Supplement Perspectives

The Big Issue in 2015: Agreeing Over Ingredient Quality and Transparency

Shaheen Majeed, Sabinsa’s marketing director, wants industry-wide consistency over this growing trend. Here’s his plan.

There are numerous industry challenges to meet the consumer's needs for ingredient quality, transparency, and consistency in health benefits from the dietary ingredients industry.

The first challenge is the standardization of dietary ingredients. The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and other compendiums have the goal of ingredient standardization, but lack industry consensus as to what to standardize to, especially regarding complex herbal ingredients. The second challenge is the agreement on what test methods are fair and accurate in testing in in-vitro, animal, and human models. The third challenge is arriving at a consensus of what health benefit conclusions can fairly be derived from research results. 

With this lack of industry consensus today, many companies standardize their own products, develop their own scientific testing methods, and decide which health benefits can be concluded from their own test results.

These methods, results and conclusions often conflict with other companies and mainstream scientific results and conclusions. This lack of consensus becomes a circular issue, and the end result is confusion and disservice to the consumer.

The steps that must be taken to achieve consistency and transparency in the dietary ingredients industry include: 

  • Agreement on the standardization of active ingredients
  • Agreement on which test methods should be used on which substances to maintain consistent ingredient quality
  • Agreement on appropriate methodology used for a particular biological test
  • Agreement on what health conclusions can fairly be made from research
  • Effectively communicating this information to the consumer

The dietary ingredients industry has made a great deal of progress without outside regulation in agreeing as to what test methods are appropriate for ingredient quality. Much consensus has also been reached in exactly what to standardize to in herbal products and what the active ingredients are.

Some agreement has also been reached as to which scientific test methods are acceptable for testing a given health benefit. This has been achieved, in part, by following mainstream scientific research methods. In part, individual companies have set the standard for test methods and reported it in mainstream scientific literature.

The industry, in general, has fallen short in arriving at appropriate conclusions from their own scientific test results or those found in mainstream science. This effect is partly the result of marketing hype, competition pressure, and other factors that ultimately result in disservice to the consumer.

Another problem that is a disservice to the consumer is a lack of testing of mixtures of dietary ingredients for their effects but instead citing outside research on the individual ingredients. Companies need to be encouraged to spend the money needed to test their own products and then fairly and effectively communicate this information to the consumer.

Information on ingredient testing, whether as a final batch analysis of mixtures or single raw materials, should be made available to consumers.

Finally, fair conclusions should be made from research on particular products and communicated to the consumer in a balanced approach.

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