BAPP Publishes Adulterants Bulletin on Milk Thistle

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Austin, TX—A new Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletin (BAPB), on milk thistle fruit, is now available from the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP), according to a press release.

Supplements made from the extract of milk thistle fruit are used to support liver health, the press release says. Milk thistle supplements have consistently ranked among the 40 top-selling ingredients in retail outlets over the past several decades. The benefits of this plant come from its silymarin content—a mixture of chemicals known as flavonolignans.

Many peer-reviewed publications, the press release says, have shown that the silymarin content in some supplements is lower than the amount claimed on the labels. The release notes that, to an extent, discrepancies can be explained by the use of different analytical methods, but data also point to the marketing of fraudulent products.

The new bulletin was written by Allison McCutcheon, Ph.D., whom the press release notes is an expert in herbal medicine research working out of Vancouver, British Columbia. It summarizes the published data on quality issues with milk thistle extracts, details analytical methods to detect adulteration, and informs on the nomenclature, production, and market importance of milk thistle extracts. 27 medicinal plant experts have provided input on the bulletin.

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Stefan Gafner Ph.D., Chief Science Officer of the nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) and technical director of BAPP, commented in the press release: “This is the first BAPP adulteration bulletin that focuses on the sale of depleted extracts, in which beneficial constituents are knowingly removed from concentrated standardized extracts, and the remaining botanical material is resold without declaring that important, therapeutically-active plant chemicals are absent, or present at very low concentrations. Such practices are known to occur in the spice industry, for example with black pepper, from which the pungent compounds are sometimes extracted and sold to the flavor industry, while the extracted peppercorns are dried, mixed with genuine peppercorns, and sold to the spice industry simply as ‘black pepper’. Similarly, in the case of milk thistle, the extracted silymarin complex can be sold at higher prices to the phytomedicinal and dietary supplement industry, while the leftover spent milk thistle fruits might be re-extracted, and those depleted extracts or fruits might be misrepresented as genuine to unsuspecting buyers.”

ABC Founder and Executive Director and BAPP Founder and Director, Mark Blumenthal, added: “Milk thistle has become a popular phytomedicine and herbal dietary supplement in the past decades due to its clinical documentation of safety and beneficial activity, mainly by people who are using it to improve and/or maintain liver health. In some cases, people with compromised liver function might continue to experience liver problems if the milk thistle product they are taking contains adulterated material, particularly when all or most of the primary beneficial compounds have been removed.”

This is the 22nd BAPB and the 61st peer-reviewed BAPP publication. All publications—including this bulletin—are freely accessible to all.

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