What is Synergy - and Why It Matters

Published on September 09, 2015

Nature makes the rules so she gets to bend them sometimes, too. Consider the concept of synergy, wherein the combined efforts of organisms achieve more than those of an individual. Only in nature can 1 + 1 = 3. While this would certainly earn a penalty from any math teacher, Mother Nature gets a pass.

Synergy can be seen throughout the plant and animal kingdoms in both simple and profound ways. Consider the bees and the flowers: Bees sip nectar from flowers that gets turned into honey used as their food, and the flowers are in turn pollinated by the bees. Look up at the sky in fall, and you will see geese flying in a V formation as they migrate south, each one creating a free lift for those behind. Emperor penguins huddle together to conserve body heat and survive harsh winters in Antarctica. On the African savannahs, oxpecker birds hitch a ride on the backs of rhinoceroses, which provides parasitic control for the ungulate partner and a food source for the avian one. It is mutualism at its best.

Synergy has even been adapted by societies over millennia in a variety of ways. Native Americans farmed using the Three Sisters crops of winter squash, corn and beans to provide mutually beneficial effects for the land, the plants and, ultimately, the humans who will consume them. The plants help one another, with the high-growing corn providing the structure the beans need to climb, and the beans in turn enrich the soil with nitrogen that all the plants need. The squash spreads out along the ground, which blocks sunlight to prevent weeds from thriving. The leaves serve as a living mulch to lock in moisture, while the prickly hairs on the squash vines deter insects and other pests.

Today we call this method as companion planting. We cultivate different crops in close proximity for pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial insects and to increase crop productivity. It's an integral method of farming that we use at Gaia.

Off the farm, the examples continue to abound. Cyclists in a peloton take turns leading the group, like the locomotive in a train, to reduce individual effort. Even the development of the assembly line and modern business practices such as using licensed images on products are examples of synergy. Even the most hardened misanthrope among us cannot go a day without encountering human synergy.

In our own body, synergy is a driving force behind digestion and immunity, thanks to the billions of bacteria that provide immune support for us while taking advantage of an endless smorgasbord of microbes that are unwelcome visitors.

And speaking of digestion, synergy even exists in the food we eat. Many phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables, such as the carotenoids that give yellow and red produce their vibrant color, are better absorbed when consumed with some dietary fat. Adding vitamin C helps the absorption of plant-based iron in foods like spinach or chickpeas. (Here's a neat blog with more info on food synergies.)

In short, we're all in this together; no (wo)man is an island. The effects of synergy across society, throughout history and up and down the food chain are measurable and quantifiable. Synergy plays a significant role in the work we do at Gaia, too.

Gaia's motto of "Plant Intelligence" means "to act in accordance with nature, honoring the symbiotic relationship between plants and people, and fostering a healthy future for both."

As our Founder Ric Scalzo wrote in his 2012 book Meetings and Awakenings, "All these connections, all these relationships remind us of how we are intimately woven together into a fabric of wholeness that sustains the very life we live." Co-evolution with nature for us continues from seed to shelf, and it extends to how our products are formulated. You can witness this synergy in action in our lab, where we harness this Plant Intelligence to create the highest-quality herbal products.

This means that we do not just look at what one plant can do on its own; we look at what two or more plants can do together, and that creates a powerful result. This is why we extract herbs in a blend rather than individually extract them and then mix them together. What started in 2010 as an experiment yielded "compelling" results, says Jeremy Stewart, Ph.D., Vice-President of Scientific Affairs.

"The phytochemicals of certain plants actually increased when they were extracted together, and I believe this is synergy at work," says Stewart. "Synergism is a fundamental process. It is evident throughout every aspect of our lives: from chemical interactions to their effects on biological systems, and even in (a very broad sense of the word) the social interactions of biological systems. In chemical terms we say 'synergy,' while in biological terms we say 'symbiosis.' "

The powerful results of synergy are most profoundly witnessed in our Turmeric Supreme products, aptly named Curcumin Synergy™. In this line, we have uniquely enhanced a powerful, whole-plant profile of Turmeric's valuable properties, ensuring that these properties are delivered to our customers.

Curcumins, which are Turmeric's most active constituents, provide the herb's yellow pigments as well as antioxidant support, and they help promote healthy inflammatory function and help maintain overall health and vitality.* But even with those inherent characteristics, Turmeric is poorly absorbed into the body, with most of the Curcumins getting excreted through the feces rather than entering the liver or bloodstream.

The good news is that combining Turmeric with certain plant flavonoids, such as Piperine in Black Pepper, Quercetin and Resveratrol, aids in the absorption of Curcumins. Studies have found that this increase in the bioavailability of the Curcumins in such synergistic formulations is significant-up to 2,000% in some cases.*

Knowing this, we include Black Pepper in all products that contain Turmeric, and it is why others also include Quercetin and Resveratrol. Quercetin is among the most abundant natural flavonoids, and it is found in high concentrations in plants such as onions, apples, berries, red wine, broccoli, capers, pomegranates and the Fava d'Anta (Dimorphandra mollis) tree, which is our source. It has been studied for its support of occasional, normal histamine response.* Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in berries, grapes, peanuts and the Japanese Knotwood plant, which is what we use. This phytochemical has garnered considerable scientific attention for its potential to support healthy blood vessel function and promote heart health.* In research supported by Gaia, Quercetin and Curcumins, as well as Resveratrol and Black Pepper, were found to be better absorbed together than individually. As such, these are all crucial aspects of their respective formulations, but they are their strongest when they are together. You can see for yourself in the chart below.

synergy chart

The power of synergy is carefully considered during our extraction process at Gaia. The results are intentional formulations of the highest quality that honors the full potential of your optimal well-being, as well as the full potential of Plant Intelligence.

The power of synergy is carefully considered during our extraction process at Gaia. The results are intentional formulations of the highest quality that honors the full potential of your optimal well-being, as well as the full potential of Plant Intelligence.

Selected Sources: