Earlier this year, Synutra, the leading chondroitin supplier in the US, convened a team of industry and analytical experts to identify an adulterant in chondroitin sulfate previously detected by internal work by the company, which it called Zero One.
The most commonly used chondroitin assay method is cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) titration, but it can be fooled by various known adulterants.
“Everyone uses CPC titration,” explained Weiguo Zhang, President, Synutra International, “but people involved in economically motivated adulteration look for things that will show up in CPC as chondroitin.”
Jana Hildreth, Director of Technology and Scientific Affairs, Synutra Pure added: “Zero One falsely elevates the test so you can put smaller amounts and get higher values in CPC, and this is something we realized is a huge issue in our industry.
“We did something that was unheard of until now in dietary supplements: We brought AOAC, USP, government, the Office of Dietary Supplements, independent labs, and manufacturers of chondroitin together. We were determined to figure out what Zero One was.”
CAME before CPC
Synutra now advocates the use of cellulose acetate membrane electrophoresis (CAME) before CPC. Electrophoresis is a method that uses an electric field to separate substances – the substances move by different amounts when in a colloidal suspension.
CAME is an inexpensive (as little as $190 per sample), simple, and effective procedure that can be used as a qualitative raw material screening tool before running quantitative methods such as CPC or other specific methods such as enzymatic HPLC.
“We’ve seen reports and press releases by companies who claim that they are strengthening their defense, but they’re citing the wrong methods or neglecting the method that works,” said Zhang. “That’s why we are talking to industry, we hope it will help industry to pick up the right method to detect this thing and keep it out of the supply chain.”
“It’s great that they have been supporting me in the scientific efforts and being on various committees that make a difference, and make the law,” said Hildreth, “and we feel like we’re doing more than just paying lip service. We’re making a difference.”
Chondroitin-containing supplement products are in the top five best-selling dietary supplements, with annual sales of about $1 billion, and all chondroitin sold in the US is from overseas. The US is estimated to have imported about 3,500 metric tons of chondroitin in 2012, and about 3,000 in 2011.
Chondroitin sulfate is extracted from animal cartilage. In dietary supplements the compound is often formulated in combination with glucosamine.
Synutra launched its branded materials, Chondro Gold and Chondro Cal, at the SupplySide Marketplace Show in NYC in 2013. The ingredients are described as ‘adulterant-free branded chondroitin products with guaranteed source traceability’. The company has grown from being the fifth largest chondroitin supplier in the US less than 2 years ago to number one.