Inauthentic Herbals

Using DNA barcoding, researchers show that herbal products are often contaminated or contain alternative compounds and fillers.

By | November 6, 2013

Phyllanthus bahiensisFLICKR, ALEX POPOVKINNaturally, consumers reaching for herbal remedies may think they are doing their bodies a favor. But a new DNA barcoding study has shown that some of these so-called “natural” products are contaminated, containing substitute ingredients and fillers that are anything but. The results were published in BMC Medicine last month (October 11).

Researchers from the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph tested 44 herbal products produced by 12 manufacturers and sold in the U.S. and Canada. They found that 59 percent of those products contained DNA barcodes from plant species not listed on their labels, and a third of the products contained undeclared contaminants and/or fillers. In their paper, the researchers noted that substituting ingredients and adding filers can dilute the otherwise helpful activities of certain plant species.

“The level of regulation of herbal products is not good enough,” Graham Lord, director of the U.K.’s National Institute for Health Research Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre, told New Scientist. “It’s an intelligent idea that the authors suggest to use DNA barcoding to determine purity and really get to grips with the provenance.”

To that end, the Guelph team also presented in BMC Medicine a standard reference material herbal barcode library including “100 herbal species of known provenance that were used to identify the unknown herbal products and leaf samples” in its investigation.

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November 6, 2013

The results of the study would be much more helpful were the companies marketing the snake oil substitutes clearly named, allowing people to avoid those brands, especially for those with potentially fatal allergies to some herbs that may be substituted.

Avatar of: LeeH


Posts: 35

November 7, 2013

Gee what a surprise.  There is no regulation of this industry so what do you expect.  The Food and Cosmetic act is a joke and the joke is on the consumer. 

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