terminology: An important first step in evaluating health benefits
all terms used to describe dietary supplements, particularly botanicals,
are well-defined or consistently applied. A name used on one product
label may not mean the same thing as it does on another. This
makes it difficult to establish the health benefits of a particular
type of supplement or to know which brand will work best. It also
presents significant challenges in testing for product purity. Plants
contain dozens of chemical components, many of which are biologically
active -- meaning that they have an effect on the human body. Different
ratios of these biologically active compounds produce different
array of names for plant parts, varieties, and individual species
addition to variation in what part of a plant is used, the name
of a dietary supplement on a label may refer to more than one plant
variety. For example, echinacea may refer to the species
echinacea augustifolia or echinacea purpurea.This
is not just a difference in name. Different varieties have different
biologically active compounds or different ratios of those compounds.
For example, Korean ginseng and American ginseng have different
proportions of the two main ginsenocides, RG1 and RB1, as well as
other chemical differences. These two varieties of ginseng have
different biological effects -- so it's not enough simply to ask
how much ginsenocide is present because that does not distinguish
between RG1 and RB1, and also does not test for the presence of
other important components.
is further complicated by the common practice of blending
supplements are combined into a unique blend, which is then given
a new name coined by its producer and often trademarked. Manufacturers
hope that their unique blend will become well-known by its brand
name, giving them a marketing advantage (as well as a monopoly on
that blend). This not only adds new names to the dietary supplement
vocabulary, it promotes common usage of brand names in place of
generic names (as with Xerox copies, Kleenex tissues, and Band-Aids
bandages). As long as terms remain loosely defined and do not refer
to a standard set of ingredients, the task of evaluating them remains
elusive. Furthermore, when a name is not well-defined, clinical
trials and quality control checks can only be performed on a single
name brand, whether blended or single ingredient.
terminology for herbal products
help standardize terms, a significant work was published by the
American Herbal Products Association, called the Herbs of
Commerce. It is the most commonly used reference for herbs.
It provides a compilation of common names "standardized" to botanical
names and is used as a basis for FDA labeling regulations that went
into effect in March 1999.
also SQ's Information about
dietary supplements benefit your health? Over half of all adult
Americans view dietary supplements positively . . .
of Scientific Evidence: What kinds of scientific evidence are
useful for substantiating a health benefit claim?