Eurypeptides and bogus science

I have been writing about tongkat ali long before it was popular, and I do feel some responsibility for the reputation of this marvelous herb.

In the past few years, more and more distributors of dietary supplements have jumped on the tongkat ali bandwagon, and competition between distributors has become fierce.

Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack by its Latin, scientific name) is, of course, one of the most expensive herbals around, for a good reason. Tongkat ali roots take some 20 years to reach a stage of full potency. Because the shrub is difficult to cultivate, there is no tongkat ali plantation anywhere in the world. The tree only grows on well-drained jungle slopes, partially protected by a canopy. There may be other yet to be discovered requirements for the habitat, which explains why all attempts to grow the plant for commercial purposes have so far failed. All genuine tongkat ali is harvested in the wild.


The plant’s traditional geographic distribution is in the rain forests of Southeast Asia, and it still only grows in this part of the world. It once was common in all countries of Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to Indonesia, and in all of them, it is valued, and therefore was heavily harvested, for the medicinal properties of its roots. It’s unlikely indeed that wherever humans encroach on rain forests, tongkat ali shrubs will be left alone.

The only country where still now, there are areas with a natural prevalence of tongkat ali is Indonesia. Not that tongkat ali would still be common in Indonesia. But Indonesia indeed still is one of a very small number of countries with considerable stretches of virgin rain forests, and only this is where tongkat ali grows naturally. Not that the further existence of these virgin rain forests would be guaranteed. They are burned down at an alarming rate.

Indonesia smoke blankets region

Forest fires rage across Indonesia and Brazil

Indonesia has been under considerable international pressure not only to control the forest fires that are causing haze problems even thousands of kilometers away, but also to do more to protect the country’s rain forests which are of crucial value to the global environment. And indeed, the Indonesian former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), who has previously heeded international advice on the civil war in Aceh and other topics, has indicated that the preservation of rain forests is one of his political concerns.

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Quite possibly, if the tongkat ali supply from Indonesia dries up because of rain forest protection measures, or if at least there are supply bottlenecks, the price for tongkat ali root and extract may still increase substantially.

Substantial price increases are also a distinct possibility because China is becoming ever richer ever faster. And no other nation on earth is as ardent a user of natural medicines as are the Chinese. In China, herbal medicine is not fringe health care; it is on par with Western medicine.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Because China is so big, whatever is in demand in China is bound to become scarce. And the rarer an ingredient used in traditional medicine, the more expensive it is bound to become. This has already happened with another Indonesia-exported natural product, the price for which (even though it is of dubious efficacy) has already skyrocketed because it is sought after in newly rich China. The talk is of bird’s nests, which now fetch thousands of US dollars per kg.

Swifts and Trade

Bird nests at around 2000 US dollars per kg

Bird nests at around 3000 US dollars per kg

In comparison, tongkat ali root (not extract) still trades at less than 50 dollars per kg.

However, unlike bird’s nests, tongkat ali is not suited for direct consumption. It should either be boiled as a tea, with the roots discarded, or consumed as an extract.

It is no surprise that when a rare and expensive substance, such as tongkat ali, is traded in a highly competitive market, there will be cheats. A number products sold as tongkat ali have been found spiked with bootleg pharmaceuticals. They all originated in Malaysia.

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Tongkat ali extract, as opposed to tongkat ali root powder, is particularly expensive (more expensive than bootleg Pfizer's Blue) because the active components are present only in small quantities.

Characterization of the Water Soluble Fraction from the Root Extract of Eurycoma Longifolia

Furthermore, there is an enormous multitude of active components that all contribute to the unique testosterone-raising capability of this herbal. The best neutral scientific source for checking the active components of tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack) is:

Global Information Hub for Integrated Medicine

While the chemical spectrum of Eurycoma longifolia Jack (tongkat ali) is well documented in the scientific literature, the scientific studies into the sexuality-enhancing and testosterone-raising effects of the roots of this plant have not been conducted with specific active components (such as eurycomanone or eurycomalactone) but with whole tongkat ali extract, that was not standardized for any single specific active ingredient.

When I say “scientific studies”, then I mean studies that have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I have little trust in alleged “unpublished” scientific studies that are quoted on commercial websites, selling specific brand products.

If an alleged scientific study indeed was conducted in accordance to the accepted standards of the scientific community, and if it produced stunning results, then I wonder why it wasn’t published in a scientific journal. That doesn’t make sense. So, if the study wasn’t plainly invented, it must have been scientifically flawed.

