The largest international professional organization of scientists who analyze and research medicinal plants and therapeutic derivatives thereof has endorsed an educational program that advises industry, health professionals, and researchers about the challenges of adulterated herb and botanical products.
The Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research (known by its acronym GA, based on its former German name) is the largest international scientific society devoted to medicinal plant research, with members from more than 90 countries. In a letter from GA President Prof. Matthias Hamburger, PhD, to Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) and general manager of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program, Dr. Hamburger notified Blumenthal of the GA's decision to endorse the Program.
Adulteration refers to the accidental or intentional substitution or dilution of a material with an undisclosed lower-cost ingredient, thereby giving the consumer or user a false sense of the value of an ingredient or product containing such an adulterated ingredient.
The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is a coalition of three nonprofit groups: the American Botanical Council, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and the University of Mississippi's National Center for Natural Products Research, with more than 100 other American and international parties supporting and cooperating with the Program.
According to Dr. Hamburger, professor of pharmaceutical biology in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Basel in Switzerland, "In recent years, the use of botanicals has substantially increased worldwide. When purchasing botanicals, consumers assume that herbal materials and products derived from them are of good quality and that these products can be safely used. However, adulteration of botanicals is a serious and growing problem. Unfortunately, the risks involved with intake of adulterated products are largely unknown to consumers, and the awareness of actors in the field is insufficient."
He continued, "We are acutely aware of the problems related to adulterated herbal products and the need to address this problem of global concern."
"The GA's endorsement of this Program is a significant development and very much in line with the aims of GA, namely to contribute to the advancement of research and science in the field of medicinal plants and phytotherapy (the medicinal use of botanically based preparations), and to cooperate with organizations pursuing similar aims," said Rudolf Bauer, PhD, Professor of Pharmacognosy at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Graz in Austria, and past-president of the GA.
"Adulteration of herbal materials and products is a serious problem," he continued. "It not only jeopardizes consumers, but it also challenges research and credibility of phytotherapy. In a globally growing market, international efforts are needed to combat this malpractice. Therefore, I am very happy, that all leading organizations in the field are now joining forces in order to raise awareness and to overcome this problem."
The GA's endorsement of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program follows a similar endorsement by the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) last year. ASP is North America's largest professional organization of researchers in the field of medicinal plants and drugs of natural origin.
"The endorsement of our Program by both the GA and the ASP signifies not only the global nature of the problem of adulteration in the botanical supply chain, but also represents the concerns of many leading medicinal plant research experts regarding this significant problem, and their confidence in and cooperation with the educational work we are doing," said ABC's Blumenthal.
According to AHP Executive Director Roy Upton, "It is exciting to receive an endorsement from GA. GA is the most prestigious organization in the European Union regarding medicinal plant research. It is heartening to see them take an active interest in our efforts to create the same solid foundation they have for quality herbal medicinal and health products."
"The endorsement by the GA certainly shows the importance of the Botanical Adulteration Program and the positive impact it is already having on the quality and safety of botanicals in the international arena," said Ikhlas Khan, PhD, research professor of pharmacognosy and assistant director of NCNPR. Prof. Khan's group is a US Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, charged with analyzing botanical ingredients and dietary supplement products, as well as training FDA field inspectors who routinely inspect herb and dietary supplement manufacturers to ensure compliance with federally mandated good manufacturing practices.
To date, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program has published five extensively peer-reviewed and referenced articles on the history of adulteration, the adulteration of the herbs black cohosh and skullcap, and adulteration of extracts of bilberry fruit and grapefruit seed. These open-access articles are available on the Program's webpage: herbalgram.org/adulterants.