Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sham: Consistency of Herbal Supplements

Don't get me wrong, I love my herbs and wouldn't go a day without them. But I'm going on a rant today about the quality of raw materials used in many of the products that are sold in the herbal dietary supplement business. After studying the variances in these herbs, I've come to the belief that unless you buy a product that has had product-specific clinical trials, you just don't know what you are getting. There isn't an industry around where "trust" is as important as it is here. If you don't develop a relationship with a quality brand, a brand you can TRUST, you'll end up doing no better than popping placebo's when you take your daily supplement.

It’s obvious that the quality of a supplement’s raw materials (the herb itself) will have a huge impact on its effect. And yet, it’s nearly impossible to determine the origin of raw materials in a dietary supplement. While a plant may appear outwardly to be the same, dramatic differences between herbs of the same species are found in specimens grown in different parts of the world. A plant in China or India may have an entirely different ratio of biochemical ingredients than the same plant grown in the harsh winters of Scandinavia or Siberia. (With certain herbs such as adaptogens, the harsher the environment the better; the plant develops a stronger immune system, which translates in humans to a much more powerful response.)

Choose your suppliers from those firms that ethically harvest their herbs in a sustainable manner from regions that are known to produce the strongest plants. Many companies also maintain their own agricultural production for herbal ingredients -- the issue here is that cultivated Rhodiola from North America would not produce the equivalent of wild Rhodiola from the Siberian tundra. There is a great deal yet to learn about how and why certain herbs develop their unique characteristics. However, there are a few major companies, and some smaller ones as well, that do their own farming or who have a similar degree of control over the actual quality of the herbs. Trust these guys.

Verde Botanica uses a network of ethical “wildcrafters,” those who carefully gather roots from plants in the wild. As a very large purchaser of adaptogens, Verde Botanica can exert control over their raw materials suppliers (most manufacturers do not have this control while buying on the herbal “spot market.”)

I recently had tests run comparing five competitors of a similar herbal ingredient. Two out of five actually made their specs, one exceeding it. The others were so far off that they had either died on the shelf or their manufacturers had simply bought from the cheapest vendor (generally, that would be a Chinese supplier).


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