Cranberry ingredient providers, formulators and marketers are fighting a continual battle in their efforts to address issues of adulteration and authentication of botanicals and natural products. In parallel, academic institutions and contract research organizations (CROs) are making major advancements in the development and deployment of new analytic tools. These tools can be used in support of authenticity, standardization and efficacy evaluation of the botanicals and natural products. What is needed at this juncture is an educational bridge that links the paths that these two groups are traveling.
The botanical and natural product marketplace must not only be made aware of the analytic tools that are available to them; they must also be taught how to use each tool for its intended purpose. A master carpenter would certainly instruct his apprentice that a screwdriver is used for driving screws and should not be used for cutting materials such as wood, when a chisel is available.
One should have the same expectation that an analyst skilled in the profession of phytochemistry would teach the marketplace that a colorimetric assay, such as the 4-(dimethylamino)cinnamaldehyde (DMAC) method should be used to quantify soluble cranberry proanthocyanidin (PAC) content and should not be used to authenticate the unique structural features of PAC. An advanced technology such as matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) is an appropriate tool for authentication of specific A-type structural features of cranberry PAC. When applied correctly, the tools are very useful and serve their artisans well.
In the botanical and natural product marketplace, adulteration is often economically motivated. Unscrupulous raw ingredient providers and/or formulators sell products that knowingly contain adulterants for the sole purpose of deceiving the customer.
The buyer has, at some point in the past, been educated on the criteria by which to evaluate a certificate of analysis (CofA) or specification sheet. Sellers are quick to point out the quantity of a desired ingredient (PAC in the case of cranberry) and relate that level of content to selling price point. Certainly such an educated buyer in the marketplace would choose to purchase the lower priced material if the perceived quality of the product was reported to be equal to a similar material of higher price.
However, it is an unfortunate situation that often those unscrupulous sellers are more “educated" than the buyer. Adulterators of products know how to fool the analytic tools that are routinely used to set the criteria by which the buyer has previously been educated to evaluate the product. While the DMAC assay can be used to quantify the amount of cranberry soluble PAC in products, it is not capable of differentiating between PAC that originates from cranberries, grapes, apples, pine bark or other botanicals. With this knowledge, the unscrupulous seller can “spike" products with the lowest cost PAC source, and still provide specification (PAC levels) that buyers find acceptable.
The issue of authenticity, while inclusive of purposeful adulteration, encompasses a much bigger picture. In many instances, non-adulterated raw ingredients and final formulated products are so highly processed that the final composition no longer reflects the relative proportions of specific active ingredients found in the original botanical or natural product. In such a scenario, the seller has done his due diligence in obtaining good quality, authentic raw ingredients. It is the subsequent processing that negatively affects the authenticity of the final formulated product. Again, an educational bridge links the development and deployment of appropriate analytic tools to address specific issues concerning effects of processing.
One of the biggest issues both buyers and sellers face is the lack of understanding of the initial phytochemical composition of cranberry raw ingredients. Think of this as cranberry forensics. Initial compositional testing must be conducted on the cranberry fruit. One such approach is to analyze the unique polyphenol “fingerprint" of the cranberry fruit which is comprised of flavonols, anthocyanins, hydroxycinnamic acids and PACs. When the initial compositional analysis isn’t done, understanding the effects of processing and/or tracing the end product back to the raw ingredient is nearly impossible.
Many analytic tools are available to assist both sellers and buyers in addressing issues of adulteration and authentication. Such a toolbox consists of the DMAC analysis for quantification of soluble PAC, the butanol-HCl assay for quantification of insoluble PAC, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) for the identification and quantification of flavonols, anthocyanins and hydroxycinnamic acids, and mass spectrometry-based technologies such as MALDI-TOF MS for the authentication of specific PAC structural features such as A-type interflavan bonds. Through panel discussions, webinars, scientific presentations and one-on-one consultation, experts in the field of phytochemistry are available to educate sellers and buyers on the tools available and the appropriate questions to ask in regard to product integrity.
The criteria of authenticity, standardization and efficacy are inseparable. Ingredient providers, formulators and marketers can’t address one issue without the other two. Consumers expect manufacturers to deliver the quantity and quality of an ingredient for the outcome they’re expecting.
To strengthen the cranberry supplement industry, we need to raise awareness of the need for better and more extensive analytical testing using the powerful techniques that are now available. Ingredient buyers need to ask more informed questions. The industry also needs to self-regulate label transparency. The approach of “fingerprint" analysis is creating one level of authentication and standardization that can be communicated directly to consumers. For example companies such as Fruitd'Or Nutraceuticals are using these analytical tools and building the quality around their cranberry ingredients focusing on standardization efficacy and authenticity
The label should also clearly state effective dosages. Just because a product may meet a consumer’s budget does not mean that it will deliver on its stated or implied promises.
Christian G. Krueger is cofounder and chief executive officer of Complete Phytochemical Solutions LLC, an independent, third-party consulting and testing botanical ingredient company, and also director of operations and research program manager at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Krueger developed chemistry instrumentation and other analytical tools capable of creating ingredient “fingerprints," beginning with cranberry polyphenols. He is supported by Fruit d'Or Nutraceuticals, which has partnered with Krueger to create educational videos on cranberry testing.