Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, spoke with NutraIngredients-USA at the SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas, NV. The Botanical Adulterants Program, which is run jointly with the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi has been under way for several years now. The goal of the program has been to identify botanicals that have been reported to be adulterated and to collect the information about what is showing up in these adulterated ingredients so that industry know what to look for when doing identity testing. The program features an exhaustive peer reviewing process, which made for a slow start to the publication program. But now that that pump has been primed, the publications are rolling off the presses, so to speak.
“We’ve published now about 25 different publications, including reports in HerbalGram, eight publications of our Botanical Adulterants newsletter that comes out quarterly, and six publications of our bulletins which are a treatment of a single herb that we know to be adulterated,” Blumenthal said. Eight more of the ingredient-specific bulletins are in the works including papers on St John’s Wort, ginkgo and ashwagandha, he said.
Cleaning up the liver injury issue
Many cases of adulteration of botanical ingredients deal with economic adulteration with innocuous (if also inefficacious) ingredients, a situation that is both irritating and fraudulent but not necessarily unsafe. But Blumenthal said a few of the adulterants that have been showing up among the herbs being investigated by the program potentially or actually can cause liver damage. For example, the common adulterants for skullcap (germander) and black cohosh (a related Chinese species) both fall in this category. In addition, there can be an issue with undeclared allergens as peanut skin extract has been showing up as an adulterant of choice.
Blumenthal said the program will continue to shine a light on the adulteration issues within the industry. While some industry observers may wish to keep such skeletons locked firmly in the closet, Blumenthal is of the opinion that openly airing the information can both improve quality practices and serve to lift the veil of suspicion that unfairly afflicts some herbs like black cohosh.