Whole herb or extract? Which is better?

Resveratrol for horses

You’ve found a great price on the internet for Milk Thistle. The company is well-known for equine supplements, with a renowned veterinarian touting the products. The instructions say to give 4 grams per day. You give it. But it doesn’t have any positive effects. What gives? Is it that the milk thistle didn’t work? Or is it that this particular batch or brand doesn’t work?

Comparing herbal supplements is hard. You have choices of ground whole herb, or herbal extracts. How do you make sense of it? 

»Compare the amounts of active ingredients: Many herbs have only 2-4% of an active ingredient in the ground plant, while others may have none at all. This wide variation could mean the difference between one herbal preparation being effective and another may not be. Extracts tend to have higher percentages of the active ingredients. For instance, My Best Horse Milk Thistle contains 63% sylimarin.

Why the variations of active ingredients in the plant? Plant species selected could be one reason. Growing conditions may be another.

»Preparation of the whole herb may also be a factor. Ground plant material seems to be a bit better at having bioavailable active ingredients, compared to whole herb, because the horse may not be able to chew the whole plant sufficiently to allow the active ingredients to come in contact with the digestive system walls for absorption.

»Storage. After harvest, was the herb stored in the heat? And how old is the herb that you’ve purchased?

»Are the amounts in the plant in sufficient amounts to be biologically effective? The efficacy of a product like Turmeric EX, which contains 95% curcuminoids will be very different from the turmeric root that you buy at the grocery store, which may contain only 2-6% curcumin.

»Argument FOR whole herb: Sellers of the whole ground herb will tell you that there are “other” important things in the whole plant, besides the active ingredient that you’re looking for. Depending on the herb, this may account for an additional small portion of the plant. Is it a case where there is little “other” active ingredients? Or is there a significant amount of “other” active ingredients, such as polyphenols, or the like?

»Argument FOR using an extract: You know how much of an active ingredient you are actually getting. My Best Horse Milk Thistle is 63% silymarin every time. The Turmeric EX is 95% curcuminoids every time. The Resveratrol – 98% is 98% every time. This consistency between batches makes it easier for you to know if the herb is having an effect.

We try to do the best that we can possibly do for our horses. Be informed about the things that affect the efficacy of herbal supplements.

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