Rasa BOLD: Synergy & Full-Spectrum Extracts
To give our rich and roasted Rasa base that extra kick when formulating Bold, we choose full-spectrum extracts. Unlike standardized extracts or isolates, full-spectrum extracts give the desired increase in potency while preserving the herbs’ natural ratio of compounds. This ensures that the safety and efficacy demonstrated for thousands of years of traditional practice with whole plants still apply. Full-spectrum extracts also maximize synergy both between plants and within each individual plant.
What is Synergy?
Synergy exists when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 1+1 no longer equals 2 but maybe 3, 4, or 5 instead. This is seen throughout the natural world, where unlikely emergent behaviors frequently pop up out of complex systems. The field of herbal medicine is full of these examples as well.
To begin with, a single plant, unlike modern pharmaceuticals, has hundreds of chemical constituents. For example, 140 compounds have been identified in rhodiola— and many of these show activity when isolated and studied in vivo and in vitro (in both animal/ human clinical trials and in a Petri dish). Even coffee isn’t as simple as caffeine— there are still dozens of compounds we haven’t isolated and understood yet! Inherent in a single plant is a milieu of chemicals all exerting some amount of mutual influence on each other. These interactions often impact bio-availability, adverse effects and toxicity, mechanisms of action, and more.
For a demonstration of synergy in a single herb, we’ll look to sweet Annie (Artemisia annua), a plant that has been studied extensively for its anti-malarial potential. Artemisinin is considered the active chemical, and the dominant initial conclusion from the early research was that we should isolate this one compound and turn it into an anti-malaria drug. But some of the research explored synergy and came to surprising conclusions. The herb as a simple tea outperformed the isolated extract by orders of magnitude. When brewed from whole leaves, roughly ten times less artemisinin was needed for an effective dose than what was needed of the straight isolate. We now know there are at least ten other constituents in the herb that are active, and others that may also increase the bio-availability and effectiveness of these actives.
What’s true for single herbs is also true for herbs in combination. Formulation, at its best, creates an herbal product that is far greater than the individual herbs. At its worst, a formulation can be counterproductive and confusing. There are reasons why many herbalists use certain plant combinations over and over again— tradition, balance, and synergy. Many adaptogens are part of traditional formulas and have been used together for hundreds of years. In addition, adaptogens influence stress through multiple mechanisms— at the system level, the cellular level, and through the regulation of key stress mediators like cortisol (our main stress hormone)— so the synergy that results from a balanced mixture of multiple adaptogens intuitively makes sense.
The combination of rhodiola, schisandra, and eleuthero— the adaptogenic core of Rasa BOLD— was the subject of a 2013 paper. The study looked at how these plants affect genes and influence gene regulation. At every additional level of complexity, more genes were affected. Rhodiola as a whole-herb extract affected more genes than the sum of it’s isolated active constituents. And the combination of rhodiola, schisandra, and eleuthero affected more genes than the sums of each of these herbs combined. While this shows that the combination of these three herbs, 1+1+1, equals more than 3, conclusions about increased efficacy are difficult to draw from the data without more knowledge of specific genes and gene regulation. Lucky for us, there are several high quality clinical trials exploring this potent herbal combination.
Unlike most pharmaceuticals, which act like a simple light switch— on, off— herbal formulas can be likened to a fancy dimmer. More nuance, more gradient, less extremes. In general, these herbs influence multiple targets through multiple mechanisms in what’s termed “network pharmacology”. The idea is that many partial interactions with many targets in a network will almost always be more efficient than a strong punch to a single, well-selected target (and safer too). What is considered the frontier for pharmaceuticals is ancient history for plants.
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