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Christine Dreher, Nutritionist, Herbalist, & author of "The Cleanse Cookbook" founder of TransformyourHealth.com
Christine Dreher, Nutritionist, Herbalist, and author of
 "The Cleanse Cookbook"

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For Inquiring Minds, the following New Chapter article provides a more scientific, in-depth description of how the Supercritical Extraction process works.

“This advanced extraction process yields a superior herbal extract that is highly concentrated...”
By now everyone has heard about plant “polyphenols” and essential oils, and people just assume that when they take an herb they are getting all of the herb’s beneficial constituents. People also assume that herbal extracts are pretty much the same, like bottled water or jars of applesauce. Maybe, people think, there could be some slight flavor variations, but water is generally water and applesauce is applesauce. But these are profoundly incorrect assumptions for traditional herbs, for the beneficial effects of an herbal extract depend on a number of important and precise factors, starting with the quality of the fresh botanical ingredient.

Some fresh ginger, for example, is rather bland, while other rhizomes just explode with pungent compounds and proteolytic enzymes. A great extract thus starts with great fresh herbs, but it doesn’t end there, no more than a fine wine starts and ends with the grape. After all, there are different growers, different fermenting processes, different alcohol levels, and vastly different tastes. These differences make a huge difference in wine, and they make an even bigger difference in botanical extracts used in traditional medicine.

New Chapter deeply respects the importance of the herb and of the extraction process. We have developed a unique, patent-pending line of the finest botanical formulations available, and these therapeutic formulations all feature what scientists call the “supercritical” extraction process. This advanced extraction process yields a superior herbal extract that is highly concentrated, as much as 250 pounds of fresh herb reducing to just one pound of supercritical extract. In addition, the supercritical process does not use any chemical solvents at all, so the resulting extract is absolutely free of chemical solvents such as hexane or acetone. The supercritical process also produces an extremely broad representation of the herb’s lipophilic (oils, fatty acids, etc.) constituents.

Those lipophilic constituents are often some of the most precious and necessary plant ingredients in such important herbs as ginger, St. John’s Wort, evening primrose, saw palmetto, kava, valerian, rosemary, and many others. In the past these herbs were commonly extracted by the use of chemical solvents. Not so with supercritical extraction. New Chapter’s supercritical extracts are super potent, super pure, and broad spectrum with a representative composition very near to the botanical raw material. These are the hallmarks of New Chapter’s supercritical extraction.

The supercritical process is extraordinarily complex and high-tech, but at its core we think it is rather easy to understand. Here is a short “botany” lesson: there are two major groupings of phytochemicals or plant constituents that are generally extracted. One type of plant constituent “likes” water, and is thus willing to be dissolved in water (like in making a tea, which is simply a hot water extract) or a related solution like ethanol. The other type of plant constituent “dislikes” water, avoids it totally (like oil and water!), and is thus unwilling to be dissolved in it. These water-avoiding constituents are fatty or oily in nature, and they are willing to dissolve only in “lipophilic” or fat-loving solutions. To extract an “oily” constituent, people conventionally either dissolved the herb in a chemical solvent or heated the herb to beyond boiling, evaporating out the water-based ingredients. That is the sum and substance of conventional extraction: a water-loving constituent either can be dissolved in a water or alcohol solution, or it is fatty or oily and needs to be dissolved in a different manner. We should note that some lipophilic substances can be extracted with ethanol, but it is not the preferred extraction method for those substances.

The conventional ways were generally acceptable, if done well by caring extractors with premier ingredients, so long as the constituent to be extracted was “water loving.” There are some serious problems, however, with conventional, non-supercritical, “lipophilic” extraction. Most importantly, the chemical solvents often used for such “conventional” extraction can be rather nasty. If you have a grease stain on your clothing, that greasy stain is “lipophilic,” and a good dry cleaning solvent like hexane can extract the grease. Water won’t work, because the grease repels the water. Using a dry cleaning solvent is perhaps acceptable for dry cleaning, although it is obviously not the best for our environment. What is clear, however, is that we don’t want to be eating dry cleaning solvents. If those chemical solvents are used for conventional herbal extraction, one of four unacceptable things may occur: First, there could be some residue of the chemical solvent. Second, to try to get rid of the chemical residue, the extract is often heated to high enough temperatures to break down the solvent. Third, the solvent interacts with the plant constituents and can distort them. For example, when chemical solvents are used to make a ginger extract, the solvents interact with the important “gingerol” constituents and can degrade some into less desirable “shogaols.” Fourth, the lipophilic constituents can be highly unstable when extracted with chemical solvents. For example, the principal active constituents of St. John’s Wort, which are the hyperforins that promote emotional balance, are highly unstable if conventionally extracted. To illustrate what “highly unstable” means, think of it as purchasing a shiny new car, but by the time you get it home the metal has turned to rust. When the hyperforins “rust,” their value is lost to us.

The conventional process, then, creates a lipophilic extract that often

1. has some chemical solvent residue,
2. has been temperature stressed,
3. can distort or alter the nature of the delicate plant constituents, or
4. can create an extract that is biologically unstable.

The supercritical process does not present any of these issues. Rather than using a chemical solvent as the “dissolving fluid,” the supercritical process uses compressed carbon dioxide, or CO2. That is simply one of the constituents of normal air, and we breathe it and plants absorb it every moment. To get the CO2 to dissolve the lipophilic constituents, scientists determined that the gas would extract those substances if the gas was highly compressed. We mean very, very compressed, such as 200 to 500 times the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level. Normally, if you compress a gas to that extent it would turn to a liquid, but the liquid form of gases do not “penetrate” or dissolve as well, and thus is not the best substance for dissolving the plant oils and other lipophilic substances. Here is where the term “critical” comes in. The “critical” point of a gas is that temperature point over which the gas will maintain its gaseous state and not turn to a liquid. In the case of CO2, the critical point is 31 degrees centigrade, which is not that high. If the CO2 gas is heated up to any temperature over 31 degrees C (which would be over, or “super” the “critical” point), then it will not turn to a liquid no matter what the pressure. Scientists use CO2 gas for this purpose because it is totally harmless (even when compressed) to humans and the environment, it is naturally occurring, and its “supercritical” temperature point is very low.

The supercritical process, then, uses a harmless, natural gas, heats it to some temperature over 31 degrees C (the lower the better to avoid any temperature stress), and the gas is then highly compressed. The compressed gas has the density of a liquid, but is able to penetrate deeply into the plant and dissolve the lipophilic constituents. Then the pressure is carefully released, the gas just harmlessly dissipates into the atmosphere, and all that is left behind is the pure, concentrated extract. No pollution, no heat stress or damage, and no solvent residue. The extract, if done by a fine laboratory or facility, can be a broad, virtually complete representation of the plant’s lipophilic constituents.

Not every herb or plant constituent is suitable for supercritical extraction, but for those that are it clearly yields the most concentrated, broad-spectrum, and pure extract possible. For some herbal constituents, like for certain phytochemicals in green tea, a water extract is preferred.

Other herbs or constituents require an ethanolic extraction, which is not a chemical solvent and if used properly can be a valuable adjunct to other extraction processes. We at New Chapter are familiar with all of these extraction methods, and we know how to take advantage of the multiple processes to create an extract that will have the desired broad-spectrum constituents delivered in the purest fashion. Our Supercritical Therapy line of products is patent-pending and often uses both supercritical and other extraction processes on the same herb, which we call a “Dual Extract.” Our Supercritical Therapy products thus represent not only the finest formulas and ingredients, but also extraction methodologies based on the unsurpassed values of a supercritical extract.

For more information about New Chapter, click here.

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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