Furthermore, neutral, genuine science would aim to study a generic chemical for its pharmaceutical value. Studies that instead use brand name extracts of an unknown competition and standardization are most probably bogus science. Apart from that, the idea of selling pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements of secret or undisclosed ingredients and standardization totally contradicts established standards of consumer protection.

On the other hand, “standardized extract” is a catch phrase that many supplement buyers associate with superior quality.

Indeed, yohimbe bark extract that is standardized for yohimbine is superior to yohimbe bark extract that is not standardized for yohimbine. For yohimbine is the most potent of a very limited range of active components that account for the effect of yohimbe.

Yohimbe standardized for 2 % yohimbine

Indeed, too, St. John’s wort that is standardized for hypericin is superior to St. John’s wort
extract that is not standardized for hypericin.

St. John’s wort recommended to be standardized to 0.3% hypericin

If any of the major tongkat ali extract distributing companies were to come up with an extract standardized for what indeed is or are the active components, this would be a progress. But so far, there is no clear picture which of the numerous active components listed on the above referred-to page of the Global Information Hub for Integrated Medicine is to what extend responsible for which effect.

But the lure is there, for commercial reasons, to claim standardization for active ingredients.

For example for eurypeptides? At a whooping 22 %.

Peptides what? The word eurypeptides suggests that we here deal with the peptides of Eurycoma longifolia Jack.

I have found no scientific source that would refer to eurypeptides. So, the product that is claimed to be standardized to 22 % eurypeptides is standardized to something unknown in the scientific literature.

It’s also not explained at websites that sell tongkat ali extract, standardized to 22 % eurypeptides, what these peptides are supposed to be.

Of course, I know what peptides are: short chains of amino acids, held together by peptide bonds. When the chains of amino acids become longer (let’s say: more than 50), then we no longer talk of peptides but of proteins.

Now, if those websites that claim to sell standardized tongkat ali extract would give some indication for which chemical substances they allegedly standardize their extract (if all that standardization talk is based on reality in the first place) that would be a step forward.

The Global Information Hub for Integrated Medicine, on the above-cited page states:

“Eurycoma longifolia is usually standardized to eurycomanone, 13alpha(21)-epoxyeurycomanone, eurycomalactone, and 14,15beta-dihydroxyklaineanone as reference markers for its organic extract whereas the more polar quassinoids and glycoproteins are used as standards for the aqueous extract.”

I have never seen a commercial product standardized to any of these chemical substances. I would not exclude the possibility that any of the large chemical suppliers, e.g. Sigma Aldrich, sells an eurycoma longifolia extract standardized for eurycomanone or eurycomalactone, but they would likely only do so to chemical laboratories.

And I am sure that in any country, no eurycoma longifolia extract standardized to any of the above-listed chemicals would be allowed to go on sale as a health supplement without first going through the same kind of clinical trials that were required for sildenafil citrate or apomorphine.

Whole tongkat ali root, or tongkat ali extract that has been produced in a traditional manner by soaking and boiling chipped root, discarding the roots, and evaporating the water, has a known risk profile. In this form, tongkat ali has been consumed for centuries.

But standardizing tongkat ali extract for certain chemicals, the effect of which on humans has not been established in peer-reviewed clinical trials, is something else. And if the standardization is for chemicals that are given a fancy name which is not reflected in the scientific literature, it is something else again. Something of which I would not want to be part.

Or could it be that the whole eurypeptides story, too, is just bogus science?


1 Ms. Jamilah Salleh, Protein markers useful in authenticating eurycoma longifolia contained herbal aphrodisiac products, Vejayan, J.; Iman, V.; Foong, S.L.; Ibrahim, H. (2013) Protein markers useful in authenticating eurycoma longifolia contained herbal aphrodisiac products. Malaysian Journal of Science, 32 (1). pp. 15-23.

2 Ching-Hao Li,1,2 Jiunn-Wang Liao,3 Po-Lin Liao,4,5 Wei-Kuang Huang,4 Ling-Shan Tse,4 Cheng-Hui Lin,4 Jaw-Jou Kang,5 and Yu-Wen Cheng4, Evaluation of Acute 13-Week Subchronic Toxicity and Genotoxicity of the Powdered Root of Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack), Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 102987, 11 pages


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