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Safety First When Selecting Herbs

By ATPI Staff

Choosing the right herbs for your practice can be a bit bewildering, if not downright overwhelming. How can you know which herbal company offers the highest-quality products? What are the things to look for -- and to avoid?

In order to help you narrow down your choices, Acupuncture Today PracticeINSIGHTS went straight to the source - the herbal manufacturers themselves. We asked them to tell us what they would look for if they were shopping around for high quality products.

Obviously, business people will tend to emphasize their company's best points. Rather than simply publish those, we looked for major points of agreement among the competitors in order to provide you with guidelines you can use no matter which company you ultimately work with. Here's what they had to say.

Safety First

Overwhelmingly, the biggest factor in deciding on herbal products was safety. In fact, five of the seven manufacturers surveyed mentioned safety and quality of ingredients as a top issue.

Kris Yang, LAc, OMD, and president of Bio Essence (www.bioessence.com), located in Richmond, Calif., suggests, "Identify in which country these products being made and what standards they are following. Supplements made in the U.S.A. require just dietary supplement cGMP or food cGMP standards, whereas in Asian countries, herbal remedies always need pharmaceutical cGMP standards. To validate the quality, you can check whether or not the factory has an internationally recognized certificate for quality control. The quality and safety will be better in those factories that have more than one certificate for quality control."

Greg Zimmerman, LAc, and natural products specialist at Brion Herbs (www.brionherbs.com), located in Irvine, Calif., agrees with Yang about the importance of knowing as much as possible about safety standards followed by the manufacturer or supplier. He says, "Customers should concern themselves about who is the actual manufacturer or supplier of the products and ingredients. People often mistake a distributor for a manufacturer and should request information from their distributor about the actual manufacturer or grower. Additionally, they should have concern regarding quality, authenticity, and safety. This vital information can be obtained by requesting the proper Certificates of Analysis (COA)."

Bill Egloff, president of Crane Herb Company (www.craneherb.com), based in Mashpee, Mass., offers several safety questions practitioners should be asking of potential herbal suppliers: "Is the company cGMP compliant? Is the company COA easily available to the practitioner? Many companies will e-mail the COA within an hour, if you have the product's lot number and expiration date. Does the company define the different COA tests, the testing limits and their relevance for the practitioner?"

Jason Tsai, operations supervisor for KPC Herbs (www.kpc.com), also based in Irvine, agrees with Egloff about the need to verify quality issues with herbs. He states, "It is important to have some way to verify the safety of the herbs. Like any plant-based industry, growers have an economic incentive to use pesticides and sulfur fumigation to increase the size and improve the color of their herbs, which leads to better prices. They also are tempted to export herbs of lesser quality to increase their revenues. Therefore it is imperative to have a supplier you trust."

Wilson Lau, vice president of sales and marketing at Nuherbs, Co. (http://nuherbs.com), located in Oakland, Calif., also stressed the fact that not all safety testing is the same: "Not all tests are created equal. Some companies test for a few pesticides. You should also be concerned with heavy-metal and microbacterial levels. Look and find out if the herb in question has been processed properly to maximize properties of the herbs and eliminate safety concerns."

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