We received this comment just the other day.
I am an older male interested in balancing my hormones and keeping my testosterone high. I am fairly new to using herbs so I have tried to read most of the articles you have sent and also studied your website.
I am still unsure how to cycle my herbs to maximize their effectiveness and minimize any diminishing returns. One suggestion is 7 herbs/ one for each day of the week. Another is on 5 days/ off 2 days. Finally another is 4wks on/ one week off. Then there is the 4 pack of tinctures. Twice a day for all but pine pollen and that is to be cycled.
It is suggested to let your own experience be your guide. I don’t like that approach as I would much prefer a more scientific approach that is backed by clinical studies. I don’t want to be the one who invents the wheel. I simply want specific directions on how much of what to take when.
Thanks for what you do!
It’s the last paragraph that I want you to pay particular attention to.
“I would much prefer a more scientific approach that is backed by clinical studies.”
Wouldn’t that be great? But as I’ve talked about elsewhere, at it’s best, scientific studies are a lagging indicator.
If we look at pine pollen, there are a whopping ZERO clinical trials with humans.
Lest that make you run away, know that, as Sol Orwell of Examine.com told me, lack of scientific evidence is not the same as scientific evidence of lack.
Clinical trials are not the only way to know that something works (nor even the best way necessarily…despite what the scientific worldview says).
Let me ask you this. You don’t have clinical trials telling you exactly how much fish or broccoli to eat, or when to do so, do you? Yet, I’m guessing that you eat those anyway.
Do you have a clinical trial showing you how much water to drink, or comparing tap water to filtered water to distilled water to fresh spring water? Didn’t think so…but I’d love to see that one!
So, yes we all have to work together to ‘invent the wheel’ on this one.
There is the anecdotal evidence. People like to poo-poo this as unscientific, but it is one level of evidence that can help point in the right direction. Reading our product reviews can give you insight into what is working for others. It’s called social proof for a reason, and we’re living in the age of outsourcing our decision making to the number of reviews stars a product has anyway.
Your personal experience is another level of evidence. And that’s the one we’re always harping on anyway. This one, in my opinion, trumps a clinical trial. How can I say that?
Well, let’s take a double-blind placebo controlled trial, like for ashwagandha and stress and cortisol.
As we see from this trial ashwagandha did indeed lower both self-perceived stress and cortisol levels, as compared to placebo. 
So, this study shows ashwagandha works for these things, right?
Well, those statistically significant results are averages. What it means is that some people had bigger drops. Some people had small drops. Among the ashwagandha group there may have even be some people that got more stressed! But it all averaged out to show an effect.
What if you were that one person that had more stress? Doesn’t happen often with ashwagandha, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Isn’t that more important, your personal experience, then the study showing it works?
Ashwagandha is good for stress AND it may not work for you. These statements can both be true. That is why personal experience trumps studies, in my opinion.
Secondly, we have dosing involved, which was what our questioner was asking about. In this case, the subjects “were asked to take one capsule twice a day for a period of 60 days…each capsule contained 300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum extract from the root of the Ashwagandha plant.”
To me, this raises some questions:
What does high-concentration mean?
What does full-spectrum mean?
It isn’t standardized, but what are the amount of withanolides or other so called active ingredients, in this study?
Where is this ashwagandha sourced from?
How is it grown?
Digging deeper into this paper we find, “The high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract used in this study is the KSM-66 Ashwagandha extract, provided by Ixoreal Biomed, Hyderabad, India. The extract is drawn only from the roots of the Ashwagandha plant, using no other parts like leaves. It is standardized to withanolide content of at least 5% as measured by HPLC. It is produced by a unique extraction process, based on the principles of ‘green chemistry’, without using alcohol or any synthetic solvents.”
That answers some of these questions, but it also raises more. What is their unique extraction process?
Well, shoot, at Lost Empire we sell a biodynamically farmed, USA sourced and spagyric tincture of ashwagandha. That just might be significantly different from this KSM-66 extract. It might be better. It might be worse. It may be better at some functions while being worse at others. In any case, it is very likely different.
Unfortunately, since we are not a biomedical company we do not have the funds nor resources to run a big study to find out.
And to combine our four tinctures, well there is definitely no study on that! Studies try to isolate variables. That’s the reductionist scientific approach. And we haven’t done enough of those with herbs to begin with. To look at combinations of things is just beyond what the vast majority of well-controlled studies can handle.
Or to think our extract of an herb is the same as what any study used…well it just doesn’t work that way. Herb quality can vary wildly. That’s why standardized extracts were invented, but there’s problems with that whole game too!
The only way you can know is through an n=1 experiment of yourself. (For those not familiar with the term, n=1 means the number of study participants is one, i.e. yourself.)
It will be unblinded…unless you’re very anal about being scientific with these sorts of things. In my mind, as long as you get results do you care if it’s the herb, or your belief in the herb,or the combination of the two? Because even if you get the placebo effect, you’ve found a reliable way to activate that, so in a sense it’s working!
Sorry if you want something more scientific, but that is how it is. In any case, studies only are sign posts to things that *might* work for you.
I know, I know. In this day and age we’re suppose to be scientific about everything we do because science is the ultimate answer to everything. Sure, that’s the facade, but once you peak under the hood, you realize the inherent flaws in the approach, not the least of which is the delay it takes to get solid answers.
We cannot say with any level of definiteness which is better when it comes to dosage plans either:
- 7 herbs/one per day of the week.
- 5 days on/2 days off.
- 4 weeks on/1 week off.
We have customers getting results with every one of these plans. And we have customers that aren’t seeing the results they want with any one of these plans.
Notice also that the above study shows ashwagandha worked at the dose given. They did not look at bigger or smaller dosages. They did not look at timing of the dosages. They did not look at combining it with anything else. They did not look at cycling the dosage.
Hmmm…we’ll need fifteen more studies to answer those questions!
If you need a more definitive statement, I will provide it. Do this:
- Pick an herb, any herb. Or any combination of herbs.
- See the recommended dosage on the bag or bottle, or any product description page.
- Start with the lowest amount there (as there is almost always a range).
- If it says once a day, take in the morning. If it says twice a day, take in morning and afternoon. If it says three times a day, take in morning, afternoon and evening.
- Notice your results. See this article about feeling herbs for more on that topic.
- If you’re not noticing anything, or you are but want more of the effects, increase your dosage up to the maximum dosage recommended.
- Notice your results.
- Adapt from there…even our recommended dosages are just that, recommendations.
I would love to have science studies to show everything about how these herbs work. But it ain’t going to happen any time soon. You and I both have to deal with that and make do with what we have available.
- K. Chandrasekhar, J. Kapoor, and S. Anishetty. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul-Sep; 34(3): 255–262.