Eurycoma longifolia (commonly called Tongkat Ali or Pasak Bumi) is a flowering plant in the family Simaroubaceae, native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and, to a lesser extent, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. The plant is a medium-sized slender shrub that can reach 10 meters in height, and is often unbranched. The root of the plant has been used in folk medicine of the South East Asian region, and in modern times has common use as supplements, as well as food and drink additives.
E. longifolia is also known by the common names penawar pahit, penawar bias, bedara merah, bedara putih, lempedu pahit, payong ali, tongkat baginda, muntah bumi, petala bumi (all Malay); Malaysian ginseng; bidara laut (Indonesian); babi kurus (Javanese); cây bá bệnh (Vietnamese); tho nan (Laotian); "long jack" (US). Many of the common names refer to the plant's medicinal use and extreme bitterness. Penawar pahit translates simply as "bitter charm" or "bitter medicine". Older literature, such as a 1953 article in the Journal of Ecology, may cite only penawar pahit as the plant's common Malay name.
As mentioned above, E. longifolia is known by common names "tongkat ali" and "pasak bumi" in the South East Asian region, but these names are also used for the physiologically similar species Polyalthia bullata. The bark and root of E. longifolia is more white/yellow-ish compared to the darker-colored P. bullata, which has led to the former being known as "tongkat ali/pasak bumi putih" or "tongkat ali/pasak bumi kuning", and the latter as "tongkat ali/pasak bumi hitam". ("Putih" means "white", "kuning" means "yellow", and "hitam" means "black" in Malay/Indonesian.) Indonesia also has a red-coloured variety known as "tongkat ali/pasak bumi merah" ("merah" meaning "red"), which is being studied by researchers and has not had its species classified.
A medium size slender shrub reaching 10 meters in height, often unbranched with reddish brown petioles. Leaves compound, even pinnate reaching 1 meter in length. Each compound leaf consists of 30-40 leaflets, lanceolate to obovate-lanceolate. Each leaflet is about 5–20 cm long, 1.5–6 cm wide, much paler on the ventral side. Inflorecense axillary, in large brownish red panicle, very pubescent with very fine, soft, grandular trichomes. Flowers are hermaphrodite. Petals small, very fine pubescent. Drupe hard, ovoid, yellowish brown when young and brownish red when ripe. The plant grows in the understorey of lowland forests, and survives on a variety of soils but prefers acidic, well-drained soil.
Eurycoma longifolia has been reported to contain the compounds eurycomanol, eurycomanone, and eurycomalactone.
The plant is used in the traditional medicine of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the root of the plant is boiled in water, and the water is consumed as a health tonic for post-partum recovery, as an aphrodisiac, as well as the relief of fever, intestinal worms, dysentery, diarrhoea, indigestion, and jaundice. In Vietnam, the flower and fruits are used to treat dysentery. In Malaysia, a paste of the plant is applied topically to relieve headaches and stomach-aches.
In modern times, E. longifolia is generally known as an aphrodisiac. Other health benefits attributed to this plant include antimalarial, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, and antipyretic activities. There has been some scientific research carried out on E. longifolia towards analyzing its benefits, but according to WebMD, while evidence suggests one specific E. longifolia supplement might have some role in boosting sperm quality in infertile men, there remains insufficient evidence to support its effectiveness for the treatment of cancer, malaria, and tuberculosis.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, E. longifolia has been widely commercialized. Its root, which is highly bitter, has been used as the basis for supplements, as well as food and drink additives. As a supplement, it has been marketed for the supposed benefits of sexual health improvement, as an energy and stamina booster, for improving blood circulation, and as a testosterone booster. In the drinks market, it is a common ingredient for coffee and functional beverages positioned as energy drinks.
Adulteration and contamination
There have been a number of cases of products falsely claiming to contain E. longifolia as an ingredient, as well as E. longifolia product contamination cases. Examples are listed below.
