New research raises quality issues with herbal supplements
(August 10, 2022) A new peer-reviewed study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology(1) suggests consumers should be careful when purchasing unregulated herbal supplements, as some have been shown to be prone to quality issues .
Herbal products containing the same ingredient and regulated in different categories may be of different quality. In this study, the quality of herbal medicines with Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) was compared to products classified as dietary supplements in the UK. Both categories of herbal products contained the three most popular herbs, milk thistle, echinacea (echinacea) and black cohosh. The products were analyzed using High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography (HPTLC) fingerprinting which can detect adulteration and other quality issues in herbal products.
While 100% of THR herbal medicines contained the exact herb and strength listed on their label, this was not the case for dietary supplements where quality issues were found in 52% of thistle products. -Marie, 25% of echinacea-based products, and 46% of black cohosh-based products.
Among the dietary supplements tested, the research revealed quality issues including: the absence of the herb declared on the product label, a lower concentration of herb in the product than specified on the label, and the presence of undeclared weeds, wrong weed species and/or other adulterants.
UK pharmacies, health food stores and supermarkets commonly stock herbal medicines and dietary supplements, but few consumers realize that there are two types. The former are regulated and assessed for quality and safety by the UK’s Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and when approved for sale display the traditional medicine symbol based on of plants (THR) on the packaging. The latter are unregulated dietary supplements that contain herbs and are sometimes combined with vitamins and minerals. These dietary supplements will comply with the Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) if produced by companies that are members of a UK Trade Association (see below). However, for products made by companies that are not members of specific trade associations, these dietary supplements may not be produced to GMP standards and may not contain what is specified on the label, as shown in these latest research.
Dr Chris Etheridge, President of the British Herbal Medicine Association, medical herbalist and co-author of the research, says: “The results show that the Government’s MHRA regulated THR herbal medicines provide herbal medicine reliable for the consumer. However, while there are many responsible manufacturers of unregulated herbal supplements, this is not the case in all areas.
Under the current regulatory system, when purchasing an herbal medicine for a specific self-limiting condition, such as joint pain, menopausal symptoms, or cough and cold symptoms , Dr Etheridge advises that “consumers should always look for the THR symbol which is displayed on every packet. This symbol provides assurance that the product is of high quality, regulated by the MHRA and contains exactly what it should. These herbal medicines have been evaluated for their safety and quality and carry an approved medical claim on their packaging explaining precisely the symptoms they relieve, such as hot flashes or joint pain. , there is always a patient information leaflet (PiL) which provides important information on its use, as well as any warnings or contraindications with other medications.
Some of the herbs that can be purchased in the UK as approved THRs include:
Comfrey root (external use only)
Eucalyptus essential oil
Spruce from Norway
Prickly Ash, Southern Bark
St. John’s wort
Tea tree essential oil
Consumers can find brands that provide THR herbal medicines approved and regulated by the British Herbal Medicine Association / www.bhma.info
However, some herbs are not yet available as THR herbal medicines. Consumers who wish to purchase these herbs for their health will only be able to find them in the category of dietary supplements which should be purchased from credible brands registered with one of the following UK trade associations:
• The Health Food Manufacturers Association / www.hfma.org.uk
• The Owners Association of Great Britain / www.pagb.co.uk
• The Council for Responsible Nutrition / www.crnuk.org
(1) Frommenwiler DA, Reich E, Sharaf MHM, Cañigueral S and Etheridge CJ (2022) Market survey of regulated herbal products in different categories: how can HPTLC help detect quality issues? Front. Pharmacol. 13:925298. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2022.925298
Notes to Editors:
Two organizations continue to work to ensure proper regulation and the supply of safe, high quality herbal supplements to consumers in the UK:
1. The British Herbal Medicine Association (BHMA) has represented the interests of herbal medicine in the UK for almost 60 years. Founded in 1964 at a time of increasing regulatory scrutiny and as herbal medicine in this country faced an uncertain future, the BHMA played an important role in convincing the government of the day to include provisions for the industry and the herbal profession in the Medicines Act 1968. Members of the Association include manufacturers of herbal medicines, herbalists, companies involved in the supply of raw materials and herbal extracts, academics, pharmacists, retailers and students of herbal medicine. The Board strives to support members, closely monitors legislative developments affecting herbal medicine, liaises with regulatory authorities, industry forums and the media, provides advice and commentary on news EU or UK legislation and directives, and comments on other specific herbal medicines. problems. The BHMA recently created the Herbal Practitioners Suppliers section to bring together for the first time many UK suppliers of herbal medicines from the Western, Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions of herbal medicine. Ten members are current members and have been awarded the HerbMark® Quality Standard, which is only awarded to member companies of the program, after successfully completing an extensive audit process to help ensure that herbs administered by practitioners British Herbalists, Herbalists and Medical Herbalists are manufactured to pharmaceutical standards, ensuring consistent quality and effectiveness for their patients. For more information visit www.bhma.info
2. The Health Food Manufacturers Association (HFMA) enforces three long-standing codes of practice – for GMP, labeling and advertising, and higher levels of safety for supplements – to ensure member companies adhere to high standards and offer safe and good quality products to UK consumers. As such, we welcome proportionate and clear legislation designed to ensure that consumer choice is informed by responsible and accurate information. The HFMA’s Code of Advertising Practice was created in 1978 and the first labeling and advertising advisory service in 1998. The Code sets the regulatory framework for specialty healthcare products and is administered by the CLEAR CHECK™ service accredited by the HFMA Primary Authority. For more information visit www.hfma.co.uk
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