Last month, the Indian government issued a directive on the use of Ashwagandha. The advisory urged manufacturers to refrain from using Ashwagandha leaf, a cheaper alternative to the plant’s root.

AYUSH, the department responsible for researching indigenous medicine, published the directive discouraging the usage of leaves after noticing manufacturers were cutting costs. The root may be between four and ten times more expensive than leaves.

At Authentic Biotics, we always have and will continue to use Ashwagandha root only. Unlike the leaves, the root is deemed safe by regulatory bodies across the globe. 

Eugeniusz Dudzinski on Getty Images Pro via Canva Pro.

Moreover, studies validate the potential health benefits proposed for the Ashwagandha root. 

AYUSH’s announcement affirms the centrality of Ashwagandha in ancient Indian medical systems. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine, which may have been practised as early as 6000 BC, reveres the herb as a rejuvenating tonic. 

Ancient texts, however, mention the use of Ashwagandha root only – not leaves. Moreover, per AYUSH’s directive, Ashwagandha leaves have not been adequately studied for safety and efficacy.

The safety of Ashwagandha root, on the other hand, is affirmed by the pharmacopoeia of the UK, USA and World Health Organisation, among others.

Furthermore, clinical studies show it effectively reduces stress and anxiety and can boost memory and task performance.

Spline_x on Getty Images Pro via Canva Pro.

The statement by AYUSH does not come as a surprise to some industry experts. Sandeep Gupta, CEO of India’s Expert Nutraceutical Council, has noticed the influx of cheap Ashwagandha products on e-commerce sites such as Amazon.

“Why are [some] ashwagandha [supplements] so cheap?,” said Gupta. “It is so when it is coming from the leaves.”

The directive also echoes the concerns of the American Botanical Council (ABC), which warned companies against bulking up Ashwagandha products with low-cost leaves. 

“This type of adulteration will fool only those companies and laboratories that do not use adequate analytical efforts to properly test their ashwagandha materials,” said ABC founder Mark Blumenthal.

The sentiment is echoed by the wider holistic medicine community, who fear that the unethical practices of some companies will decrease consumer confidence in the ingredient.

The inclusion of leaves in Ashwagandha products may also be motivated by attempts to boost withanolide content. Withanolides are an active compound in Ashwagandha, acting as an adaptogen that can help the body deal with physical and mental stress.

Eskymaks on Getty Image Pro via Canva Pro.

While a high withanolide content may be used as a marketing ploy, a higher percentage is not necessarily a good thing. 

Ashwagandha extract sourced from leaves often contains high levels of Withaferin A compared to root extract. Withaferin A is cytotoxic (so it is used to kill cells such as cancer), so it is often recommended to avoid leaf-extracted Ashwagandha as a safety precaution. 

Authentic Biotics uses industry-leading KSM-66® Ashwagandha root extract, standardised in 5% withanolides at the clinically studied dosage. The extract resembles the natural composition of the plant and is very low-toxicity, ensuring its safety. The extraction of KSM-66® also does not use synthetic solvents or alcohols, therefore avoiding unpleasant tastes and smells.