Herbal Products: Contamination Common

alternative complementary herbal medicine

Background: Researchers report that most herbal products, available as alternative medicines, may be contaminated. There is no “best practice” for identifying plant species in herbal products. Traditionally, plants are identified through the appearance of the whole plant. But this method is not useful when analyzing processed plant material. DNA barcoding analyzes a short genetic sequence from the plant’s genome and identifies small differences, thus allowing species identification. In a recent study, investigators used barcoding to examine the plant species found in a sample of herbal plant produces.

Results: Of the products examined, 59 percent had plant species not listed on the labels. Over tw0-thirds of the products tested had plant species present which were a substitute for the plants listed on the label, and a third of products also contained other species that may be a filler or contamination.

My Take: Caveat emptos (buyer beware). The World Health Organization views the adulteration of herbal products as a threat to public safety. In the current analysis, investigators detected plant species that could pose serious health risks when consumed. It would be nice to have some certification process, perhaps through the use of barcoding. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

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Reference: Newmaster SG et al. DNA barcoding detects contamination and subsitution in North American herbal products. BMC Medicine, October 2013 DOI:10.1186/1741-70150110222

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

2 thoughts on “Herbal Products: Contamination Common”

    1. Probably influenced by the farmaceutical industry, they don’t like it if we take natural medicines instead of their expensive chemical products.

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