Special edition: Bone and joint health

Quality and transparency issues continue to dog shrinking chondroitin category

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStockPhoto / raalves
Image: iStockPhoto / raalves

Related tags Chondroitin sulfate Material Adulterant Clinical trial

Despite support from a prestigious Cochrane Review, many manufacturers to re-emphasize chondroitin and to use efficacious amounts in their supplements, says the President and CEO, Synutra Pure.

Published last year​, the  Cochrane Review pooled data from 43 clinical trials including 9,110 people receiving chondroitin sulfate (CS) supplements indicated that, not only did the supplement produce ‘small to moderate’ benefits for people with osteoarthritis, but the risk of adverse events was also lower than in the control groups.

“Although it is well established all qualified clinical studies on chondroitin efficacy have been performed on preparations containing 800mg or more per serving of chondroitin mass delivered, there remains a lack of interest on the part of many manufacturers to re-emphasize chondroitin and to use efficacious amounts in their supplements,”​ said Weiguo Zhang, President and CEO, Synutra Pure, Ltd.

Another issue for the category is that many companies continue to avoid clear disclosure of chondroitin sulfate amounts used in their proprietary blends, said Zhang, and more are using botanicals with anti-inflammatory activities to achieve temporary pain relief in lieu of joint structure and function ingredient like chondroitin. 

“It is understandable economics could speak loader than clinical evidence when it comes to chondroitin as a dietary ingredient,” ​he said. “Until market dynamics change and consumers recognize benefits and value of adequate chondroitin supplementation, we will have to continue spreading the word:  It's all about Chondroitin!”

Market shrinkage

Chondroitin sulfate is extracted from animal cartilage. In dietary supplements the compound is often formulated in combination with glucosamine.

All of the chondroitin sold in the US is from overseas.

This move to alternate ingredients and using lower than efficacious doses in products is producing a shrinking chondroitin market, and Zhang feels that levels in 2015-16 are lower than in previous years. (In 2013 the total CS raw material shipments were valued at about $87 million).

“It is noteworthy that this declining trend of CS supply continued despite the joint health market has been on an upswing and as compelling research continue to support chondroitin efficacy and safety,” ​he said.

“Reasons behind this apparent shrinkage in CS raw material shipments include formulation changes in joint health supplements that use less or none of the material due to its relative high cost and introduction of various new ingredients that may or may not possess joint health benefits.”

Supply chain concerns

Weiguo Zhang, CEO of Synutra Pure, Ltd (left) and Jana Hildreth, Synutra Pure’s Director of Technology and Scientific Affairs, (right) speaking with NutraIngredients-USA at SupplySide West, November 2014

Synutra has been incredibly active in cleaning up the chondroitin sector, which has been plagued by quality concerns and, more recently, potential adulteration: In 2014, a team of industry and analytical experts convened by Synutra identified an adulterant in chondroitin sulfate as sodium hexametaphosphate, a compound used in Calgon​.

In addition to identifying the adulterant, the team also developed a method to test the ingredient. The most commonly used chondroitin assay method, cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) titration, can be fooled by various known adulterants. Utilizing cellulose acetate membrane electrophoresis (CAME) before CPC can weed out any adulterated product, however. Electrophoresis is a method that uses an electric field to separate substances – the substances move by different amounts when in a colloidal suspension.

CAME, which has been in the USP monograph for chondroitin sulfate for years, 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.

The research group’s method was published in the Journal of AOAC International​.

“It is my understanding most of larger brand-owners of joint health supplements are aware of the importance of running CAME alongside CPC titration in qualifying chondroitin sulfate materials,”​ said Zhang. “The fact that these methods are used on a routine basis provides a formidable deterrence to economically motivated adulteration.

“In addition to sodium hexametaphosphate and alginic sodium di-ester, a seaweed extract, we have used the CAME and CPC combo to screen out 2 newly found non-CS sulfated materials that masquerade as CS and that are yet to be identified.”​ 

Zhang said that as soon as one defense is erected, people will look for ways to circumvent it. “Although it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of our work spreading the methods to fight known adulterants, we at Synutra Pure continue to take pride in leading the industry in remaining vigilant against emerging adulterants,”​ he said.

Offsetting the testing costs

Quality initiatives have also been affected by the cost of raw materials, explained Zhang.

“Quality practices are more driven by needs to comply with customer requirements and by pricing pressure from buyers,” ​he said. “Relatively higher sourcing price in the 2014-2015 market cycle may have helped suppliers to offset cost increases in more testing done at buyers' requests. 

“But when faced with tighter margin and short-term order prospects as demand weakens, suppliers, especially traders and small plant operators, have little incentive to institute lasting quality initiatives that Synutra Pure and its long-time CS manufacturing partner Meitek Technology develop and uphold.”

Bone & joint health 16

Bone & Joint Health

Joint health will be explored in-depth at the upcoming NutraIngredients-USA Bone & Joint Health Online Event on June 29. Experts from GNC, NBTY, Jarrow Formulas & NOW Foods will discuss the market forces, science, supply chain, and future opportunities in bone and joint health in a FREE online event hosted by NutraIngredients-USA.

For more information and to register, please click HERE​.

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