Full-Spectrum vs. Standardized Extracts: What Is the Difference?

While herbal and natural medicine have grown in popularity over the past few years, there is still a tremendous amount of debate over the best method of creating and ingesting herbal or natural supplements. Because of increasing interest, you will find a wealth of information, both on and offline. Using the Internet and other sources, it is important that you conduct thorough research. That way, you can see specific differences in character but also benefits for full-spectrum and standardized extracts.

Many people prefer to take supplements, whether to assist in the treatment of a specific health problem or for more generalized healthcare. As a result, the supplement industry currently rakes in roughly $28 billion per year in the United States alone. If you are among that group, it is essential that you conduct extensive research so that you can choose the exact supplement best suited to your needs.

There are two basic methods for extracting and preparing natural plants to put into supplements, with people typically supporting one or the other. It is important that you understand the differences between full-spectrum and standardized extracts, as well as the pros and cons of each. Ultimately, this will help you make an informed decision. Regardless of which extraction method you feel is best, start by talking to your doctor.


Quick Overview of Full-Spectrum and Standardized Extracts

standardized extract

With every plant and herb are various chemical constituents. These supporting qualities are what help your body process the supplement. For example, you may consume spinach for its vitamins, but this plant is also rich in fiber that helps your body process the vitamins. Working together, these two components allow your body to get the most benefit possible.

Before delving into the advantages and disadvantages of full-spectrum and standardized extracts, it will help to gain a quick overview of what they are.

  • Full-Spectrum Extracts – These extracts include natural constituents of an herbal medicinal substance, which is obtained once the substance is decocted using the traditional water method. Full spectrum extracts do not focus on concentrating any one constituent, instead concentrating all water-soluble material within an herbal substance but without affecting the natural ratio of the constituents.
  • Standardized Extracts - In comparison, standardized extracts focus on a single constituent or group of constituents. This involves the extraction of active ingredients from the raw source.

Often, doctors recommend standardized extracts for a variety of reasons. For instance, this creates control over the dosage. In addition, it ensures a more measured level of protection against interactions with other supplements and medications. If you take supplements to treat a medical condition, your doctor may require that you choose those that utilize a standard extraction method.

At the center of this debate between full-spectrum and standardized extractions is the St. John’s Wort supplement. As scientists have studied this particular supplement, a mistake in the standardized extraction method was identified. Because of the way that the compounds in this supplement work together, efficacy is compromised.

In reality, there are advantages and disadvantages as well as differing opinions specific to these two extraction methods. However, by using the information provided, conducting further research, and consulting with your doctor, you will feel confident and be more informed when making the decision as to what option is best for your body.

Pros and Cons of Full-Spectrum Extracts

As mentioned, there is ongoing controversy regarding the pros and cons of full-spectrum versus standardized extracts. Many experts believe that tinctures of plants are best processed as full-spectrum extractions. One advantage of full spectrum extracts is that parts of an herbaceous (herbal) plant are tinctured in a menstruum of alcohol. With that, a product with the highest percentage of the plant’s compounds and chemicals is achieved but without compromising the natural ratio of constituents found in the plant. In other words, full spectrum extracts leave the natural ratio of the plant’s constituents intact.

According to industry leaders from around the world, interactions between the constituents are probably what produce some of the desired effects found in products made using the full spectrum extraction method. Experts also believe that to decrease or completely eliminate unwanted or adverse effects, certain plant constituents should not be eliminated.

There are variances associated with full spectrum extracts, but in some instances, this is good. As an example, in plants with antibacterial properties, the variance may help fool any suspecting bacteria. For most plants to be fully beneficial in what they offer, a full spectrum extract is the better option. In fact, there are many scenarios that show how isolating a plant’s constituent for the purpose of standardization actually goes back to the offering of the whole plant. In other words, a broad spectrum of chemical constituents in a natural state found in a plant or other substances are left intact.

Ultimately, you get all of the available elements from the herb or substance from which the supplement is made with the full spectrum method of extraction. With this, trace elements and minerals that play a critical role in the supplement’s efficacy are not eliminated. With full spectrum extracts, the body is provided smaller amounts of various healing substances opposed to concentrated doses. As a result, there is no sacrifice of herbal constituents as with standardized extracts.

