rhodiola given to 80 mildly anxious participants over 14 days found the rhodiola led to a significant reduction in self-reported anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression.2 Together, the researchers said these were specific markers that, added up, comprise symptoms of one’s mood.
“The benefits of an ingredient like Rhodiolife lie at the intersection of a range of consumer trends that are all seeing growth, including energy, relief from stress, mood, immune support and more,” said Devin Stagg, chief operating officer at PLT Health Solutions, which supplies the branded rhodiola ingredient. “The publicity is there behind the ingredient, and we are seeing some interest by major consumer product companies (whom we cannot name) in the ingredient.”
PLT Health Solutions deigns to become the face of rhodiola at the supply level in the way that Ixoreal’s KSM-66 and Natreon’s Sensoril are for ashwagandha. Companies championing an ingredient are important for long-term success. Other adaptogens in need of a market champion include sea buckthorn for cosmetics as well as shisandra.
One of the lesser-known adaptogens is an herb called Tongkat ali. Since the turn of the century, 13 human clinicals have been published. It seems to increase the body’s production of testosterone and promotes favorable cortisol levels to guard against stress.
“LJ100 [from HP Ingredients] is the only Tongkat ali ingredient that has the following clinically shown benefits,” said Annie Eng, CEO of HP Ingredients. “It maintains normal high free testosterone levels,3 enhances sexual function and increases libido,4,5 reduces cortisol the stress hormone,6 improves various mood profiles,7,8 reduces fatigue and tension,9 and improves endurance and stamina for athletes of all ages.”10,11
This adaptogenic movement into the performance aspects is a recent shift in the market and provides a new element of product innovation in the sports nutrition category—no stranger to innovation, that.
“All three of our primary products used in sport nutrition are all adaptogens,” Brown said, “so it’s now more about looking at the body from a holistic approach. Capros (amla) is for cardiovascular function and endurance; Primavie® shilajit is really about energy/endurance; and Sensoril® is once again using the benefits of focus and mental clarity that drives the adaptogenic benefits.”
Boosting the performance bona fides of Sensoril was a 2018 published human clinical.12 In the 12-week study, active men who consumed 500 mg of Sensoril experienced statistically significant improvements in average squat power and peak bench press power compared to controls. The supplement group also had improved upper and lower-body strength as well as a favorable distribution of body mass during 12 weeks of resistance training.
“The results of our study help establish an evidence base for this impressive Ayurvedic herb in sports nutrition,” said Dr. Tim Ziegenfuss, Ph.D., CEO of The Center for Applied Health Sciences, where the study was conducted. “The significant increases in upper and lower body strength with Sensoril continues to add to the successful clinical substantiation supporting Sensoril’s ability to enhance performance, improve energy, reduce symptoms of everyday stress and enhance focus.”
Tech advances not only help improve bioavailability—which is always a concern—but also open new markets and categories.
For Lodaat, its work to make ingredients water-soluble gives confidence to beverage makers to use its ingredients.
“Water solubility is a huge trend, especially for beverage firms,” Khatau said. “Solubility increases bioavailability and is also a great consumer trend. In fact, Lodaat has made 2019 the year of solubility—our goal is to make all 69 of our adaptogen products water-soluble.”
Arjuna Natural developed a new delivery form of ashwagandha to ensure purity and potency. Arjuna developed its Bioactive Ingredient Protection System (BIPS) proprietary safety technology to ensure optimal delivery of the bioactive components of ashwagandha. BIPS is a patented procedure in which all the active molecules are encapsulated in a shield to deliver them safely and at the desired potency.
This process makes its Shoden brand active even at a low dosage. Shoden was launched at Hi Europe 2018 in Frankfurt in November 2018.
“Ashwagandha extract is known to be very effective in ameliorating stress, anxiety, depression and also to increase testosterone,”13,14,15 said Benny Antony, Ph.D., joint managing director for Arjuna. “But to benefit from these functions effectively, we needed to find a way to deliver the most bioactive component in the gut without it getting damaged.”
