Botanicals and Supplements-Challenges in Testing

NSF hosted an extraordinary pre-NNFA event yesterday in Las Vegas. Some 70 industry professionals gathered to discuss the needs and the challenges involved in developing testing methods for the products used in our industry.

The very nature of using natural materials for products makes developing a method for testing them a real challenge. Natural materials vary from crop to crop, field to field and grower to grower. They even vary based on basics like wild crafting and cultivation.

Therefore, analytical testing methods may not always be appropriate for examining certain materials. Attendees were also reminded that the method used to test a raw material for constituents and actives may not be the most appropriate for testing a finished product. Then there is the debate surrounding "what is it that we are looking for in this product or material? "

Additionally, testing results can be influenced by a number of factors having nothing at all to do with the actual method of testing:

  • the origins and quality of the materials (wild crafted or cultivated, many companies do not know),
  • how the sample have been handled,
  • the form it is in when tested (liquid, powder, granular and how it got to be such)
  • the way it will be consumed (tablet, capsule, soft gel) ,
  • what is the base material.

These issues all influence the end result of testing and do not reveal the actual bioavailability of the nutrients, an entirely separate consideration.

So if analytical testing is not the best method for everything, what is? And is there one best method, or are there multiple methods that can be used for different products and materials?

Most agree that the industry has spent a significant sum on analytical testing with much of the process being driven by marketing departments rather than QA and Research departments.

In a world where, typically, more is better, it is very difficult to explain to consumers why a product that contains ‘less’ of something may in fact be a better product than one that contains more. If the product with more is less bioavailable, then there is in reality less, a very difficult concept to communicate. It is also important that we never forget we are working with natural products, not drugs which usually have a single identifiable active ingredient. The methods we use for testing and verifying the quality and bioavailability must reflect this.

Educating retailers and consumers is key to keeping high quality, safe and efficacious products on the market. It is also one of the most challenging issues we face as an industry. As challenging as deciding what method to use is, the educational aspect is enormous and every company knows it. This NSF-sponsored conference brought a wide range of industry professionals together to look at the pros and cons, the challenges and possibilities and was a positive and productive event. We hope to see these conversations continue at future industry suppliers conferences. Continuing the dialog is very important to resolving the issues.

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