Botanical Adulterants: What You Should Know

Adulteration has been around as long as commerce has been around. This is true for many industries including the commerce of botanical ingredients. Therefore, it behooves the retailer of botanical dietary supplements to understand the issues surrounding adulteration to help assure they are only stocking quality products.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary®, adulterated means to corrupt, debase or make impure by the addition of a foreign or inferior substance or element, especially to prepare for sale by replacing more valuable with less valuable or inert ingredients.

To many, it may appear like cases of adulterated ingredients are increasing but this may, or may not, actually be the case. Two primary factors affect this phenomena. First off, the temptation to knowingly, or unwittingly, use adulterated ingredients increases as prices increase. It’s called economically motivated adulteration (EMA). But at the same time, after the passage of DSHEA* and the implementation of strict assessment procedures, many supplement manufacturers are realizing that the botanical materials they used to accept, no longer pass the current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP’s). Some of the ingredients that were previously accepted, once they are put through the rigors of the current assessment procedures, may not met the new standards.

“In my experience, GMPs have simply uncovered what was already there. At the same time, often the tests used to make headlines are not valid for the findings they report, such as those issued by the NY Attorney General or many of the findings of so-called consumer organizations,” according to Roy Upton, RH, DipAyu, Executive Director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Planetary Herbals.

Either way, whether there are more or less adulterated ingredients in the marketplace today, it’s prudent to know how to avoid them. And if you’re a vitamin retailer, learning to assure you only stock quality products, is critical. So, what’s the vitamin retailer to do? Investigate a little deeper, beyond the marketing materials, and ask questions of your supplement suppliers.

Know Your Manufacturers     
One of the best questions to ask the manufacturers of dietary supplements is, “are you manufacturing these products in a cGMP certified facility?” Call the manufacturers and ask them if the facilities they use to produce their products are cGMP certified. If they are cGMP certified this means their tests for quality are up to federal regulations, which may dramatically reduce the incidence of adulteration.  If the facilities are not cGMP certified, there could be possible adulterants slipping through the cracks and into the products.

Look For Certifications
CCOF, GMO Free/Non GMO certified. These all matter. Look for these certifications to help inform your decisions on what products to choose. All certified organic foods are inherently “GMO-free”, according to guidelines established by the USDA, and inherently go through increased testing and oversight to establish quality. Ultimately this may lessen the potential occurrence of adulteration.

Continue Your Education
Currently there is a full-range of watchdog organizations helping to educate retailers and consumers on various pertinent issues including botanical adulteration.

The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is a consortium of independent nonprofit organizations whose mission relates to education, scientific research, and quality of botanical dietary ingredients and related plant-derived materials. The consortium is endorsed by three trade associations in the herb and dietary supplements industry and is being financially underwritten by over 50 companies involved in the supply, manufacture, and marketing of herbal dietary supplements.

The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program aims to help protect consumers and responsible members of the herb and dietary supplement industry, as well as other manufacturers, by producing a series of detailed white papers, which serve as an authoritative source of information on botanical adulterants with references to published official and unofficial analytical methods for companies and/or third-party laboratories to utilize to help detect the presence (or absence) of known adulterants.

Another organization to access is the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia® (AHP). Their mission is to promote the responsible use of herbal medicines and ensure they are used with the highest possible degree of efficacy and safety. AHP develops standards of identity, purity, and analysis for botanicals, as well as critically reviewing traditional and scientific data regarding their efficacy and safety. They disseminate information through a variety of AHP publications such as monographs, textbooks and other educational materials including workshops, conferences and electronic media.

In March Mr. Upton will be the guest speaker on a webinar, hosted by Planetary Herbals, discussing botanical assessment, adulteration and botanical supplement manufacturing. To attend sign up here or contact Angela Kent for an invitation to this special web event (angelak@thresholdent.com or (831)461-6388).

Botanical adulteration is a complex issue that is being tackled on many fronts; reputable manufacturers are assuring cGMP compliance, industry organizations are leading the charge to combat threats to the production of quality products, and retailers and consumers are learning how to investigate and assess their options in order to make the best possible choice. Although adulteration has been around for as long as commerce has been around, greater transparency, enhanced regulations and industry organizations are helping to stem this tide.

*In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) passed. With that passage, a law was implemented requiring manufacturers to be up to current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) by 2008 for large companies, 2009 for companies with less then 500 employees and 2010 for companies with fewer then 20 employees.


juliedennisJulie Dennis has been a lecturer, writer and consultant in the natural products industry for over 20 years. Currently she lectures nationwide discussing health-related topics and intelligent usage of nutraceutical and botanical supplements. She graduated from Dr. Michael Tierra’s East West School of Herbology in 1996, contributed to major natural products industry trade publications, and assisted with editing on books including the American Botanical Council’s Clinical Guide to Herbs, and The Handbook of Clinically Tested Herbal Products, Haworth Press.

NOTE: The statements presented in this blog should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before adding a dietary supplement to (or removing one from) your daily regimen. WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific brand or product. The opinions expressed in bylined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.

Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 11/29/2016