Jennifer Aniston swears by them. Indians have been using them for millions of years. And now, they’re coming to America’s shores and taking over popular culture.
No, we’re not talking about yoga. We’re talking about Ayurvedic supplements, the latest Indian health craze to captivate the Western world.
What are Ayurvedic supplements, and why is the market for them projected to grow by 16% through 2021? Let’s take a closer look at the Ayurveda herb trend and some of the key supplements gaining popularity in the U.S.
What are Ayurvedic supplements?
Ayurveda, Sanskrit for “science of life,” is the oldest health system still in use today. The health and wellness philosophy emphasizes balance, which is achieved through a variety of treatments, lifestyle choices, regular detoxing and—you guessed it—tons of herbs. In the Ayurveda health system, there are more than 5,000 botanicals and herbs. These herbs are considered vital to achieving optimal health, making India a birthplace of modern dietary supplements.
In India, herbs are used alone or in complex combinations to treat a variety of conditions and prevent hosts of issues that stem from an imbalance in the body. Inflammation, for instance, is often treated with turmeric and ginger tea. For stress, Ayurveda prescribes ashwagandha, an ancient herb, instead of medication. Not surprisingly, Ayurveda’s ancient penchant for herbs as medicine is now translating into a booming botanical supplement market.
Although most of the key Ayurvedic herbs haven’t been widely used in the U.S. until now, many come backed strongly by science—making this one supplement trend that we recommend you get to know.
Most popular Ayurvedic supplements
Of the 5,000 herbs used in Ayurveda, a number have become popular in the U.S. supplement market. Here are a few of the key Ayurvedic herbs backed by science.
Ashwagandha: Often called Indian Ginseng, ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that has been traditionally used in Ayurveda to strengthen the immune system. Its sales grew by an astonishing 55% year over year between 2015 and 2016. The herb has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels and thus reduce stress. In ancient Indian medicine, the herb is also used to treat tumors and a variety of infectious diseases, though those applications have not been fully tested by science.
Boswellia: Commonly known as frankincense, boswellia has been shown to boost the immune system, reduce inflammation and prevent autoimmune diseases. It helps regulate lymphocytes, regulates the production of immunoglobin antibodies to fight off infections and delays our reaction to sensitivity. It is also used by some as a natural painkiller for joint pain and arthritis, which may be one big reason why it experienced a 113% growth in sales between 2015 and 2016. One clinical trial found that osteoarthritis patients receiving a compound derived from boswellia gum resin experienced less pain than patients receiving a placebo.
Fenugreek: This herb is similar to clover, and is taken orally for digestive issues, kidney ailments, painful menstrual periods and even diabetes. In one study, taking 5 grams of fenugreek twice per day after meals lowered the blood sugar of people with type 2 diabetes. In Ayurveda, fenugreek is an essential herb for curing digestive issues, and for overall health of the skin and hair. Fenugreek seeds taste a bit like maple syrup, and its leaves are commonly eaten throughout India.
Triphala: This combination of three herbs is used to support digestion which is the foundation of disease prevention in Ayurveda. This trio of herbs—haritaki, bahera and amla—helps promote “good bacteria” in the gut. On its own, amla is often used to treat the flu, cough or respiratory issues.
Turmeric: If you’ve seen golden lattes on Instagram, you already know that this yellow-hued cousin of ginger root is having a serious “it” moment. Turmeric was the top-selling herbal supplement of 2015, with more than $37 million in sales and 32% year-over-year growth. And when you see the science behind this beloved Ayurvedic herb, those numbers won’t surprise you. Turmeric and its key compound, curcumin, have been shown to reduce inflammation, increase the body’s antioxidant capacity, improves brain function and has even been shown to reduce risk for some kinds of cancer. But keep in mind that turmeric is notoriously difficult for the body to absorb; try taking it with a pinch of pepper to resolve the issue.
Although Ayurveda has been in existence longer than many countries have even existed, many of its compounds have yet to be rigorously tested by Western science. However, when it comes to supplements, the herbs above come packed with both promise and scientific research. That makes them a safe starting point for your exploration into Indian herbal supplements.