Natural products have high acceptance among consumers owing to their history of use, health benefits increasingly identified and confirmed by research, and the lack of side effects. Traditional knowledge is utilized in systems of medicine in many parts of the world even today. The modern consumer, though, expects some form of scientific validation and evaluation of natural products that authenticate their uses, benefits and safety, as well as their purity. The future growth of the nutraceuticals industry depends upon meeting the demand for quality products that have been tested for safety and efficacy.
Quality of Natural Products
The primary step in development of a quality natural product is the sourcing of the authentic raw material. The industry is familiar with the adulteration of raw materials such as ginkgo, cinnamon bark and others. Sustainable supply is just one reason the practice of cultivating raw materials by industries for their own needs is desirable, with control over the identity of the raw material being ever more crucial. This prevents adulteration of raw materials as well as maintenance of high yielding varieties. Nevertheless, testing methods such as genetic fingerprinting of plant tissue, chemical fingerprinting using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and other taxonomic identification methods help prevent the practice of adulteration. It is important that the industry is aware of and utilize these testing methodologies.
Adulteration of finished standardized extracts is also a common practice. Curcumin, grapeseed extract, acerola, bilberry and resveratrol are common extracts that are adulterated with synthetic versions of the active compound or other plant extracts that may contain the same chemical components. Yet again, techniques such as HPLC and stable isotope ratio analysis are proven methods of identifying these substitutions to prevent adulteration.
Identification of appropriate biomarkers of natural plant extracts that they are standardized for may be carried out by HPLC, liquid chromatography – mass spectroscopy (LC-MS), infra-red spectroscopy (IR), gas chromatography – mass spectroscopy (GC-MS), gravimetric analysis, titration analysis and so on. Instrumentation science has advanced to give precise results that authenticate the quality of products. Automation of instruments has also led to quicker analysis of samples with greater precision.
The use of these testing methods is also applicable to analyze compounds one would not want in the final product such as residual solvents, pesticides and heavy metals. The quality of a product is ensured not only when the appropriate actives are present, but when toxic components are absent.
Microbial testing methods play an additional yet crucial requirement that render a natural product fit for use.
Safety and Efficacy of Natural Products
The acceptance of a natural product in the market comes down to its efficacy for a particular benefit, and dosages that render it safe and effective. Innovative in vitro techniques that use specific cell lines have helped avert the use of experimental animals for safety and efficacy analysis. Data from in vitro methodologies help in fixation of dosages that are further evaluated in humans, as well. The use of state-of-the-art instrumentation such as flow cytometer, polymerase chain reactors (PCR), ELISA readers, RT-PCRs have paved way for substantiating natural product claims, and more importantly, to fix ideal dosages for specific benefits.
In today’s marketplace, consumers are well aware of the broad range of quality on the shelves. To build customer loyalty and repeat purchases, manufacturers must source quality ingredients, test them with an informed and sincere goal of identity and purity, and communicate to their customers how they have confirmed as much.
Shaheen Majeed, marketing director for Sabinsa Corp., knows Sabinsa from the ground up. When he was just 17 years old, Shaheen began in the warehouse of the science-based ingredients company his father founded in 1988. Subsequent positions included customer service, a variety of sales positions, representing the company's substantial portfolio of proprietary nutritional and cosmeceutical ingredients, managing contract manufacturing, cosmetic marketing manager and executive assistant to the CEO. He is spearheading the company’s expansion of its functional foods offerings, while being actively involved in Sabinsa's cultivation program, interacting with farmers to ensure sustainability of quality raw materials from which Sabinsa manufacturers the company’s proprietary ingredients.