This topic of this page, safety/effectiveness of herbs in a herbal nutrition supplement or health supplement, is actually a sub-topic from my article Ingredient quality in nutritional supplements which deals with 'ingredient quality' as one of the key criteria that should be used when evaluating the true standard of supplements.
That article lists several questions we need to ask of supplement companies in order to draw out often hidden information, allowing us to properly evaluate different supplement brands.
Some of those questions come from an examination of the content on this page. To view all the questions please use the link above.
Herbs and herbal extracts are most susceptible to contamination, some of which can be toxic or carcinogenic.
If you use a herbal nutrition supplement this page should be of particular interest to you as the use of herbs requires strict preparation, handling and testing protocols in order to guarantee safety and effectiveness.
Unfortunately many manufacturers fall way short in this area. Cost cutting and getting the product to market quickly is the name of the game for most and the current FDA regulatory structure allows them to get away with it.
The safe use of herbs and herbal extracts can be assured if a manufacturer follows this range of tests
The potency of herbals is an important aspect you need to consider!
Most ingredients in supplements are subject to a wide range of potencies but particularly ingredients derived from plant sources (herbals and phytonutrients) which can have anywhere from:
A few % up to 99 % potency!
Before discussing potency let’s take a quick look at the 3 most common forms of herbs:
Knowing which of these is the most beneficial form is the $64, 000 question and more research is needed before anyone can definitively answer it.
Whole herbs present a more holistic approach – multiple compounds in the whole of the herb containing multiple constituents which work synergistically together. It’s more likely that there is more than one mechanism of action. Think of it like herbal vitamins working together.
The problem with this assumption is that science to date has identified and studied only a relatively small number of the total constituents in all plant species on the planet - so we just don’t know what they all do or how they interact together.
It’s likely that some are of little to no use and are not worth having and paying for in a supplement. They may be taking up space in a tablet that could be more effectively used by other already proven active components.
So until science can offer more definitive evidence I don’t think whole herbs are the way to go for a multi-ingredient herbal nutrition supplement or vitamin nutritional supplements. I do however believe that the supplement industry will adopt a strong ‘whole-food’ approach to supplementation in the near future and continue to move in this direction as science identifies more synergistic benefits from whole food compounds.
From an extract point of view, science has shown that certain specific active ingredients produce significant health benefits. This is the pharmaceutical approach to health-care – looking at the pharmacological value of individual active ingredients.
When it comes to extracts containing proven actives it is logical to assume that these are preferable to unknown quantities in whole herbs.
Since herbal extracts target active ingredients, they are many times more powerful than those in whole herbs. A problem however exists in that the amounts of these actives can vary tremendously when herbs are grown and processed.
Some herbal supplements have been estimated to vary in potency 10,000-fold amongst various products from the same plant. (1) Yes, you read that right – 10,000 fold!
Imagine the possibility that any herbals in your current herbal nutrition supplement are at the wrong end of this range – how do you feel? See the need to check!
Standardization is a process that professional manufacturers use to ensure batch to batch consistency of products. This involves identifying specific chemical markers in herbs which can be used to manufacture a consistent product. Active components are compared against a specific recognized measurement.
Standardization has become the industry standard.
To get the most benefit and value for money use a herbal nutrition supplement or vitamin supplement containing herbal extracts which have been standardized!
Please check a supplement company’s website or the bottle label before you buy.
Standardization Solves the Consistency Problem
On your supplement label the active ingredient in a standardized herb is expressed as a percentage.
Green Tea (98% polyphenols & 80% catechins) (from Camellia sinensis) 27:1 extract ratio
In the case of herbs containing actives with proven pharmacological benefits - standardized herbal extracts are what you want.
This brings us back to potency - a key variable in supplements. Remember – potencies can range from a few percent to 99%.
If your supplement company doesn’t publish amounts and potencies of ALL herbals and phytonutrients then you need to ask them to supply it to you - otherwise they are hiding critical information – why would they do that?
Supplements containing stronger potencies and higher amounts of active ingredients in standardized extracts are more beneficial to you and offer superior value for money.
Use a herbal nutrition supplement from a company who clearly presents their safety testing and quality control programs. Check for standardized herbal extracts and compare their potencies and dose amounts between brands
These are the fine details to examine when comparing brands.