When ingested in its naked form, Antony said, ashwagandha interacts with the acids in the stomach and loses its activity, thereby depriving the human body from receiving the full spectrum of the herb’s benefits.
“We were faced with the challenge of identifying the site of absorption in the gut as well as the reasons for its damage while passing through the gut and then devised a solution to maximize absorption of ashwagandha in the intestine only,” he explained. “This required intense research by our R&D team to find out the precise mechanism by which this can be achieved.”
Arjuna is supporting several ongoing clinical studies of Shoden that already have yielded promising results of the ingredient for alleviating depression, stress and sleep disturbances, and for improving immunomodulation and production of testosterone.”
It’s no secret that market demands lead to pressure on ingredient suppliers. With the popularity of adaptogens, that pressure has come to the fore.
A year ago, ABC issued a bulletin on rhodiola adulteration in the market. While Rhodiola rosea is the specific species sought after for its effects, other species, such as R. crenulata and R. serrata, are often found in the market with a lesser evidence base.
“This is one of the cases in which the commercial market was established on a particular species, in this case Rhodiola rosea, but numerous other closely related species were similarly used in various herbal traditions,” said Roy Upton, executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP). “Are alternate species adulterants or substitutions, or are they legitimately used interchangeably? This comes down to the specific action desired, the ingredient specification and label claim.”
Stefan Gafner, Ph.D., chief science officer, ABC, and technical director of Botanical Adulterants Program (BAP), noted: “The understanding of what ‘rhodiola’ means apparently differs among Western manufacturers of herbal dietary supplements and the Chinese suppliers who sell rhodiola root and rhizome, and extracts thereof. This has led to a situation in which a number of Rhodiola species are found in the supply chain. Suitable analytical test methods that are able to distinguish among Rhodiola rosea and other rhodiola species must be in place.”
PLT Health Sciences is a diligent supplier ensuring a quality supply chain, starting with sourcing the plant from its historic roots in Siberia. And then, authentication to prevent adulteration. That’s because the chemical composition can change the health benefit.
“At PLT, when it comes to rhodiola, we like to say that the fingerprint matters,” said Barbara Davis, Ph.D., head of clinical sciences at PLT, which markets Rhodiolife® R. rosea. “Biochemically, not all rhodiola is created equal. True R. rosea is believed to be differentiated from other rhodiola species by its yellow flowers and presence of consistent levels of rosavins in the root extracts.”
Rhodiolife’s unique fingerprint composition consistently provides the spectrum of compounds found in the root of the plant that is responsible for its biological activity, Davis said, including rosavin, rosarin, rosin and solidroside.
“With Rhodiolife,” she said, “not only is the percentage of the primary actives, rosavin and salidroside, the same as the root, but so is the ratio of actives. This is not the case with many other Rhodiola rosea ingredients on the market. PLT’s partner, Nektium, continually tests the fingerprint of the ingredient they supply.”
In the case of ashwagandha, Ixoreal uses DNA barcoding to authenticate its ingredient integrity. “Many manufacturers add leaves to the roots while extracting, and still continue to call it a pure root extract,” Baldwa said. “Leaves are significantly less expensive—often one-fifteenth the price of the roots. Using leaves could boost profits greatly for those manufacturers but departs from mainstream Ayurveda practice and current scientific literature.”
In a global ingredient supply chain, manufacturers and marketers are ever more reliant on ingredient suppliers that can serve the interests of transparency demanded by today’s consumers. Rare is the completely vertically integrated supplier. So how do brands know who to purchase ingredients from? One touchstone of quality is the depth of relationships the brand can make. This can’t be said often enough: It’s not all about the price! Quality costs!
“We try to support all facets of a finished brand from science, quality, research and development (R&D) to marketing,” Brown said. “We feel that solidifying a track record to completely support a brand with all those pillars gives a unique differentiator for our ingredients.”
As ingredients becomes more popular to meet consumer demands, generic brands or competitors will move in to the space. That makes it important to work with a well-known and trusted supplier that has supply chain security, sustainability and traceability top of mind.
