Nutritional Supplements from Medicinal Plants - Industrial Hemp, Flax, and Ashwagandha

Review Article

Austin J Nutr Metab. 2021; 8(4): 1116.

Nutritional Supplements from Medicinal Plants - Industrial Hemp, Flax, and Ashwagandha

Mistry M#, Patel A#, Patel S#, Potlakayala S, Wolf J and Rudrabhatla S*

Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown, PA, USA #Equal Contribution

*Corresponding author: Rudrabhatla S, Professor of Biology, Program Chair of Biology & Science, Director for Central Pennsylvania Research and Teaching Laboratory for Biofuels, Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown, PA, USA

Received: October 19, 2021; Accepted: November 12, 2021; Published: November 19, 2021


Plants have been long used in nutritional supplements due to their natural therapeutic properties. The recent increase in the use of nutritional supplements has increased the need to establish the scientific basis of nutritional supplements and their regulation. Industrial hemp, flax, and ashwagandha have long been used in traditional herbal medicine. Along with their role in herbal medicine and supplements, they have gained popularity due to their therapeutic and nutritional values.

Keywords: Dietary supplement; Industrial hemp; Flax; Ashwagandha


FDA: Food and Drug Administration; DSLD: Dietary Supplement Label Database; THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol; CBD: Cannabidiol; SDG: Secoisolariciresinol Diglucoside


Dietary supplements have gained popularity through the years, and their use has been increasing even further due to the aging population, increased tendency to use natural products, and increased cost of synthetic pharmaceuticals [1]. The dietary supplement market was valued at USD 101.38 billion in 2018, and the market revenue is set to reach USD 220.3 billion by 2030 [2]. Commodities with claimed health benefits are referred to as nutraceuticals (including dietary supplements), nutritional foods, functional foods, etc. [3].

Though popular, dietary supplements have been subject to debate as they occupy an awkward place in terms of regulation. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FDCA) was passed in 1938 by the US Congress, which provided the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate products classified as foods, drugs, or cosmetics [4]. The FDA initially attempted to regulate some dietary supplements by treating them as drugs; however, this method did not succeed, and in response, the Congress passed a law in 1976 prohibiting the FDA from treating dietary supplements as drugs [4]. After failing to regulate dietary supplements as drugs, the FDA tried to regulate them as food additives, but this also did not come to fruition [4].

In 1990, the Nutrition Labelling and Education Act was passed that required all packaged foods to provide nutrient information on the label; this act also gave the FDA the authority to regulate the health claims [4]. In 1992, the Dietary Supplement Act was passed due to FDA’s rejection of most health claims made for dietary supplements. The debate about FDA’s authority led to the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 [4], which defined a dietary supplement as a product (other than tobacco) intended to supplement the diet and that bears or contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients: vitamins, minerals, herbal ingredients, amino acids, proteins, and other substances that provide a nutritional or physiological effect; most such products fell under the category of “herbal” medicines [5-7]. Dietary supplements can be classified as follows: 1) substances with established nutritional function; 2) botanical products, their concentrates, and extracts; and 3) other substances with a plethora of origins and physiologic roles [8]. Botanical products are primarily responsible for the expansion and growth of the dietary supplements market [8].

Advantages of Nutraceuticals Over Pharmaceutical Drugs

There is still much debate surrounding the efficacy, safety, and quality of nutritional supplements. However, the main advantage of nutritional supplements over pharmaceutical drugs is that they may cause little or no adverse effects, which is why they may be preferred over conventional therapies [9]. The largest argument making the case for nutritional supplements is the association because diet is largely associated with chronic diseases including cataract, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, gallstones, inflammatory diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, nutritional supplements are becoming more popular as preventive agents [9]. In addition to their safety, nutritional supplements are more affordable and have multiple therapeutic benefits while increasing health value [9-11]. Their ability to act via multiple pathways make them favorable for pathologic conditions arising due to neuronal cell death and neurodegenerative diseases [9]. As another major advantage of nutritional supplements over pharmaceutical drugs, nutritional supplements provide a high concentration of nutrients in a small amount of supplement dosing [12,13]. Additionally, plant-based nutritional supplements are environmentally friendly and obtained from renewable sources [11,14].

However, even nutritional supplements must be used in moderation. Overuse and abuse of nutritional supplements may lead to health risks [9,13]. The human body can absorb only a certain amount of nutrients at a time or for a duration of time; the excess unabsorbed nutrients become toxic to the body and do more harm than good, similar to pharmaceutical drugs. Therefore, careful regulation of nutritional supplements is essential to prevent the overconsumption of these potentially beneficial products. Overall, nutraceuticals are more cost-effective, safer, and have a nutritional value, all of which are advantages over pharmaceutical drugs, as long as these products are regulated to avoid misuse and overconsumption.

Dietary supplements are used for various reasons. According to the FDA, three out of four adults consume supplements regularly to improve overall health, maintain health, meet nutritional needs, and/ or increase immunity [15-17]. Despite their popularity, few studies have been conducted to assess their efficacy, effectiveness, and safety. The FDA regulates dietary supplements in an evidently different manner than it does pharmaceuticals. While it is mandatory for the manufacturer of a pharmaceutical drug to document its effectiveness and safety before it can be marketed, the safety requirements for dietary supplements are much less stringent [16]. Post-market surveillance is primarily followed for dietary supplements, along with some premarket checks [18]. A dietary supplement when manufactured must hold evidence that is in support of the claims (i.e., the supplement provides nutritional support); however, specific disease treatment claims cannot be made [18]. These products must also have a disclaimer on the label stating that the claims have not been reviewed by the FDA [18].

The increasing use of nutraceuticals has also raised concerns for public health. The less stringent regulatory requirements have led to the introduction of several dietary supplements for disease prevention, for health benefits, or for enhancing physical performance, and monitoring these products has become a great challenge mainly because these dietary supplements contain multiple ingredients, their composition can vary over time, or they are used intermittently [1]. The use of dietary supplements is not without risks. A study had revealed that 59% of the dietary supplements contained ingredients that were not listed on the label [19]. Another risk is that dietary supplements can interact with commonly used pharmaceutical medications [18,19].

Nutritional or dietary supplements have various modes of delivery depending on the product. Nutritional supplements are most commonly formulated as capsules or tablets, liquids, or powders for oral consumption, but other forms such as bars also exist. A database has been created by the National Institute of Health known as the Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD), which allows keyword searches for what is printed on the label. In this case, some overlap may exist as certain labels may use capsules and tablets interchangeably. Additionally, the whole database can be searched and filtered if needed. The database has labels for supplements that are on market and off market. On market supplements can readily be found and sold commercially, whereas off market supplements are not found commercially [20]. The following table (Table 1) characterizes the labels found in the database that are on market and off market and the mode of delivery of the supplement.