Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program Publishes Revised Bulletin on Adulteration of Saw Palmetto

The updated bulletin includes new information on fraudulent blends made with animal-based fatty acids

AUSTIN, Texas (October 29, 2018) — The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) announces the publication of a revised Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletin (BAPB) on saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) berry and berry extracts.

Saw palmetto extract is a popular ingredient in dietary supplements in the United States and other countries and in phytomedicinal products in Europe. The primary use is for normalizing prostate function to relieve lower urinary tract symptoms (e.g., ability to void urine) related to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in middle-aged and older men. The 2017 HerbalGram Herb Market Report ranked saw palmetto products among the 20 top-selling herbal supplements in the United States in both the natural and mainstream retail channels.

As documented in the initial bulletin on saw palmetto published in February 2017, adulteration of saw palmetto by adding undeclared lower-cost vegetable oils (e.g., palm, canola, coconut, or sunflower oils) to saw palmetto extracts for financial gain has been known since in the early 2000s. Over the past two years, several saw palmetto suppliers have reported the sale of a particularly sophisticated type of adulterated saw palmetto extracts mainly from suppliers in Asian countries. According to the suppliers, these materials are partly made using fatty acids obtained from animal fats and are designed to mimic the fatty acid composition of authentic saw palmetto extracts. The revised saw palmetto bulletin has been updated to reflect this newly reported form of adulteration with animal fats.

The saw palmetto bulletin is co-authored by Scott Baggett, Ph.D., an analytical methods consultant for the natural products industry, and Stefan Gafner, Ph.D., chief science officer for the nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) and technical director of BAPP. Besides information on new forms of adulteration and how to detect them, the bulletin provides updated information on the saw palmetto market by adding the latest US sales data and a discussion of the new harvest permit requirements issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in July 2018. Six expert peer reviewers provided input on the revised saw palmetto bulletin. The first bulletin was peer-reviewed by 10 experts.

Gafner explained: “Below-average harvests of saw palmetto berries have led to a dramatic increase in berry prices. This situation, combined with a consistently strong demand for saw palmetto dietary supplements and other phytomedicinal products, has led to a situation where adulteration of saw palmetto extracts appears to be on the rise. Adulteration by mixing saw palmetto extracts with fatty acids from animal materials is particularly challenging to detect since these fraudulent mixtures are designed to pass routine laboratory chemical methods of analysis.”

Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC and founder and director of BAPP, added: “The adulterators, fraudsters, criminals — whatever you want to call them — have reached a new low in herb ingredient and botanical extract adulteration. Adding undisclosed amounts of animals fats to what would otherwise be a plant-based remedy is not only illegal and ethically inappropriate but also morally abhorrent — particularly for the millions of men who are vegetarians or members of a religious group that promotes or requires vegetarianism or avoidance of certain types of meats.”

The goal of the Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletins is to provide accounts of ongoing issues related to botanical identity and adulteration, thus allowing quality control personnel and lab technicians in the herbal medicine, botanical ingredient, dietary supplement, cosmetic, herbal tea, conventional food, and other industries where botanical ingredients are used to be informed of adulteration problems that are apparently widespread and/or imply safety concerns.

About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program

The ABC-AHP (American Herbal Pharmacopoeia)-NCNPR (National Center for Natural Products Research) Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program is an international consortium of nonprofit professional organizations, analytical laboratories, research centers, industry trade associations, industry members, and other parties with interest in herbs and medicinal plants. The program advises industry, researchers, health professionals, government agencies, the media, and the public about the various challenges related to adulterated botanical ingredients sold in commerce. To date, more than 200 US and international parties have financially supported or endorsed the program.

To date, the program has published 45 extensively peer-reviewed articles, Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletins, Laboratory Guidance Documents, and Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters. All of the program’s publications are freely available on the program’s website.

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