Achieving a common thread, speakers on quality control of herbal supplements in the US thrashed out strategies and recommendations aimed at improving the industry 's regulations, and reassuring the public about herbal health fears.
At the moment, critics claim that attempts to verify label claims are hampered by a lack of widely available testing methods or by the presence of too many different competing test methods that may give different results for the same product.
The herbal extract market has seen strong growth - 11.1 per cent annually - to $300 million in 2007 as consumers gain a heightened awareness of a variety of herbal extracts and a range of innovative plant-derived chemicals. This is expected to spur robust gains, details a report published by the Freedonia Group.
Mingfu Wang of the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology at Rutgers University said: "Dietary supplements and functional foods are among the fast growing fields. Recently the demand for safe and effective dietary supplements in the US market has grown exponentially and consumers start to question the quality of dietary supplements."
"Given the consumer-driven nature of dietary supplement industry and the regulatory framework in the US, the quality control standards for botanical products are often lacking and/or even not existing."
Other speakers at the symposium included Rong-Tsun Wu, of the Research Centre for Drug Discovery & Institute of Biopharmaceutical Science, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan. His focus was on the bioactivity and mechanism of Chinese herbs on the regeneration of cell or tissue. The active ingredients of these Chinese herbs were identified as the parameter during clinical trails.
Dr.Joseph M. Betz of the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institute of Health questioned the quality of herbal products as one of the questions facing consumers and researchers. Quality specifications included in his presentation included sanitation, adventitious agents, and content of desirable and undesirable natural chemicals.
In response to quality issues, the US Congress directed the Office of Dietary Supplements to support methods of validation. Basic elements of the chemistry of botanical quality and an overview of the ODS program was be described in his presentation.
Finally Navindra P. Seeram of the Centre for Human Nutrition, University of California detailed polyphenols, found in abundance in food plants, such as fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols have been found to have health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and heart-protective properties. Studies discussed included the benefits of these bioactive compounds from herbal products
The symposium, currently taking place until April 1 in Anaheim, California, highlights the variation in demand for individual herbal extracts, depending on changing trends. Surges in trend-related demand are often followed by oversaturation of the market with too many products touting similar benefits.
Technical challenges facing the industry range from establishing identity of botanical extracts to ill-defined methods of extraction, and variations in colour, odour and other performance properties.
Manufacturers generally need methods applicable throughout the manufacturing process, while regulators require versatile methods that could be used for the same analyse in a number of finished products.
Use of herbal supplements is expected to increase in popularity particularly among women.
A study published in the November issue of the American Journal of the Dietetic Association (2003;103:1500-1505) revealed that out of a random sample of 15,985 adults the most frequently used herbs were echinacea (14.7 per cent) and Gingko biloba (10.9 per cent).
Use of all non-vitamin, non-mineral supplements was highest among females aged between 45 and 64 years of age, whites, college graduates, and among those with selected health conditions.
Traditionally, small-to-medium-sized chemicals companies, such as Indena, AM Todd and Triarco, and distributors affiliated with offshore producers have been the leading suppliers of herbal extracts to the US market.
However, larger chemicals companies, attracted by the potential growth for these plant-derived chemicals, are increasing their market presence. Last year Cognis entered the market with the acquisition of Spanish botanical extract firm Laboratorios Dr. Vinyals, reintroducing a number of the herbal extracts under a line specifically developed for various anti-aging cosmeceutical formulations.