INCREASINGLY, more and more people are turning towards herbal supplements as a preventive and curative remedy for their ailments. However, have you ever wondered whether the herbal supplements you buy contain the right ingredients or whether the contents in the bottle are the same as the label’s claim? Also, the big price difference between different brands of the same herbs. Are they of similar quality? These are some of the problems you will face when you buy herbal products. The following are some of the common problems with herbal supplements: too little or no active ingredients; wrong ingredients; contamination; unexpected ingredients (“spike products”). By being aware of the problems, you will be more careful when selecting products to buy.
(1) Too little or no active ingredients
A product that contains less of the active ingredient(s) than the label indicates or is devoid of that ingredient(s) is unlikely to perform as expected. This may happen because the ingredient is expensive and the manufacturer puts in less of it. Or, the manufacturer buys a cheaper material, which may or may not be up to standard. Although verifying material quality should be standard practices - especially when materials are purchased at unusually low prices - many manufacturers don’t bother to check or do not have the equipment or the know-how to check.
(2) Wrong ingredients
Non-herbal products rarely contain the wrong ingredients, but herbals commonly do. Specifically, herbal products contain the wrong plant part (leaf instead of root) or wrong species of plant. In addition, a herb or herbal extract should contain specific plant chemicals in the amounts shown to be effective in clinical trials. Unfortunately, growing, harvesting and processing conditions can easily affect these chemicals. If for example, the wrong species of herb or the wrong plant part is used or if the herb is harvested at the wrong time of the year, the ingredient may be ineffective.
(3) Contaminated ingredients
Besides wrong ingredients, herbal products may contain chemicals or other ingredients that don’t belong there. Possible contaminations include pesticides, micro-organisms and heavy metals (mercury, lead, arsenic). Some contaminants can be toxic or carcinogenic, which can be detrimental to health if taken on a regular basis.
(4) Unexpected (spiked) ingredients
Some herbal supplements are spiked with ingredients not listed on their labels to enhance the effect of the product. Spiking is most common in products where consumers expect an immediate effect. For example, ginseng, which is usually taken to increase vitality, may be spiked with caffeine, which is a stimulant. Some products are occasionally spiked with prescription drugs.
(5) How to choose herbal supplements
The quality of herbal products begins with the quality of the raw materials. If you put garbage in, garbage comes out. Many companies try to cut corners and save a few cents by using inexpensive raw materials. Example, crude extracts are generally inexpensive and their quality can vary from batch to batch even from the same supplier. Therefore, in order to guarantee consistency of the quality of the herbal products, look for a product that contains standardised extracts, even though they are expensive. The reason for using standardised extracts is to ensure that all herbal products contain the same amount of a plant’s biologically active compound. Some raw material suppliers take advantage of the fact that very few manufacturers carry out tests on herbal raw materials. These manufacturers rely solely on the supplier’s Certificate of Analysis (CoA), which can be a problem. It is not uncommon to find suppliers sometimes submit samples that meet standards, but then do not deliver the same quality material when they sell it. - The STaR ONLiNe
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