Just as you want to learn about the advantages of full spectrum extracts, you should know about any potential disadvantages.

  • With full spectrum extracts, dose is not uniformed or standardized from one batch to another
  • The way that raw materials respond to a full spectrum extract can vary slightly. While this is not a huge concern for some supplements, it is for others, especially when a standardized dose is recommended.


Pros and Cons of Standardized Extracts

Standardized extracts involve a process by which one or more active constituents are extracted from a plant. From there, the concentration is spiked back into an herbal base of that product. With standardized extracts, active ingredients in plants are isolated into specific and guaranteed amounts, which are typically expressed in a percentage.  Because of this, the dose of the active ingredient remains uniform and concentrated for every batch.

The reason that standardized extracts were developed was to create a uniform product used in clinical trials. After all, for clinical trial results to be verified and replicated, a standardized extract method is required. Supporters of standardized extracts feel this best represents a trend of higher refinement from a technological standpoint. These people believe with backing by chemical analysis that confirms both the presence and ratio of one or more characteristic plant constituents, the product is more consistent, more effective, and stronger. They also believe this will improve consumer confidence and help herbs become more accepted as a mainstream solution.

Although the main reason for standardized extracts is to provide as much control possible in double-blind studies, there are direct benefits for you as well. For instance, you have assurance that the product is consistently strong with guaranteed constituents. That means that you know exactly what the product contains but also that the correct herb was used. Simply put, you have positive identification that the herb is what it claims to be

Just as with full spectrum extracts, parts of an herbaceous plant are used with standardized extracts. However, the exact compounds are carefully selected so that just one compound or chemical is extracted to produce an amount that can be guaranteed. Using this method, manufacturing companies can ensure that the isolated constituent is present and at the same level of potency for every single batch produced.

In addition, for substances with well-characterized active ingredients, as long as they are not interdependent with other phytochemicals in the plant, a standardized extract is ideal. This is especially true when there is a high variability of a compound in which the natural potency of the starting material could be dangerous.

Standardized extracts offer standardization based on an active constituent. Therefore, they create an opportunity to use herbs in ways that are more special by achieving predetermined therapeutic objectives. The fact is, high doses of herbs as standardized extracts play a very important role in modern day herbal medicine. However, they are not intended to displace herbs used in other forms, such as full spectrum.

Just as there are definite advantages associated with standardized extracts, there are also challenges.

  • Because active ingredients from a plant are isolated, buffering components that aid in absorption are also eliminated
  • By isolating one ingredient at the expense of another, the natural balance of the herb’s components is compromised or changed
  • Full herbal healing is short-changed when life-supporting properties needed to bring the body into full balance are removed
  • With vital elements removed from the herb’s function, it no longer works as it was intended.
  • Because of lower bioavailability of the drug, you would have to take higher supplemental dosages
  • To manufacture standardized supplements, chemicals are used. Some of these are toxic solvents, including carbon dioxide, b-butanol, hexane, acetone, ethyl acetate, methanol, and ethanol. Since there is no way to remove all traces of these solvents, the final product contains an FDA-approved level of residue. Even with this, there is increased risk of adverse reactions.
  • With standardized extracts, it is possible for one constituent to be concentrated but at the risk of others that are considered potentially beneficial
  • For plants that have no known beneficial active constituents, standardized extracts are not well-suited. This is because of guesswork used to determine which of the compounds should be standardized.


Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

standardized extract

Supplements in this category can include:

  • Letter vitamins, like A, C, and E
  • Vitamin blends, like B6 or B12
  • Riboflavin
  • Magnesium
  • Folate
  • Multivitamins

Commonly referred to as “dietary supplements”, these work by supplementing compounds that are missing in your day-to-day diet. The most popular of these supplements are multivitamins, which are often standardized although full-spectrum multivitamins are available. The argument for standardized extract in multivitamins has to do with accuracy between batches, especially if you take them to treat some type of deficiency due to a medical problem or bariatric surgery. Because the supplements are taken for medical reasons, many doctors prefer a uniform dosage that prevents dips and spikes in nutrient levels.

