The case against tongkat ali standardization

The case against tongkat ali standardization

Jan Garanoz

Tongkat Ali, if genuine and not the run-of-the-mill fake substitute, is not just about improving one’s health but about adding sense to one’s life.

The world’s foremost tongkat ali extract producer, Sumatra Pasak Bumi, does not standardize tongkat ali extract. Sumatra Pasak Bumi manufactures extracts at two ratios, 1:50 and 1:200. The two ratios refer to the number of kilograms of root in relation to one kilogram of extract.


Tongkat ali standardization claims usually refer to a certain quantification of Eurycomanone, typically around 2 percent. The Eurycomanone content of 1 kg of tongkat ali root lies in a natural range between 0.2 and 0.4 grams. Using an extraction method of heat and pressure over a certain period of time, one can arrive at extracts that contain between 1 and 5 percent of Eurycomanone.

To standardize an extract for Eurycomanone means that first, Eurycomanone has to be separated from other consituents through chemical reagents and then reintroduced to the tongkat ali extract. The effort and, most importantly, the potential health risks from violent chemical processes in the separation stage, make the idea of standardization rather unappetizing. And for what purpose? It is not been scientifically established that various tongkat ali effects can be credited to just Eurycomanone.

Tongkat ali has a long tradition as folk medicine in Southeast Asia, the only part of the world where it grows. The traditional method of preparation and ingestion is to boil the root for about half an hour, and then drink the resulting tea.

This beverage essentially is an extract, though one that is highly diluted because of a large quantity of water. The dilution as a tea doesn’t make the tongkat ali less effective, it is just dissolved in more water.

Tongkat ali research is practically always done with tongkat ali extract, not with just Eurycomanone, and not with root. The obvious reason for not using whole root is that it is hard to feed bitter pieces of wood to mice. They don’t consider it delicious food. They will also shun root powder. But rats held upright can be forced to swallow a concentrated liquid that is inserted in their throat with a syringe.

Scientists conducting tongkat ali research for efficay typically do not analyse or quantify the percentage of Eurycomanone and other constituents of tongkat ali root. Such research is done separately from efficacy research, in organic chemistry labs with the use of chromatography. Chromatography utilizes the knowledge that under equal conditions, different organic compounds dissolved in a liquid media rise to different heights on filter paper or comparable absorbing material. Chromatography is a testing technology, not a technology to separate the chemical compounds of plants.

Tongkat ali contains some 50 different compounds, most of which are credited with some efficacy.

While there has been a lot of research into tongkat ali extract, it is still unclear which of the 50 or so compounds works on the human hormonal system. It may well be that the effectiveness is in a combination of several ingredients, in that one ingredient is the main effector, and other work as catalysts.

Using chromatography to see the footprints of different organic compounds is one thing. To separate these accounts is another, not so easy process. Separating certain compounds often involves the violent destruction of other compounds that are also present.

The extraction process of Sumatra Pasak Bumi only involves heat, pressure, and filtering. This assures that no tongkat ali substances are chemically altered.

It makes good sense to not fall for the claims of people who claim standardization, as separating organic compounds involves chemically highly reactive substances like acids, corrosives, gases, bases, etc.

To use such harsh techniques to separate and reconstitute a tongkat ali extract for human consumption harbors a good number of risks.

When pharmaceutical corporations separate phytochemicals for use in medications, they are under a lot of tight government scrutiny. For good reason. Because the outcome of these chemical reactions are not predictable. There is a long history of unforeseen side effects, fatalities, and physical and mental handicaps from the further processing of phytochemicals.

Sumatra Pasak Bumi does not use chemical reagents. The 1:50 and 1:200 are different as a result only of different mechanical filtering. But both are natural. No chemical processes are involved.