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Full-Spectrum vs. Standardized Herbals

You will most likely find plenty of controversy over which is better: full-spectrum or standardized herbal extraction for alternative medicines. The real question could simply be, “Which is appropriate to achieve the efficacy of a specific plant product?”

Beneficial Botanicals carries plant tinctures that are best processed as full-spectrum extractions. So, we thought it might be helpful to talk a minute about what you are buying and how this may impact your personal healthcare.

Full-spectrum Extraction
A full-spectrum extract is made with an herbaceous plant’s part(s), tinctured in a menstruum of alcohol for a product that includes the highest percentage of all the plant’s chemicals and compounds, without affecting the natural ratio of these constituents present in the plant. Full-spectrum extracts leave the natural ratios of the constituents in tact.

Many scientists and practitioners around the world believe that some of the desired effects observed from a full-spectrum product may likely be attributed to the interactions between constituents (though not yet fully explored). Further, it’s believed that there are constituents in plants that should not be left out so as to avoid adverse or unwanted effects that may occur with selectivity of compounds –selectivity being the characteristic of standardized extractions. Plants contain an array of phytochemicals with internal complexity working together as important pieces to the puzzle. Consequently, standardization may concentrate one constituent at the expense of other potentially important ones, while changing the natural balance of the herb’s components. [3]

Standardized Extraction
A standardized extract is made with an herbaceous plant’s part(s), in a process of selectivity to extract one individual chemical or compound to produce a guaranteed amount, usually expressed as a percentage. This ensures that the isolated constituent will be present at the same potency from batch to batch. A full-spectrum’s range of constituents may vary from batch to batch. Variances can be good in the case of plants that have antibacterial effects, for example, where the variance may be beneficial to “fool” the suspecting bacteria. But if you want to isolate a particular inactive glycoside to be activated for available chemical use (done by enzyme hydrolysis which causes the sugar part to be broken off)[2], then standardization would be the clear choice.

Case Examples
A standardized extract is not very well-suited for plants that have unknown beneficial active constituents, because it is guesswork to determine which compounds should be standardized. However, standardized extracts are ideal for substances that have well-characterized active ingredients, assuming that these are not interdependent with other phytochemicals in the plant. This holds true especially in the case of high variability of a compound that might be dangerous in the natural potency of the starting material.

An example of a dangerous variance would be in the case of Datura flower (angel’s trumpet or moon flower in the nightshade family). An extract including the toxic part of this plant might be potentially dangerous as a full-spectrum extract because one batch could contain 1% atropine while the next batch could contain 3% atropine. Because atropine and scopolamine are very well-characterized scientifically, there is consensus that they are the active constituents and safe only if given at a consistent, predictable dosage.[1]

A full-spectrum extract is, on the other hand, well-suited for most plants in order to obtain the full benefit of what they have to offer. There are many cases that illustrate how the isolation of a plant’s constituent for standardization has led us right back to the offerings of the whole plant –where from our journey began.

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
St. John’s Wort is a good example of a plant that offers full-spectrum efficacy but has been unnecessarily picked apart by standardization. Originally, companies believed that the phenolic compound Hypericin was the target for standardization, but over time the phytochemical Hyperforin was determined to be another important part of the puzzle of active ingredients, along with pseudohypericin and several flavonoid constituents. [4]

Buy St. John’s Wort here at Beneficial Botanicals


[1] Full-spectrum Extracts vs. Standardized Extracts. Brand, Eric (2010).
[2] Synthesis and Characterization of Glycosides. Brito-Arias, Marco (2007).
[3] Whole Herbs vs. Standardized Herbal Extracts: Which are Better?. Kosowski, M.S., LDN, Amy (2015).
[4] Botanical Medicine: From Bench to Bedside. Cooper, R. and Kronenberg, F.; St. John’s Wort: Quality Issues and Active Compounds. Butterweck, Veronika. (2009) link to PDF