Be careful when you see the word “standardized” on a supplement bottle. The reason is that some manufacturers use this word to describe the consistency in their manufacturing process, which is incorrect.


Weight-Related Supplements

Because of some overlap with other supplements, this group of supplements is unique. Used for weight management, these supplements stimulate the appetite for people who want to gain weight or they create optimal conditions within the body for people trying to lose excess weight. Supplements in this category are usually a proprietary blend of several ingredients, including the following:

  • Green Tea (or Green Tea Extract)
  • Hoodia
  • Ephedra
  • Calcium
  • Bitter Orange
  • Chromium
  • Caffeine
  • Galactomannan
  • Raspberry Ketone
  • Yohimbe

Weight-related supplements should be handled and researched more carefully. Because they are often created with the standardized extraction method in which specific compounds are extracted and concentrated, you should talk to your doctor prior to taking any supplement for weight gain or weight loss. That way, you avoid any potential drug interactions and side effects. 


Specialty Supplements

This category is a catchall for supplement blends that claim to have some degree of effect. Although these supplements are not FDA approved for treating or curing any specific disease, they are labeled to help with general problems like poor energy, lack of sleep, or low libido. For all specialty supplements, you want to be extra cautious. Always read information on the bottle and talk to your doctor about the safety of the ingredients listed.

The extraction method used to create these supplements varies. As suggested, always consult with your doctor prior to taking these supplements, but in addition, conduct research pertaining to the manufacturer. The goal is to determine if the company has lied about the ingredients used. Unless you can obtain information as to the ingredients, the extraction method does not really matter.

While specialty supplements have been proven beneficial for people with various needs, you still need to be careful. For example, glucosamine supplements intended to help with joint problems and nutritional supplement are blended to help with muscle mass or blood circulation. Most people who take specialty supplements prefer the standardized extraction method because the dosage remains the same from one pill to another.

Also in this category are energy drinks, which contain some of the same compounds found in pill supplements for boosting energy. Just as with supplements in pill form, you need to be cautious with energy drinks. Because these drinks increase heart rate, drinking too many can be dangerous and even deadly.


Choosing the Right Supplement

standardized extract

Because there are differences between full-spectrum and standardized extracts, choosing the best supplement for your need can be challenging. Rather than choosing a standardized extract for treating a variety of symptoms or illnesses, you should be more selective. This is not to say that standardized extracts are the wrong choice, just that you should consider full spectrum extracts as well. Below are some tips that will make the selection process easier, regardless of which direction you take.


  • Make sure that you purchase supplements from a trusted source. You need to know about the manufacturing company, the processes that they use, where the herbs come from, and so on.
  • Look at independent analysis of products available through health food stores
  • Identify what solvents were used during the manufacturing process
  • Learn the differences between organic and wild-crafted herbs
  • Verify that tinctures are made from a single herb and that grain alcohol is used
  • If you have a sensitivity to supplements, consider whole herb products opposed to standardized extracts that carry solvent residue


Because the body metabolizes these full-spectrum and standardized supplements differently, the results are unique. Therefore, when choosing full spectrum or standardized extract versions of each supplement, learn how the product works to treat your particular issue. For example, while you might be aware that valerian promotes sleep, you may not understand exactly how it works.

To determine if full spectrum or standardized extracts are best for you, weigh the pros and cons of each. Regardless of the one that you choose, research both the efficacy of the raw product and the reputation of the manufacturer. Remember, standardization is recommended for supplements that offer single or individually effective ingredients, including vitamins, specific minerals, and vitamin blends.

The question of efficacy in supplements has less to do with the extraction method and more of a lack of testing or clinically verifiable results due to poor Food and Drug Administration oversight. In general, supplements are not required to get FDA approval before being sold. However, there are still regulations that manufacturers must follow. While manufacturers can use certain buzzwords, they are prohibited from lying on the packaging or making unfounded health claims.






Recommended Posts

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

1 of 3