“We continue to work with family-owned farms for our ingredients and invest in the communities in which we manufacture these products,” said Brown, who added that the company is also active on social media to build relationships directly to consumers about Sensoril benefits.
“Partnerships with our brands is vital,” Khatau agreed. “Lodaat is always looking to be not just a vendor, but an integral partner. From R&D, new development, market research, in-store training, clinical trials and even financial promotional support, Lodaat management becomes a true partner with our brands. Furthermore, we have trademarked our ingredients as well as obtained patents on our processes.”
Lodaat carries British Retail Consortium (BRC) and NSF certifications, as well as Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulatory status—a difficult bar to hurdle, indeed.
PLT has added resources and established practices that closely resemble the product innovation and commercialization processes of its customers. It has acted with conviction and clarity to embrace the transformative move to enhance trust and transparency.
“We want to be considered as an extension of our customers’ innovation and product launch capability,” Stagg said, “capable of providing assistance at any and every step of the process.”
This sort of deep partnerships cannot be found on a line item on a purchase order, but it’s exactly the thing that will keep finished product brands from staying up at night concerned about a product recall or a social media-driven campaign to change its questionable business practices.
“Because consumers are the ones increasingly driving the demand to ‘show your work,’ brand marketers have responded strongly--at least the responsible ones are,” Eng said. “When you consider that even produce farmers are vulnerable to contamination, like the recent romaine recall, transparency of our supply chain is of utmost importance.”
- Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul-Sep;34(3):255-62.
- Cropley M, Banks AP, Boyle J. “The Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. Extract on Anxiety, Stress, Cognition and Other Mood Symptoms.” Phytother Res. 2015 Dec;29(12):1934-9.
- “LJ100® as a Potential Natural Energizer for Healthy Aging in Men,” First Asian Andrology Forum in Shanghai China, 2002.
- Ismail SB et al. “Randomized clinical trial on the use of PHYSTA freeze-dried water extract of Eurycoma longifolia for the improvement of quality of life and sexual well-being in men.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:429268.
- Udani JK et al. “Effects of a Proprietary Freeze-Dried Water Extract of Eurycoma longifolia (Physta) and Polygonum minus on Sexual Performance and Well-Being in Men: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Evidence-Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;179529.
- Talbott SM et al. “Effect of [LJ 100] Eurycoma longifolia Extract on Anabolic Balance During Endurance Exercise.” J Intern Soc Sport Medicine. 2006;3(1):S32.
- Talbott et al. “Effect of a 6-Week Lifestyle Program on Mood State and Metabolic Parameters in Moderately Overweight Subjects,” SupplementWatch, Inc. and Treehouse Athletic Club, Salt Lake City, UT.
- Talbott SM et al. “Effect of LJ100 on Stress Hormones and Psychological Mood State in Moderately Stressed Subjects.” J Int Society of Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):2
- George A, Henkel R. “Phytoandrogenic Properties of Eurycoma longifolia as Natural Alternative to Testosterone Replacement Therapy.” Andrologia. 2014;46(7):708–721. DOI: 10.1111/and.12214.
- Talbott J et al. “Effect of [LJ 100] Eurycoma longifolia Extract on Anabolic Balance During Endurance Exercise.” Journal of International Society of Sport Medicine. 2006;3(1):S32.
- “Effects of Strength Training and LJ100 Supplementation on Strength and Muscle Size in Middle-Aged Women,” 4th Asia-Pacific Conference on Exercise and Sport Science & 8th International Sports Science Conference 2009.
- Ziegenfuss TN et al. “Effects of an aqueous extract of Withania somnifera on strength training adaptations and recovery: the STAR Trial.” Nutrients. 2018 Nov 20;10(11):pii: E1807. DOI: 10.3390/nu10111807.
- Chandrasekhar K et al. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul-Sep;34(3):255-62.
- Krishnamurthy MN, Telles S. “Assessing expression following two ancient Indian interventions: effects of yoga and Ayurveda on older adults in a residential home.” J Gerontol Nurs. 2007 Feb;33(2):17-23.
- Wankhede S et al. “Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Nov 25;12:43. DOI: 10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9.