The Inside Scoop on Standardized Herbs
If you are a consistent reader of my articles then you know I have never been a fan of the “isolated” standardized herb as a stand-alone product.
The reason: isolated standardized herbs are an imbalanced and unnatural way to use herbs.
Over the last 16 years as herbal preparation has improved I have “reformulated” my way of thinking, attempting to figure out where and how to apply this category of herb.
Types of Standardized Herbs
I have always been a strong believer that there is a place and use for everything and standardized herbs are no exception to the rule. While standardized herbs are an imbalanced herb preparation with a specific purpose, that does not mean you have to use them this way. There are two specific areas where I think standardized herbs are the perfect solution to a “problem”.
But before I get into the meat of this article, I want to go over the types of “standardized” preparations on the market today.
The most important thing to understand when defining standardized is the idea that you are getting a guaranteed percentage or concentration level of active constituents.
The Standardized Isolate
First, is the standardized isolate preparation. This is based on the idea that only one or two of the hundreds of constituents found in an herb are what give the herb its powerful medicinal qualities. Standardized isolates are prepared by separating one or two constituents from the herb and concentrating them to specific amounts. Then, it is added back into the whole herb extract.
The Full Spectrum Standardized Extract
Next, is the full spectrum standardized extract. This is a much more balanced version of a standardized extract. This type of extract concentrates all the constituents as a whole, providing a guaranteed specific percentage across the board. There is no one player considered more important than another in this preparation. In my opinion, this should be the gold standard for herbal extracts. Examples of high quality extracts include: Reishi extract (concentrated to 30% polysaccharides), Goji extract (concentrated to 50% polysaccharides) and Cordyceps extract (concentrated to 25% polysaccharides).
The Whole Plant Extract
Finally, is the full spectrum concentrate. This is not a standardized herbal preparation with any promise of specific percentages. This is a true whole plant extract. Essentially, every batch yields a different end-result based on the quality of the plant you begin with.
Now that we have a good understanding of what standardization means, let’s begin.
Use an Isolate for a Specific Healing Effect
The isolate is used if you are looking for a very specific healing effect. Because standardized herbs produce more of a “natural drug” like effect, this preparation of herb used as either a stand-alone item or put into a formula is the perfect solution for obtaining very specific responses.
There are many examples of this but the first which comes to mind is the echinacea plant, a.k.a. the purple coneflower. This herb when being produced into an extract product can have many different actions depending on the parts being used. The flower portion, when harvested in the early developmental stage, contain arabinogalactan proteins and polysaccharides. These specific phytochemicals may support ongoing immune function. An herb with high levels of the above phytochemicals is best for long term use with periodic breaks.
On the other end of the spectrum, the roots that are harvested in the fall season generally contain large amounts of alkyl amides and may support a healthy inflammation response. A preparation made from this portion of the plant alone is best used on the onset of specific issues and for only a short period of time. The reason for the variation of usage between these two preparations is based on the specific actions that these different phytochemicals have on the body.
Combine an Isolate and a Full Spectrum Standardized Extract
The other scenario is when you may be looking for a quicker healing response. In this case, purchasing a product that combines both an isolate and a full spectrum standardized preparation will often support a quicker healing response and bring more balance to the standardized isolate.
You can find one of two different types of these preparations. The standardized isolate herb with “x” number of milligrams of a specific constituent combined with a full spectrum standardized extract of the whole plant. The other preparation is the standardized isolate extract combined with the whole leaf, root or whole plant powder in a smaller amount. Either way, no matter which one you pick, you have a more balanced item then the standardized isolate alone.
How to Get a Guaranteed Amount of Phytochemicals
If you like the guarantee of knowing that you will get a specific amount of active phytochemicals in the herbs you are taking, then, one of the two standardized versions described above are the perfect solution for you.
On the other hand, if you want a certain balance and a guarantee, then the full spectrum standardized extract is the way to go.
Switch it up or Take a Break every 12 weeks
I should reiterate a few important points so the information above is clear. First, if you are going to use a preparation with an isolated standardized or full spectrum standardized preparation then it is advisable that after about 12 weeks you either take one week break or switch to another herb with similar actions. The reason for this suggestion is that the preparation of the herb is not perfectly balanced.
Therefore, you are still getting (especially with full spectrum) a partial standardized herb effect. A preparation of this nature is something the body can get used to over a period of time (because it works similar to a drug) and therefore needs to have breaks worked into the program so the user can continue to see progress.
Seek Balance Between Preparation and Results
Next, as mentioned above, the goal should always be to look for balance in both the preparation you use and the results you seek. This is based on simple physics. What goes up will eventually have to come back down. Therefore, the goal should always be balance and this is exactly why taking breaks are necessary when using a preparation with standardized herbs in it.
Finally, always opt for a formula versus an individual herb. This is especially important when you are going to use standardized herbs. There are two main reasons to always opt for a formula.
Formulas are Better
The basic rule of herbalism is that formulas work better than an individual herb. The reason is that formulas are prepared with balance as the main goal. Even with standardized herbs in a formula, the goal is to get as close to being balanced as possible.
The other reason to opt for a formula is to produce greater results. A formula is usually made up of:
- a lead herb(s)
- supporting herb(s) and
- stimulating herb(s) to help push it through your system.
This can be anywhere from 3 to 10 herbs and the number of nourishing and supportive phytochemicals you are getting from a formula will always beat out a single herb preparation. If you look at some of the oldest herbal systems in the world they are all about formulations and this includes old school western herbalism.
Education is Key
My goal for this article was to bring clarity to an area where I regularly receive hundreds of questions. I hope I have cleared a pathway of knowledge so you can make a more informed choice on what is best for you.
As always, please feel free to leave a comment or question below.
In great health,
About Michael Stuchiner
Michael Stuchiner is an experienced Master Herbalist, the Head of Education for Z Natural Foods, a teacher and an accomplished author. With a 16-year specialization in medicinal herbs, Mike also has a vast knowledge in tonic and adaptogenic herbalism. Mike has enjoyed a 25-year career as an elite-level competitive powerlifter where he learned to heal his ‘mind and body’ as an avid user of herbal remedies.
As an “in-the-trenches” herbalist, Mike has done more than 85 speaking engagements, consulted with clients ranging from young to elderly, worked with athletes in virtually all sports and with clients who have “dis-ease” states of a wide variety. Mike also mentors student Master Herbalists and will continue to teach the next generation to grow a deeper wisdom of the human body through appropriate herbal remedies.
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