An electronic taste sensor was devised to detect the presence and concentration of quassinoids and determine the use of genuine E longifolia. This alleged taste sensor has, however, since its invention more than 10 years ago, not found entry into testing practices in laboratories. Even on Google Scholar, it is referenced only in the original article by the inventors. Quassinoids, the biologically active components of E. longifolia root, are bitter, and named after quassin, the long-isolated bitter principle of the quassia tree. However, E. longifolia does not contain any quassin, and that quassin is bitter does not mean that every quassinoid is just as bitter. Furthermore, the most bitter substance in nature, denatonium, is readily available as a bittering agent to avoid incidental ingestion of poisons, and is probably added to fake tongkat ali extracts. Consumers are advised to treat with caution any online retailer who emphasizes bitterness as proof for a genuine product.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned numerous products such as Libidus, claiming to use E. longifolia as principal ingredient, but which instead are concoctions designed around illegal prescription drugs, or even worse, analogues of prescription drugs that have not even been tested for safety in humans, such as acetildenafil. In February 2009, the FDA warned against almost 30 illegal sexual enhancement supplements, but the names of these products change quicker than the FDA can investigate them. Libidus, for example, is now sold as Maxidus, still claiming E. longifolia as the principal ingredient. In relation to such tactics, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration preventive measures taken in 2008 saw the seizure of more than 14,000 dosages of products originating from China under multiple names.
In Malaysia, there are over 200 registered E. longifolia products, but when quality tested, one study determined that 36% were contaminated with mercury beyond legally permitted limits. The Malaysian government has also banned numerous fake products which use drugs such as sildenafil citrate instead of tongkat ali in their capsules. To avoid being hurt by bad publicity on one product name, those who sell fake tongkat ali have resorted to using many different names for their wares.
A number products claiming to contain Tongkat Ali have been warned against on legitscript.com, a website that claims to monitor health products for public safety and knowledge. Among products that have been reported against on this website are XP Tongkat Ali Supreme and Tongkat Ali Super Power that contain non-permissible ingredients instead of Tongkat Ali. Other Tongkat Ali-based products, such as SD-200 (Singapore) are reported on the website as having unsubstantiated claims, but this is disputed by the product owners.
Products stating various E. longifolia extract ratios of 1:20, 1:50, 1:100, and 1:200 are common on the market. However E. longifolia extracts based on this ratio system are often misleading hard to verify. In many cases the quality and strength will vary dramatically between products and batches.
Since 2012 various companies have adopted the practice of HPLC Standardization to minimize fluctuation in quality, producing a safer, consistent and verifiable E. longifolia extract. While there are many quassinoids in Eurycoma longifolia, Eurycomanone is highlighted as a key component responsible for the alleged pharmaceutical effects.
A water extract has been copatented by the government of Malaysia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for sexual dysfunction and male infertility. A polar organic solvent have also been patented with approximately similar claims. Other patents in relation to tongkat ali have also been filed which claims use for maintaining anabolic hormone profile during weight loss and intense exercise.
However, the idea that products of nature on which exist a large body of knowledge among indigenous peoples can be the subject of intellectual property rights, even of national governments, has long been challenged in peer-reviewed law journals.
Conservation and sustainability
E. longifolia is mainly used for its roots, which necessitates uprooting the entire plant when it is harvested. This has led to concerns over the long-term sustainability of its use. In Malaysia, E. longifolia has been listed as one of the priority medicinal species for conservation, and the harvesting of wild trees is restricted according to Act 686 on International Trade in Endangered Species. Despite this, the Malaysian government has encouraged the commercialization of high-value herbal products based on this plant, notably in its 2010 Economic Transformation Programme, where Tongkat Ali is listed among the top five herbs to be developed on a large scale. To support this commercialization, the Malaysian government made attempts to encourage the long-term commercial cultivation of the plant, through the provision of grants for farmers, enabling agronomy research by MARDI, and the formation of cluster farms under the East Coast Economic Region.
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-  This no-follow link to a spam site is included only as evidence and reference that the illegal drug Libidus is now sold as Maxidus, still with the claim that it is mostly E. longifolia.
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