Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Malaysian Ginseng

I’ve been asked LOTS of questions lately about an interesting Malaysian herb called “Eurycoma” (aka Malaysian Ginseng and by its Latin botanical name, Eurycoma longifolia). Since I have conducted a range of research trials on eurycoma over the past 5 years, I thought I would provide an outline of some of the important factors to consider if you decide to give eurycoma a try…

The information below is a synopsis of eurycoma – but please feel free to delve into the details of eurycoma and some of its complementary balancing compounds at these links:

Eurycoma (more detailed) = http://www.supplementwatch.com/SupplementWatch/Library/Entries/2008/10/2_Eurycoma_longifolia_%28Professional_version%29.html

Citrus PMFs (for intracellular cortisol balance) = http://www.supplementwatch.com/SupplementWatch/Library/Entries/2008/10/2_PMFs_%28Poly-Methoxylated-Flavones%29%28Professional_version%29.html

Catechins (from green tea for norepinephrine balance) = http://www.supplementwatch.com/SupplementWatch/Library/Entries/2009/2/20_Green_Tea_-_Professional_Version.html

Theanine (for stress relief and dopamine balance) = http://www.supplementwatch.com/SupplementWatch/Library/Entries/2009/5/13_Theanine_-_Consumer_Version.html

Eurycoma (Eurycoma longifolia)

Eurycoma is a tree root, often called Malaysian ginseng (to suggest its benefits as an “energy tonic”), and also known by its local name “Tongkat Ali” in Malaysia. In Vietnam, eurycoma root is called “Cay Ba Binh” meaning the “tree that cures 1,000 diseases” to denote its widespread use in traditional remedies.

Don’t waste your time “Googling” eurycoma on the Internet, because you’ll be confronted with thousands of outlandish claims for the root to cure cancer, “boost” testosterone levels, improve sexual potency, and pretty much cure whatever ailment you can think of.

That said, there is actually some very solid research (in humans) on the health benefits of eurycoma – BUT you need to be sure you are getting “true” eurycoma root that has been harvested properly, extracted properly, and remains pure (there are many examples of fake eurycoma, improperly extracted (toxic) formulas, and contaminated (heavy metals) products on the market – so Buyer Beware).

What CAN Eurycoma Do?
So, if you can wade through all the disreputable claims and inferior products to find legitimate eurycoma root extract, what can you expect? The best and most appropriate use of eurycoma root extract is to help support hormone balance. Why should you care about “hormone balance”? Because hormone imbalance is the biochemical root of a long list of “modern” stress-related conditions, including fatigue, depression, mental confusion, weight gain, low sex drive, immune suppression, and many others. By restoring hormone balance, eurycoma can help to reverse each and every one of these symptoms that many of us associate with “aging” and with our too-busy frantic lives.

The research evidence for eurycoma’s health benefits in humans is focused primarily on maintaining hormone balance (cortisol and testosterone), which results in measurable improvements in psychological parameters such as reduced stress levels, improved mood state, and enhanced vigor (a term from psychology research that indicates “mental and physical energy”).

There are a large number of animal studies that show eurycoma root can restore normal testosterone levels (from low back “up” to normal) – but there is no good research to suggest that eurycoma increases testosterone levels above normal (bad news for the bodybuilding crowd that is always looking for a testosterone booster). This unique “balancing” effect of eurycoma is due to its mechanism of action to help “release” free testosterone from its binding/transport protein (SHBG – sex hormone binding globulin) rather than stimulating production of new testosterone. Most middle-aged adults do not need to produce more testosterone, they simply need to release the testosterone that they’ve already produced and that is floating around in their blood “locked up” by SHBG.

The people who can most benefit from restoring normal hormone balance are obviously those who are suffering from an imbalance – which includes those individuals with chronic stress, sleep deprivation (less than 8 hours nightly), athletes (exercise stress), and dieters (psychological stress from what we call “dietary restraint”). If that weren’t bad enough, the simple process of aging means that anyone past the age of 30 is at risk for hormone imbalance (cortisol rises and testosterone falls with age) – unless you follow an impeccable diet, activity, and sleep regimen –and especially if you’re also exposed to any of the modern stressors listed above.

What To Look For in a Eurycoma Root Extract?
As with any dietary supplement, you want to be sure to purchase eurycoma from a reputable source – one that employs stringent quality control in terms of harvesting, sourcing, manufacturing, and packaging.

Perhaps the most important consideration with selecting a eurycoma root extract is that it be extracted in hot water – not alcohol – and that the water extract is standardized to the proper level of active constituents. The alcohol extracts will result in a high content of toxic compounds (useful for treating infections with certain jungle parasites, but counterproductive to the main use of water-extracted eurycoma for hormone balance). There are a lot of unsupported claims for different extract “ratios” for eurycoma – so you’ll be led to believe that one manufacturer’s “100:1” extract is more potent than another’s “50:1” extract or another’s “20:1” extract. What really matters in terms of potency of the extract is that it is standardized to contain a known and research-proven level of the active compounds – and the only eurycoma extract validated for hormone balance in humans delivers 22% eurypeptides (small protein chains) from a hot-water-extract.

Also important in your choice of eurycoma supplements is whether or not the root has been sustainably harvested. Eurycoma trees are both rare and slow-growing (taking about 5 years to reach maturity for harvesting at the optimal content of active compounds). Disreputable harvesters of eurycoma trees may “clear cut” old growth jungle forests – while reputable harvesters have instituted seedling replanting programs within the Malaysian jungle as well as established eurycoma plantations with the Malaysian government to support the ongoing sustainable harvesting of eurycoma for generations to come.

Finally, you want to be sure to select a source of eurycoma that is formulated to support hormone balance holistically – not just focus on the testosterone side of the equation. In Malysian traditional medicine, and in other traditional medicine systems from around the world, certain “base” herbs such as eurycoma often play the “starring role” in a given formula – but they are balanced with other ingredients to maximize the desired benefits. A properly balanced formula will help to restore “biochemical balance” within the body (hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters), which will result in “physiological balance” (optimal organ function – brain, muscles, heart, lungs, etc), and will be perceived as “psychological balance” by the individual (improved feelings of well-being). In the case of hormone balance and mood/energy benefits, ingredients such as citrus PMFs (polymethoxylated flavones), green tea catechins, and the amino acid theanine are good matches for eurycoma due to their complementary effects in balancing cortisol, norepinephrine, and dopamine (each of which addresses different aspects of hormone balance and mood/vigor).

Bottom Line
I have been studying eurycoma in various formulations (combined with PMFs, catechins, and theanine) for the past five years – in athletes, dieters, and people under stress – and in each of these categories of subjects, our research shows a clear and compelling range of benefits – starting with a restoration of hormone balance and leading to significant benefits including reduced stress, improved mood, and enhanced vigor. These clinical studies have been presented at some of the top peer-reviewed scientific conferences in the world, including the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), the Obesity Society, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and Experimental Biology (with the American Society for Nutritional Science and the largest scientific nutrition conference in the world). I am especially excited that the precise 4-ingredient balanced formula that I have used in my clinical studies will be introduced to the marketplace in the coming weeks by one of the leading natural health companies in the world. Please stay tuned for more information…

Thanks for reading,


Shawn M. Talbott, PhD LDN FACSM

Follow me on Twitter @DocTalbott