This is a problem that very few can really explain its reasoning. It is well known that some natural health products do not even contain what is written on its label. This is true, despite the new regulations from Health Canada introduced in 2010. The regulations have greatly improved the production standards of products, what is called “the application of good manufacturing practices”. Thus, thanks to the improvement of production conditions, the products should not be dangerous, but they are not very beneficial.
We have already published an article “A better understanding of the quality of Vitoli” which presented the main quality factors. We’ll explain it to you differently here: the way I would explain to pharmacists, that not all plant extracts are of the same quality and even what is written on the bottle doesn’t allow the full capability of judging that product.
One pharmacist even pointed out to me that they personally noticed a difference in effectiveness between two melatonin products from two different companies. This should not be possible, since melatonin is a molecule which must be properly dosed to guarantee its content in marketed products.
We will not concentrate here on all the quality criteria for all types of products; that would require writing a book. We will focus here on plant extracts. Here are the 5 most important quality criteria to give you more insight:
1 – Has the plant extract been produced according to standards comparable to those of the referenced studies used to establish its effectiveness?
Many plant extracts are produced from precise ratios from the extraction solvent to ensure that you have the active molecules. For example, high-quality extracts of valerian are produced from 80% ethanol and 20% water. If the extraction conditions are not optimal, the extract obtained will not contain the same molecules. It may be less effective or have unusual side effects.
2 – Was the starting material of good quality?
It is often seen in studies that the plant species used was not the right one prior to extraction, or that the parts of the plant used were not those recommended. For example, it has been shown that some companies add branches to the leaves when extracting ginko biloba (which should be produced exclusively from the leaves). This has the effect of extracting molecules from the branches and not from the leaves. For ginko biloba specifically, the extracts in question may cause migraines. Thus, some side effects associated with plant extracts are linked to the poor quality of the material used.
3 – Is this a standardized extract?
Standardization is the evaluation of the quantity of active elements contained within the extract. Without knowing, in certain cases, the exact molecules responsible for the activity, certain standardizations can be linked to an indirect element indicative of the activity of the extract. For example, for valerian, it is well known that valerenic acid is not the only active element, but an extract containing 0.8% valerenic acid should have the desired effect. Unfortunately a large amount of plant extracts are not standardized. This means that at the very beginning of the manufacturing process, the company does not know the quantity of active elements present, and due to this, nor will they know the exact date of expiry.
4 – Is the standard used the right one?
Again, some companies will try to differentiate themselves by claiming the originality of an extract standardized in other molecules, or from another species of the plant, or another part of the plant. The extract must be standardized according to the most convincing clinical studies.
5 – Is the amount of extract used sufficient?
Unfortunately, Health Canada allows the addition of the potential effects from plant extracts based on possible mechanisms of similar action. Sometimes, they also allow a product to be marketed as beneficial with a dose at almost 10% from the dose shown to be beneficial in clinical studies. You should know that the benefits of the ingredients used are rarely additive. Thus, 5 plant extracts at 20% of their respective doses in the same formula will probably not give any beneficial effect and will not have a 100% effect.
You can now understand that it is not enough to simply inform others about valerian or passionflower, since the extracts, dosages and extraction methods may not be the same for all the products on the market. These quality standards are usually not known by healthcare professionals and cannot be determined from products in tablet form. You are going to say, “But this is nonsense.” You are right.
Remember that we know the criteria, and that Vitoli products is the only product line that guarantees such high standards (all ingredients are standardized and they are all at the doses which allow effectiveness). In addition, they are made in Quebec, in a factory with its pharmaceutical manufacturing license which was developed by yours truly, with the collaboration of two specialized pharmacists, in order to reintegrate higher quality products into the practice of pharmacists and doctors.
Speak to your pharmacist and doctor and ask if they have received the training in the use of Vitoli products. Those who have received the training have access to much more information, including contraindications and potential drug interactions.
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- Newmaster, S.G., Grguric, M., Shanmughanandhan, D., Ramalingam, S., Ragupathy, S. 2013. DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution in North American herbal products. BMC Med. Oct 11;11:222.
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- Xin, T., Li, X., Yao, H., Lin, Y., Ma, X., Cheng, R., Song, J., Ni, L., Fan, C., Chen, S. 2015. Survey of commercial Rhodiola products revealed species diversity and potential safety issues. Sci Rep. Feb 9;5:8337.