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Prime Time for Ayurveda

By Lisa Schofield

Sometimes, it takes society time to catch up to the past—ayurvedic health formulas are a prime example.

Ayurveda, an Indian term that means "science of life," has been a medical discipline in use for approximately five millennia. Despite the fact that it stems from an exotic culture thousands of miles from U.S. shores, and from a time so distant, ayurveda is quickly gaining relevance for 21st century American consumers.

"The popularity of yoga is one of the driving forces behind the increasing awareness of ayurveda," stated Alex Moffett, founder of Renaissance Herbs, Chatsworth, CA. "More than 18 million Americans are currently practicing yoga and they tend to be well-educated women interested in improving overall health."

According to PK Dave, CEO of Nature's Formulary, a manufacturer of ayurvedic formulas based in Albany, NY, "Traditional ayurvedic formulas catalog the herbs to be used in a particular mixture. Ayurvedic medical literature has categorized the mixtures as efficacious for certain health conditions. This information can be used to select an herb or a group of herbs for further development, and for validation, using modern science. Many companies also use the traditional body of knowledge as a starting point to study and develop new ayurvedic formulations."

William "Skip" Seroy, founder and CEO of Benicia, CA-based InterHealth Nutraceuticals, which offers a line of ayurvedic herbs, said that many of these herbs possess health benefits that "have stood the test of time. Recently, ayurvedic herbs have started to withstand the scrutiny of modern science as well," he reported.

Following is a rundown of some of the most popular ayurvedic herbs and the latest science behind them.

Science Fosters Relevance
Gymnema sylvestre: Seroy mentioned a new study from Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC which found that an extract of Gymnema sylvestre (an ayurvedic herb that has been used traditionally to regulate blood sugar), in combination with niacin-bound chromium, was helpful in boosting the effectiveness of hydroxycitric acid in promoting weight loss, by reducing body mass index and increasing fat burning. It also helped reduce serum serotonin and serum leptin levels, and lowered cholesterol while it increased beneficial HDL. Seroy added that a patent for this particular formula has been filed by his company.

Boswellia serrata: A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study of 30 osteoarthritic patients demonstrated that Boswellia serrata is effective as an anti-inflammatory agent. According to GENI, Inc., Carmel, IN, the patients in the study switched from NSAID therapies to the Boswellia serrata extract. They received 333 mg of Boswellia per capsule, three times daily for eight weeks. All patients reported a decrease in knee pain, increased knee flexion, increased walking distance, improvement in capacity of climbing stairs, and improved ability to kneel and squat.

"The most significant aspect of this study is that it is a human clinical, which tested the efficacy of Boswellia in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee," commented Sonya Bucklew, marketing director for GENI. She added that an extended study is now in progress to further validate these results.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Significant animal and human studies have been conducted on ashwagandha primarily for stress and anabolic enhancement, both alone and in combination with other ayurvedic herbs, Moffett pointed out. One double-blind, placebo-controlled study compared ashwagandha to Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and found that although both improved psychomotor performance, better results were measured with ashwagandha. "These studies have confirmed its traditional use as a rejuvenating tonic," he said. "Recent research indicates the future potential of ashwagandha as an anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and immunomodulating agent."

Researchers in Germany and India have recently found activity from ashwagandha that suggests it may be helpful in ameliorating the negative effects of stress, anxiety, chronic fatigue, and depression, he added.

A recent placebo-controlled clinical study found that ashwagandha, in combination with other ayurvedic herbs (Boswellia serrata, ginger, and turmeric), alleviated joint swelling in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. An earlier clinical trial on the same formula found significant benefits in patients with osteoarthritis in both the severity of pain and disability.

Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine for enhancing memory, was the subject of a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study in Australia on cognitive function in adults. A standardized ethanolic extract of brahmi (150 mg twice daily for 12 weeks) produced a statistically significant improvement in memory, including speed of learning and processing of information, Moffett pointed out.

"Another recent placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of brahmi in normal children ages 10-13 found that after six weeks there was a significant improvement in attention span. However, in this short-term trial, no improvement was found in memory or concentration," he said.

Along with ashwagandha, brahmi is currently being investigated at the University of Southern California School of Medicine in Los Angeles for cognitive benefits, alone and combined with another ayurvedic herb (gotu kola).

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) has been traditionally used to improve memory. According to Renaissance Herbs, a recent placebo-controlled, double-blind study of gotu kola in healthy volunteers found significant anxiety-inhibiting activity. "The researchers point out that further studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of gotu kola in the treatment of anxiety, although the herb has been used as such for centuries in India and China," Moffett said.

Triterpenes, the active constituents of gotu kola, have been the subject of numerous studies. A recent controlled study in Europe examined the effect of the triterpene extract on foot and ankle swelling in airline passengers on long flights. The results showed that, compared to untreated controls, people given the triterpene extract of the herb showed significantly less ankle swelling and alterations in microcirculation. Gotu kola has also been used in topical applications for skin diseases in India, including psoriasis and eczema. Turmeric (Curcuma longa), well known as an ingredient of curry, is currently the subject of research as an antioxidant, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory and potential adjunct treatment in patients undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer, according to Moffett. European studies have recently found that at a daily dose of 200 mg, an extract of turmeric made with water and alcohol causes a decrease in oxidized fats (lipid peroxides) in the blood, which increase in women after menopause and are an important factor in their increased risk of arteriosclerosis-related heart disease.

Many ayurvedic formulas, which can be quite complex, are also netting scientific validation, similar to the single herbs. For example a complex ayurvedic formula—consisting of aqueous extracts of ashwagandha root plus shatavari (Asparagus racemosa), Indian kudzu (Pueraria tuberosa), kivach (Mucuna pruriens), pitalu (Dioscorea bulbifera), elephant creeper (Argyria speciosa), pepper seeds (Piper longum), and shilajit—was tested in a placebo-controlled study of mental performance in soldiers, said Moffett. The study found significant improvement among those taking one capsule twice daily in ability to cope with stress including maintaining mental performance in stressful environments.

Hints on Formulations
"When formulating ayurvedic remedies, there are generally two schools of thought," said Dave. First, formulations should fit into the modality of ayurvedic treatments, regimens and balancing of doshas. Second, the formulation should be active and efficacious regardless of traditional ayurvedic regimen. "Modern science is involved in validating both approaches," he noted. "However, traditional formulas integrate herbal therapy with diet and lifestyle changes to optimize effectiveness. The second approach works to isolate an active compound(s), andstandardize these compounds with a view to offering a potent phytopharmaceutical."

According to Joseph Kalba, executive vice president of Piscataway, NJ-based Sami Labs, Inc., a sister company to Sabinsa Corp., the key in formulating contemporary ayurvedic health formulas is the need to concentrate on the balance achieved within the body. "Certain herbs, such as guggul and ashwagandha, accomplish this objective as stand-alone products. However, most ayurvedic formulas depend on a combination of herbs to achieve their desired purpose," he said.

One of Sami Labs' newest products is Cratavin, Crataeva nurvula extract, which has been shown to be beneficial for urinary tract maintenance. This product is extremely effective as a stand-alone item, but it has traditionally been combined with Tinospora cordifolia and Tribulus terrestris.

Also introduced recently by Sami Labs is Salaretin, Salacia reticulata extract. Salacia reticulata is an ayurvedic medicinal plant, known as Vairi or Pitika in Sanskrit, and has traditionally been used in blood sugar management.

Dave pointed out that traditional formulations in India could be powders taken with milk, water, honey, etc. However, the taste may not be palatable to Americans. Therefore, many traditional formulations have been converted to capsules or tablets. "Studies have shown that most ayurvedic herbs are compatible with commonly used excipients and dosage forms," he said.

Spread the Word
Encouragingly, the research mentioned here is just a tiny portion of what exists to support a line of ayurvedic supplements. Formulation help is also readily available from suppliers that have on-staff professionals who are trained in ayurveda and in product formulation. Now, more than ever, it would be advantageous to introduce ayurvedic health products to consumers.

Consumer perspective about ayurveda, stressed Dave, has currently evolved to recognizing the ancient Indian system of medicine as a holistic science. "Consumers have seen a great deal of literature about ayurveda's system of body types (doshas) and the roles they play in health. There is growing consumer curiosity about ayurvedic herbs and how this herbal therapy can be integrated into a holistic regimen," he said.

Dr. Lal Hingorani, director of R&D for GENI, Inc., noted, "The market for ayurvedic products will depend upon availability of quality product and consistency of supply. It is bound to increase as more and more institutes are sprouting up and training health consultants about fundamentals of ayurveda."

Science is essential, asserted Moffett, but the 5,000 years of traditional use should not be ignored. "Many consumers want a connection to a health system that has been tested by time, and achieves physical well being through balance. In ayurveda, every individual is a unique combination of doshas or body types that offer valuable insight on diet, exercise, and even emotional health. This is what makes the use of ayurvedic herbs distinct from other products in the marketplace." NIE

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