AHPA urges black cohosh, caffeine action

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Caffeine Actaea racemosa

The American Herbal Products Association's trade recommendations on
black cohosh adulteration and labeling of caffeine content are due
to come into effect next month, aimed at advancing quality and
safety in the herbals industry.

The two recommendations were agreed at the association's board meeting in March and effectively constitute an amendment to its Code of Ethics and Business Conduct​. Compliance is therefore a prerequisite of membership.

"In addition to being a membership obligation,"​ said president Michael McGuffin, "these recommendations are driven by AHPA's ongoing efforts to ensure the highest product quality and to promote the safe and responsible use of supplements by consumers."

It is usual for such recommendations come into effect six months after board approval.

The association is concerned about instances of black cohosh (Actaea racemosa​, or Cimicifuga racemosa​) being adulterated with other species of the actaea genus. Three other species have been identified as possible adulterants - Actaea cimicifuga​ (aka Cimicifuga foetida​); Actaea dahurica​ (C. dahurica​); and A. heracleifolia​ (C. heracleifolia​) - but others may also exist. In some instances, these may have been substituted for genuine black cohosh.

APHA says that the responsibility for ensuring products are adulterant-free rests squarely with the manufacturers, and that they must ensure that all ingredients are accurately identified.

Spokesperson Karen Robin told NutraIngredients-USA.com that manufacturers need to ensure they have adequate quality control in place.

Companies need to make sure they are dealing with reputable suppliers, and establish a relationship with them. On receipt of raw material, they should examine it to ensure it looks and smells right, and compare it with a reference standard.

A lot of companies also have very rigorous laboratory tests in place, said Robin, and they test material before they start processing it to ensure it has the right components to work effectively. These components can sometimes be affected by improper procedures such as harvesting at the wrong time, and not being dried properly.

Concerns over the use of hormones to combat menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, have led more and more consumers to turn to the herb, which has a long history of use in this area.

Where demand is rising, it is not surprising that some unscrupulous suppliers may try to make money by substituting another actaea species for Actaea racemosa​, said Robin.

As for caffeine, APHA is asking the makers of supplements containing any quantity of the stimulant to disclose its presence on the label.

Robin said that this recommendation came about in recognition of some people's sensitivity to caffeine.

"If it is not appropriate for a person to take caffeine for one reason or another, they need to know if they are consuming it,"​ she said. "It could be that caffeine is contained in a lot of different plants that they may not know about. We are trying to raise awareness, so people can make an informed decision as to whether they want to take it."

Except where the caffeine-containing ingredient is an herb, where the herbal-sourced part of an ingredient exceeds other constituents in weight or volume, or when the amount of caffeine per recommended serving is less than 25 mg, AHPA's recommendation states that the quantity of caffeine per recommended serving should also be stated.

This is to be given both in mg and as an equivalent to cups of coffee (where one cup equals 100mg).

The maximum amount of caffeine per serving should not exceed 200 mg per serving, with a frequency not more than every 3 to 4 hours. What is more, where the caffeine content is high enough to merit it, the label should also carry the warning:

"Too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and, occasionally, rapid heart beat. Not recommended for use by children under 18 years of age."

Since it speeds up the metabolism, caffeine is particularly popular in weight-loss products - even more so since the ban on ephedra-containing supplements came into effect in April 2004.

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