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Ashwagandha interest spilling into mainstream market

By Maggie Hennessy , 16-Apr-2014
Last updated on 02-May-2014 at 00:09 GMT

Ashwagandha root
Ashwagandha root

The so-called flagship herb of Ayurveda, ashwagandha is gaining traction in the mainstream US market as consumers embrace its wide-ranging body of health benefits on the heels of strong clinical support and a few celebrity health practitioner endorsements.

“For a long time, ashwagandha was known only in a limited segment of consumers. However, of late, ashwagandha has been promoted by very visible health practitioners like Dr [Mehmet] Oz, Dr [Andrew] Weil and Dr. [Deepak] Chopra, and this has created a strong surge of interest in ashwagandha,” said Kartikeya Baldwa, director of Ixoreal Biomed Inc., supplier of the KSM-66 ashwagandha extract.

Beyond understanding that ashwagandha is among the ingredients that can facilitate a more holistic, preventive approach to healthcare, consumers know the extract as an “adaptogen, that increases the body’s resistance to mental and physical stress, thereby promoting relaxation, brain function, immunity and endurance,” Baldwa added.

KSM-66 root-only ashwagandha extract has the most extensive set of clinical trials of any ashwagandha extract (seven human and two animal trials), claimed Baldwa, through which the ingredient has been documented to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance memory and cognition, increase endurance and strength and aid healthy sexual function both in men and women.

Over the last two years, KSM-66 has been incorporated in more than 70 products in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa by manufacturers including Swanson, Garden of Life, Healthy Directions, 4life, Bodybuilding.com, Purity Products, Swisse, he added. The best-selling ashwagandha on Amazon.com is KSM-66 sold in the form of Ashwagandha Gold by Nutrigold.

Pent-up demand for ashwagandha root extract

Baldwa says much of the growth has come from bottled-up historic demand for a clinically proven, high-concentration extract like KSM-66.

“Many of the formulators using KSM-66 now had been interested in using ashwagandha for several years but held off because there was no clinically proven high-concentration root-only extract on the market until KSM-66 came along,” Baldwa said. “The only other products on the market prior to KSM-66 had either been of low concentration or using parts of the ashwagandha plant other than the root, like the leaves.”

Indeed, ashwagandha is conceptualized primarily as a root extract for maximum clinical effect, according to both Ayurveda textbooks as well as the Indian, the British and the US Pharmacopeias—whose specifications are based entirely on the root.

“Because many formulators have been hesitant to use extracts containing parts other than the root and because there were no clinically proven branded extracts of the ashwagandha root, there was pent-up demand in the marketplace for a product like KSM-66 and we quickly achieved prominence,” Baldwa added.

He also attributes the rise of KSM-66 in part to Ixoreal’s move to become totally vertically integrated, which has contributed to both quality assurance and supply chain stabilization.

“We really are obsessed about quality, which is why it was very important that we control the entire supply chain. Ixoreal is the only ashwagandha maker in the world that has its own farms, production facilities, R&D testing labs, research center and distribution.”

Historic supply of the raw ashwagandha plant has been “erratic, unreliable and uncertain” due to market pressure on local farmers to grow whatever plants are perceived to most profitable in a given season. “Because Ixoreal wants to protect itself and its customers from such uncertainties, we decided to take control of our supply chain and make our production processes entirely vertically integrated.”

Interest not limited to supplements

Owing to the growing consumer propensity to seek nutrition through foods and beverages instead of popping pills, KSM-66 is likewise finding applications outside the medicine cabinet, helped by its neutral flavor profile, Baldwa noted.

“You may know that recent market research shows that consumers across the world increasingly prefer to get functional ingredients as part of foods rather than in tablets or capsules,” he said. “KSM-66 is a full-spectrum extract that is neutral tasting unlike most other ashwagandha extracts which tend to be bitter. Because of this taste profile, KSM-66 is attractive to formulators of foods and beverages. KSM-66 is used in chewing gums, chocolate bars, organic raw food powders, herbal teas, beverages and food replacement powders.”

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