Three leading nonprofit organizations—the American Botanical Council (ABC), the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) and the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR)—initiated this ongoing program in 2011 to educate members of the herbal and dietary supplement industry and numerous other stakeholders in the herb, dietary supplement and natural medicine arenas about ingredient and product authenticity and adulteration.
“We are deeply gratified by the huge outpouring of support that we have received on this vitally needed educational program,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC, and program manager. “Wherever we have gone to solicit financial, technical and other types of support, we have almost always received a positive response. This reflects the high level of concern that many responsible elements in the herb and natural health community—including, but not limited to, the herb and dietary supplement industry—have about the quality and reliability of herbal supplements, teas, etc. Even though it’s apparent that there are many authentic, high-quality, reliable ingredients and products, the fact remains that there are identity and quality problems that have persisted far too long, and now many of us are circling the wagons to reduce and hopefully eliminate some of the errors and fraud that exist in this field.”
The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program focuses on both accidental adulteration that may occur due to inadequate quality-control procedures, as well as intentional adulteration of plant-based ingredients for financial gain. In an industry that saw sales rise 4.5% in 2011 to an estimated figure of nearly $5.3 billion in herbal dietary supplement product retail sales in the U.S. alone, documented cases of adulteration of raw materials (i.e., problems related to ingredient authenticity and quality), is a matter of growing concern.
Title 21 of the US Code of Federal Regulations defines adulteration as the “Addition of an impure, cheap, or unnecessary ingredient to cheat, cheapen, or falsify an ingredient or preparation.” The Code also deems a product adulterated “if any substance has been added thereto or mixed or packed therewith so as to increase its bulk or weight, or reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear better or of greater value than it is.”
The primary intention of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is to help protect consumers and responsible members of the herb and dietary supplement industry, as well as other manufacturers, from purchasing adulterated raw materials. This is done by the Program’s publishing a series of detailed articles that serve as an authoritative source of information on botanical adulterants. These articles contain references to published official and unofficial analytical methods for company and/or third-party quality control laboratories to consider using to detect the presence (or absence) of known adulterants.
To date, four papers on the topic of botanical adulteration have been published in ABC’s quarterly scientific, peer-reviewed journal HerbalGram. The first of these, “A Brief History of Adulteration of Herbs, Spices, and Botanical Drugs,” written by noted botanical expert Steven Foster, appeared in the winter 2011 issue (#92). The article provides a history of accidental and intentional adulteration of botanical ingredients spanning the past two millennia.
In the spring of 2012, HerbalGram featured another article by Mr. Foster, covering the adulteration of skullcap with American germander. The herb skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), has been used as a mild sedative for more than a century, but, in the early 1980s, it became erroneously implicated as a possible source of liver toxicity, likely due to adulteration with or substitution of American germander (Teucrium canadense).
The third feature in the series is “The Adulteration of Commercial ‘Grapefruit Seed Extract’ with Synthetic Antimicrobial and Disinfectant Compounds,” written by John H. Cardellina II, PhD, and published in HerbalGram #94. A popular ingredient in natural products, grapefruit seed extract (GFSE) has appeared in cosmetics and dermatological preparations as well as dietary supplements. The article reviews 10 published analytical studies published in international journals demonstrating that samples of GFSE were adulterated with various synthetic chemicals, including the disinfectant triclosan. The article concludes that a significant amount of GFSE is adulterated, or at least was at the time the 10 analyses occurred over a 20-year period, and that GFES’s promoted antimicrobial activity may be due to the presence of these synthetic antimicrobial adulterants, rather than the extract itself.
The most recent article in the series, “The Adulteration of Commercial Bilberry Extracts,” also written by Mr. Foster, was published in the winter 2012 issue of HerbalGram. Bilberry fruit (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a popular food in Europe where it grows wild throughout Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. It is also a best-selling supplement ingredient in the U.S. marketplace. In a probable example of economically motived adulteration, it seems that many bilberry extracts are adulterated with a “confusing morass” of ingredients, including black soybean hull extract, amaranth dye (also known as Red Dye No. 2), charcoal and various other fruits.
With more than 100 underwriters and endorsers of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program, Mr. Blumenthal said he believes that this widespread support will continue to bring the global problem of adulteration to the attention of members of the herbal and dietary supplement community.
“We will continue to invite more companies, organizations and others—both in the U.S. and internationally—to join with us in this educational quest to increase knowledge about authenticity and adulteration problems,” said Mr. Blumenthal. “Adulteration is an ancient and global problem. With increased education through an effective program, we believe we can significantly reduce, perhaps even eliminate, some of the problems in the market.”
In addition to the series of articles, the Adulterants Program includes contributions and consultations from some of the leading independent third-party laboratories with experience in quality control and botanical identification issues. The editorial committee, which advises on all technical publications, includes expert scientists from various universities, government agencies, and third-party analytical laboratories with extensive knowledge of herbal quality control. The Program also is being supported by leading trade associations in the dietary supplement industry, including the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the Natural Products Association and the United Natural Products Alliance.