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What's the difference between an extract and a powder?

You want to add herbals to your supplement routine, but it's a little overwhelming. Okay, a lot overwhelming. There are tons of options: Should you take an extract powder or just the plain powder? What's the difference between herbal extracts and whole herb supplements, anyway? And which one is better?

Navigating herbal supplements might feel like you've ventured into a forest with no way out, but this handy guide breaks it all down so those powdered plants aren't quite so intimidating.

WHAT IS A WHOLE HERB?

This one's pretty  self-explanatory: a whole herb supplement contains a whole herb (the roots, stem, flowers, etc.), either in dried powder form or preserved in a capsule or tablet.

Taking the whole herb is the traditional, holistic approach to supplementation--it's believed that all parts of an herb work together more efficiently to improve overall health than individual components of an herb.

WHAT IS AN EXTRACT?

While a whole herb supplement contains the entire plant, herbal extracts contain parts or compounds extracted from the plant--specifically, compounds believed to have certain health benefits.

Herbal extracts are often "standardized" to contain a certain amount of a beneficial substance. Standardization can help ensure that every batch of an herbal extract contains the same amount of a beneficial compound, so no matter which bag or bottle you order, you're getting a consistent percentage of, say, antioxidants or polyphenols in your powder.

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH EXTRACT RATIOS?

If you've ever bought an herbal extract, the label might say something like, "Dandelion Root Extract, 10:1."

Wait, what?

That ratio you see denotes the potency of a particular extract. If it's a 10:1 extract, for example, that means that ten parts of the original plant are go into one part of the final extract, making it a highly concentrated powder. The higher the ratio, the more potent the powder; this means that a 50:1 extract is more potent than a 4:1 extract.

It also means that powder extracts can be more potent than the plant from which they are sourced, which is why you'll notice that sometimes (but not always), dosages for whole herb supplements are much higher than those for extracts--the greater the potency, the lower the dose to ensure the supplement is safe for consumption.

PROS AND CONS

Whole Herb Powder

PROS Some research (and traditional herbal medicine) argues that taking a whole herb supplement may be more beneficial than taking only parts of an herb (as is the case with an extract). With whole herb supplements, you're getting all the benefits the plant offers.

CONS Because herbs are natural, they're not all identical, so some plants within a species may develop a higher concentration of beneficial compounds than others. Multiple factors can affect a plant's health: the environment in which it's grown, any pesticides used during the growing process, growing methods, and plain ol' biology (some rosemary plants just happen to be bigger than others, even though they're members of the same species). This means that whole herb supplements tend to vary from batch to batch; nature can't guarantee a stable amount of antioxidants or polyphenols in every single plant.

Herbal Extract Powders

PROS While the concentration of beneficial compounds naturally varies from plant to plant, the herbal extraction process ensures a consistent concentration of key compounds in each batch. This is good news if you want to take an herbal extract for a specific purpose, like boosting heart health--it means that each bag of an extract powder you buy will have almost the same percentage of, say, heart-healthy antioxidants in each bag. Of course, the extraction process isn't foolproof, and that percentage will always very slightly, but it does offer an alternative to whole herb supplements.

CONS While research shows that herbal extracts targeting specific health goals can be effective, some studies argue that isolating specific compounds in an herb neglect the holistic benefits of taking the whole herb. In fact, some research suggests that plant compounds need to work together for the body to reap its full benefits.

SO WHICH ONE SHOULD YOU TAKE?

This is up to you! Both whole herb supplements and herbal extracts have mountains of research backing up their effectiveness. If you want an herbal supplement with a consistent potency, extracts may be the way to go; but if you prefer a natural mixture of healthy compounds, a whole herb might be the better choice.

One thought on “What's the difference between an extract and a powder?”

  • Lyndia T.

    This info. gives me a better idea about extracts and whole herbs; I always wondered why some had the ratios, now I know, and was not aware that the roots, the stems, flowers, etc. (in the whole herbs) were all in there! I personally take grape seed extract for my blood pressure, and it helps reduce it quite a bit, along with improving my life style. I daily concentrate on staying hydrated, getting moderate exercise, and staying away from the top killer--sugar!

    Reply
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