Sid Talks Testing: Natural Product Expertise, An Essential Specialty


The use of natural products, including materials of plant, microbe, and animal origin, for healing is as ancient and universal as medicine itself. The therapeutic use of plants goes back to the Sumerian and the Akkadian civilizations in about the third millennium BC. Hippocrates, one of the ancient authors who described medicinal natural products of plant and animal origins, listed approximately 400 different plant species for medicinal purposes. Natural products have been an integral part of the ancient traditional medicine systems, many of which are still practiced today. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 3.4 billion people in the developing world depend on plant based traditional medicines. This represents about 88 percent of the world’s inhabitants, who rely mainly on traditional medicine for their primary health care.

In the early 19th century, a new scientific discipline originated in Europe known as Pharmacognosy, derived from two Greek words pharmacon (drug) and gnosis (knowledge), which is the study of medicinal drugs derived from plants or other natural sources. By the beginning of the 20th century, this discipline had developed mainly in the botanical field, and was particularly concerned with the description and identification of plant drugs both in their whole state and in powder form. An impressive number of modern drugs have been derived from natural products and nature remains an influential source of new therapeutic agents. Accordingly, the field of Pharmacognosy continues to play an important role not only in research but also in analysis and quality control of natural product ingredients and finished products.

While not all natural products are complex, in the case of botanical dietary supplements, complexity is the rule rather than the exception. Botanical dietary supplements are typically more than just single compounds. Because of their complex matrices, proper analysis requires expertise pertaining not only to the analyte of interest but also detailed knowledge of the matrix composition and complications that may arise when attempting to make accurate measurements.

When it comes to natural products testing, there are frequently complex factors which influence analysis and affect measurement accuracy. While chemists with a solid background in Analytical Chemistry should theoretically be able to perform the analysis of any specific compound, the specialized expertise of Pharmacognosists and other natural products chemists is invaluable in ensuring accurate results. Unless a laboratory has the expertise in the chemistry of natural products, in addition to expertise in analytical chemistry, there may be a decreased level of confidence in the measurements. When choosing a lab this is a crucial consideration.

As a natural products lab focusing on Dietary Supplement analysis, Alkemist Labs built our team with Pharmacognosists and other natural product chemists, specialists who understand the complexities of this analysis and have the special skill set required. Whatever lab you choose to test your botanicals make sure they have the expertise to help you guarantee that what is on your label is actually in your product.

Sidney Sudberg

Sydney Sudberg

Each month Sidney Sudberg, Alkemist Founder & CSO, helps to demystify the science behind testing by discussing a testing-related topic.

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