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Herbal Products Omit Ingredients, Study Warns

Update Date: Oct 12, 2013 06:15 PM EDT

The majority of the herbal products being sold in the market contains cheaper alternatives and fillers, a Canadian study warns. The ingredients that are cheap alternatives are not even mentioned on the label.

The research performed at the University of Guelph used DNA barcoding technology to test 44 herbal products being sold by 12 different companies.

They found that only two of the companies provided authentic products without any contaminants, filters or substitutions. Nearly 60 per cent of the herbal products considered for the research contained plant species that were not listed on the label.

“Contamination and substitution in herbal products present considerable health risks for consumers,” said lead author Steven Newmaster, an integrative biology professor and botanical director of the Guelph-based Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO), home of the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding in a press release.

“We found contamination in several products with plants that have known toxicity, side effects and/or negatively interact with other herbs, supplements and medications, ” he added.

A product labelled as St. John’s wort contained Senna alexandrina, a plant with properties that are laxative in nature. Senna alexandrina is not advised for prolonged use as it can cause chronic diarrhea and also liver damages.

“It’s common practice in natural products to use fillers such as these (soybeans and rice), which are mixed with the active ingredients. But a consumer has a right to see all of the plant species used in producing a natural product on the list of ingredients, ” Newmaster said.

Until now verifying the contents what was inside was extremely difficult. Newmaster said his research team had developed standard methods and tests using DNA barcoding to identify as well as authenticate ingredients in herbal products.

“There is a need to protect consumers from the economic and health risks associated with herbal product fraud. Currently there are no standards for authentication of herbal products, ” he also added.

That study is published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.

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