In 2010 and 2011, India exported close to 155 million pounds of turmeric to America. Turmeric supplements are booming here, with companies putting out everything from turmeric-based lattes and foods to powders, pills and other supplements.
But turmeric is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2016, Americans spend close to $8 billion on herbal supplements. And among all the herbal remedies becoming more popular in the U.S., Ayurveda seems to have caught the public’s eye.
Traditionally, Ayurvedic treatment involves bringing the mind, body and spirit together in complete balance. Besides the use of herbs and metals, it also uses massages, meditation and yoga to keep the body balanced and functioning at its best. This 5,000-year-old healing science from India is said to be the oldest medical system still in use today; it was around when the Saharan Desert was actually lush with vegetation.
Although Ayurveda has a long track record in the East—and that’s an understatement—many of its key herbal supplements are just now beginning to pop up in Western research. Here’s what we know about some of the most popular Ayurvedic supplements hitting shelves across the U.S.
Ashwagandha (Winter Cherry, Indian Ginseng)
Along with other herbs we’re talking about in this article, ashwagandha forms the cornerstone of natural Ayurvedic treatment. Studies have shown that winter cherry can help keep fatigue at bay and thus have a positive effect on blood pressure levels. It’s an adaptogen known for its stress-busting abilities.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, has been known to drop significantly among people who have consumed ashwagandha root extract—with no serious adverse events. There is limited, yet positive, research that suggests this herb, also known as Indian ginseng, has anti-depressive qualities.
One study among men who were given winter cherry extract twice daily for 8 weeks found that their muscle size increase, their body fat dropped and they had less workout-induced muscle damage. Improved semen quality and testosterone levels have been linked to ashwagandha, as well.
Turmeric (Haldi, Curcumin)
The sale of turmeric skyrocketed in 2016, with Americans dedicated to a natural lifestyle spending close to $50 million on this herb and its supplements.
In India, turmeric has been used for thousands of years to treat acne and period cramps, and everything in between. When used as a spice, turmeric does not contain high levels of curcumin. That’s why turmeric supplements, with high levels of curcumin extract, are a good idea.
The curcumin compound is a strong antioxidant that protects the body against free radicals and a variety of pathological conditions. It also assists the body in kick-starting its own antioxidant mechanisms.
Since curcumin is an anti-inflammatory agent, studies also show it reduces factors that bring on cardio complications.
Licorice Root (Yashtimadhu)
Certain chemicals in licorice help decrease mucus secretions, cough and swelling. The licorice root is also used to cure stomach ulcers. Licorice-based gels are sometimes applied to contain skin rashes such as eczema and reduce itching and redness. Certain people suffering from gastrointestinal issues take licorice supplements in small doses.
When you’re constantly under stress, the adrenal gland has to work overtime. Licorice root is known to relieve the adrenal gland, thus keeping stress hormone levels down.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Within Ayurvedic circles, holy basil has been prescribed to treat ringworms and eye infections, among other conditions. Tulsi may also protect against high blood sugar, hypertension and weight gain. Its adaptogenic qualities help with joint pain, inflammation and anxiety. Holy Basil essential oil is used to alleviate topical insect bites.
Other Ayurvedic Supplements
Initial research suggests ingesting Amalaki (Indian gooseberry) can lower bad cholesterol levels. Twak (cinnamon) has higher antioxidant properties than superfoods, ginger and oregano. Its anti-bacterial properties can fight tooth decay and keep bad breath at bay. And one study found that yogurt infused with a Jeera-cumin supplement helped keep cholesterol levels from increasing.
You might be wondering why we included the Sanskrit names of these herbs. Sometimes, you’ll find these alternate names used on supplement labels, so it’s important to know all the names that a given herb goes by to ensure you’re getting the right thing.
If you’re suffering from a chronic disease, make sure you don’t switch completely to Ayurvedic supplements from conventional care. The Ayurvedic supplements mentioned here have been extensively tested and found to have beneficial effects on the human body. But some of them are known to have adverse reactions to medications, and in many cases they shouldn’t replace your other prescriptions—especially if you have a serious condition. Only your doctor will be able to confirm which are right for you and if it’s wise to make the switch.
But in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little turmeric to your diet.