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St. John's wort adulteration bulletin released by botanical adulterants program

Bulletin summarizes data on adulteration of St. John's wort extracts with food dyes and/or extracts from other Hypericum species.

The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program announces the publication of a new Botanical Adulterants Bulletin (BAB) on St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum).

Extracts of St. John’s wort are widely used for the symptomatic treatment of mild-to-moderate depression. According to data from Nutrition Business Journal, sales of St. John’s wort dietary supplement products in the United States alone reached $57 million in 2015.

The unintentional collection of closely related Hypericum species instead of authentic St. John’s wort was described as early as the 1980s. The addition of food dyes to St. John’s wort extracts with the aim to fool standard laboratory tests (spectrophotometric determination of total hypericins) in order to comply with the labeled contents (usually 0.3%) has been documented only recently.

The new Bulletin, written by Allison McCutcheon, PhD, an herbal research expert in British Columbia, Canada, provides information on the growing range, production, and market importance of St. John’s wort and its extracts. It also lists the known adulterants, potential therapeutic and/or safety issues with the adulterating species and analytical approaches to detect adulterants. Sixteen expert peer reviewers provided input on the St. John’s wort Bulletin.

The goal of the Botanical Adulterant Bulletins is to provide accounts of ongoing issues related to botanical identity and adulteration, thus allowing quality control personnel and lab technicians in the herbal medicine, botanical ingredient, dietary supplement, cosmetic, conventional food, and other industries where botanical ingredients are used to be informed on adulteration problems that are apparently widespread and/or that may imply safety concerns. As with all publications in the Program, the Bulletins are freely accessible to all American Botanical Council (ABC) members, registered users of the ABC website, and all members of the public on the Program’s website.

“Adulteration of St. John’s wort extracts with chemical dyes is no accident,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC and founder and director of the Botanical Adulterants Program. “Detection of these dyes by use of appropriate analytical methods in industry laboratories is an important step in preventing the presence of fraudulent and ineffective extracts from being sold to consumers. This is one of the key objectives of our Botanical Adulterants Program.”

Stefan Gafner, PhD, ABC chief science officer and Botanical Adulterants Program technical director, noted, “The sale of St. John’s wort extracts containing undeclared food dyes has been reported by a number of analysts from industry and contract analytical laboratories. This type of adulteration is quite easily detected with appropriate analytical methods.”

“The distinction of the various Hypericum species is challenging, and a good control over the supply chain is crucial,” Gafner added.“For the laboratory analysts, more data on the morphological, phytochemical, and genetic differences of closely related species would be beneficial to help to ensure presence of authentic St. John’s wort.”

The St. John’s wort Bulletin is the seventh publication in the series of Botanical Adulterants Bulletins. The Bulletins on arnica (Arnica montana) flower, bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) fruit extract, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) root and rhizome, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) root and rhizome, grape (Vitis vinifera) seed extract, and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) herb were published in 2016.

Source: American Botanical Council

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