Dr Mona Tawab from the German analytical lab, Zentrallaboratorium Deutscher Apotheker, told an Indena-sponsored botanicals congress in Paris last week that a multi-stakeholder effort was required to thwart both intentional and unintentional adulteration of boswellia, or Frankincense as the anti-inflammation herb is commonly known.
“There are a lot of poor quality supplements,” Dr Tawab said in a conference debate, referencing boswellia but also other botanicals like ginseng, blueberry, bilberry and St John’s wort that have long suffered quality control issues.
“There needs to be a focus on the quality of the extracts. Only in this way can compliance be achieved. But I believe the industry can clean itself up.”
Later Dr Tawab told us that she was aware quality control issues were nothing new in botanicals or supplements but she wanted to raise the issue after her lab’s testing revealed the extent of the problem in boswellia, usually with other boswellia species but also other herbal extracts.
“It is common that extracts are being used to save money, some of it is criminal activity which is hard to control, but unintentional adulteration can be controlled by improved analytical methods.”
She said major players were doing a good job, even in the absence of EU-wide Good Manufacturing Practises (GMP), but called on “Manufacturers to do more to verify the source of their raw materials.”
“It is difficult for consumers to tell the difference between good and bad boswellia supplements. There needs to be more severe regulation to increase quality data that needs to be collected for supplements. There needs to be stronger enforcement to compel manufacturers to change.”
Botanical extracts have three major routes to market in the EU: as food supplements under the Food Supplements Directive (FSD), as herbal medicines under the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) or as drugs under EU medicines law.
Dr Tawab said most adulterated material originated out of China and Asia but also the Americas and eastern and western Europe.
“When the price is low you should be suspicious.”
Later in the debate, Dr Francesco Visioli from the department of Molecular Medicine at Padua University in Italy, alluded to the EU botanical claims situation where about 2000 claim submissions were on-hold as the authorities debated the best manner in which to scientifically assess them.
“Every company wants claims,” he said. “How can we get claims? The guidelines are quite strict. It’s like a competition between the companies who would like to put everything, the regulators and the consumers. But you have to follow the guidelines.”
Andrea Poli, president of the Nutrition Foundation of Italy said: “Food supplements can really make the difference in preventing chronic disease.”
“Now we are living 80 not 40 years, the long term effects of inflammation are coming out. It’s like evolution rewards you for good nutrition by reducing inflammation.”
Boswellia has a long history of use as an anti-inflammatory in Ayurvedic complementary medicine in India and other parts of the world.
Curcumin: A loner?
Dr Giovanni Appendino, chief science advisor at Indena, said bioavailability issues were being confronted in herbals like curcumin, also shown to battle inflammation along with other conditions like muscle fatigue.
“Curcumin is a loner,” Dr Appendino said of its bio-activity. “It doesn’t make friends easily. It needs a bioavailability social lubricant like phospholipids.”
Indena employs a proprietary lecithin delivery system called Phytosome to boost the bioavailability of some of its extracts.