In recent years, we’ve been in the midst of a health renaissance as people search to understand more about their bodies and individual needs. Rather than simply hoping to live a long life, we’re searching to have a high quality of life and looking for the best methods through which to do so. With this renewed interest in wellness and the advent of the internet, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with information and confused by conflicting information, methods, and studies.
One of the fastest-growing areas of wellness and search for optimized health is the nutraceutical industry.
77% of Americans report they consume dietary supplements and are increasingly turning to nutritional and botanical medicine to optimize their health. 1 The variety and variability of products available presents a tremendous challenge for both consumers and healthcare professionals, and “as dietary supplements have moved into clinical settings, the imperative for improving product quality has grown even stronger.”2
To help you and your patients when considering nutritional and botanical supplements, we’ve compiled a brief guide that we hope will help you evaluate and find high quality, efficacious products.
The quality of a plant extract is strictly related to the quality of the botanical source and the method of preparation.
Considering the source of the raw material is essential in evaluating the quality of herbal and nutritional supplements. Raw material verifications provide vital information that can help you assure reproducible pharmacologic activity, including:
- Plant genetics - correct and specific species
- When and where the plant was cultivated, noting factors such as plant age, climate and soil characteristics
- Parts of the plant used
- Exposure to contaminants or adulterants that can affect compounds produced by the plants
- Whether a nutrient is synthetic or food-grown
Best practice extract preparation methods are dependent on the plant type. Raw material verifications show:
- Harvesting practices - duration of time from when the herb is harvested to extraction
- Method of preparation - the best processing method is dependent on the plant type
- Extraction, solvent polarity, temperature, duration , distillation, fermentation, purification
- Extraction solvents used
- Storage (light, oxygen, humidity, temperature)
Companies committed to quality generally have raw material verifications available for practitioners upon request. While there isn’t a need to evaluate every ingredient of every formula, this can serve as a good reference point for the effort supplement companies are putting in to make sure they’re sourcing the highest quality ingredients for their formulas.
The comparison of standardized products with reproducible chemical composition best assures reproducible pharmacologic activity.
The content of active markers in commercial products can vary considerably, and some supplements may lack active constituents or have their active constituents diluted with lesser quality raw materials. To avoid this, evaluate the concentration of active constituents and the amount of herbal extract and active constituents per serving.
The FDA's rule for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) set standards for supplement companies, and their certification by a trusted third-party organization, such as NSF, is one of the first you should look for when evaluating supplement brands. This confirms robust testing using validated analytical methods, such as HPLC testing, was utilized to ensure proper ingredient:
- Purity from potential contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, or other organisms.
Remember that the power in plant medicine isn’t always immediate and that you and your patients should expect to see some results over time.
Botanical medicines are rich beds of molecular diversity, and provide a treasure trove of medicinal compounds, while nutritional agents serve as building blocks and act as cofactors for physiological processes that are critical for health. In general, botanical compounds direct physiology, while nutritional agents provide material needs. By utilizing synergistic formulas with potent extracts and concentrates in specific forms, we can have an accessible set of tools for improving health, and promoting longevity.
If you’re a clinician and have questions about biomarkers to evaluate before and during the administration of Natura Health Products or about recommended dosing, our medical educator, Dr. Jason Miller, DACM, LAc, is available for consultations. Please reach out to our customer service team for more information.
*This article was adapted from Donnie Yance’s Blog, “ Whose Supplements Can You Trust and Why?”