Adulteration of Commercial Bilberry Extracts

Bilberry © 2012 Steven Foster

Some Bilberry Fruit Extracts Adulterated, says Nonprofit Research Consortium

(AUSTIN, Texas, November 1, 2012) Some dietary supplements labeled as containing “Bilberry Extract” are adulterated with lower-cost, non-bilberry ingredients that are not stated on the products’ labels, says a new report in the nonprofit American Botanical Council’s fall 2012 issue of its peer-reviewed journal, HerbalGram.1

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) fruit and its products can be found in health products, foods, and cosmetics, and are marketed as dietary supplements in the United States and as phytomedicines in the European Union. In 2011, bilberry dietary supplements were the 15th best selling single-herb supplement in the mainstream market in the United States, which includes grocery stores, drug stores, and mass-market retail stores. Reported health benefits of bilberry are primarily in the vascular domain and include treatment of vascular insufficiency, capillary fragility, and retinopathy.

“Given global demand for this relatively high-cost, wild-harvested berry, bilberry supplies are reportedly rife with economic adulteration,” wrote HerbalGram article co-authors Steven Foster, an author and widely published botanical photographer, and Mark Blumenthal, ABC’s founder and executive director, and editor of HerbalGram.

According to the article, the world’s entire supply of commercial bilberry is wild-harvested, primarily in Scandinavian countries and in Eastern Europe. “[T]he relatively small region of growth for bilberries suggests that there is not much elasticity in the price of raw material,” the authors wrote. One industry expert quoted in the article explains that it takes 100 kg of hand-picked bilberry fruit to make 1 kg of extract, which can cost anywhere from $325 to $600 for the bilberry raw material alone, depending on seasonal supply and other factors. Therefore, considering other costs (e.g., refrigerated storage and transportation, extraction, etc.) the economics strongly suggest that some of the lower-cost bilberry extracts currently available in the global supply market are adulterated with other, cheaper, ingredients.

Some of the known adulterants include amaranth dye (also known as azo dye or Red Dye No. 2). [The dye is used to “trick” certain types of analytical methods, and is not to be confused with the food called amaranth (Amaranthus spp.).] Additionally, third-party laboratories have reported adulteration of commercial bilberry samples with charcoal, black soybean (Glycine max) hull and black rice (Oryza sativa var. indica) hulls. Other items include other lower-cost fruits containing anthocyanin pigments, the primary active compounds found in bilberry. Further, language confusion is a potential basis of adulteration; translation errors, including mistaking “blueberry” for “bilberry” or other similarly named species of the botanical genus Vaccinium, can result in the use of improper material in some countries.

Industry awareness of bilberry adulteration has led to the development of advanced chemical analyses – including versions of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and other appropriate analytical methods – that can determine the precise contents of bilberry products. The active ingredients responsible for many of bilberry’s beneficial properties are known as anthocyanosides (or anthocyanins). According to the authors, “the mixture … in bilberry produces a unique pattern set that distinguishes bilberry from all other anthocyanoside sources.”

The article is the fourth installment in the ongoing ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program, a collaboration of the American Botanical Council, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi. Previous articles produced by this program have detailed thehistory of adulteration of botanical ingredients (HerbalGram issue #92), the adulteration of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) with germander (Teucrium canadense) (issue #93), and the adulteration of commercial “grapefruit seed extract” (supposedly derived from Citrus x paradisi) with synthetic industrial disinfectants (issue #94).

The bilberry article was peer-reviewed for accuracy by numerous experts, including analytical chemists from independent third-party analytical laboratories.

Reference

1. Foster S, Blumenthal M. The Adulteration of Commercial Bilberry Extracts. HerbalGram. 2012;(96):64-73.

About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program

The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is a consortium of independent nonprofit organizations whose mission relates to education, scientific research, and quality of botanical dietary ingredients and related plant-derived materials. The consortium is endorsed and supported by over 85 natural product industry companies, independent analytical laboratories, law firms, trade associations, and accredited institutions of education in natural medicine, all of which are involved in the production, supply, manufacture, distribution, marketing, analysis, research, and/or education of herbal dietary ingredients and supplements.

Underwriters and Supporters of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program (as of November 1, 2012)* 

Financial Underwriters
AdvoCare International L.P.
Amen Clinics
Amway/Nutrilite Health Institute
Aveda Corporation
BI Nutraceuticals
Cepham, Inc.
Chemi Nutra
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps
Emerson Ecologics
Ethical Naturals, Inc.
Enzymatic Therapy, Inc.
EuroMed
EuroMedica
EuroPharma
Eu Yan Sang International
Flavex Naturextrakte GmbH
Gaia Herbs
Gencor Nutrients, Inc.
GNC, Inc.
Helios Corp.
Herbalife International, Inc.
Horphag Research
Indena USA, Inc.
Markan Global Enterprises, Inc.
Martin Bauer, Inc.
Metabolic Maintenance Products
Metagenics, Inc.
Natural Factors Nutritional Products, Inc.
/Bioclinic Naturals
Nature’s Sunshine Products
Nature’s Way
Naturex, Inc.
NBTY, Inc.
New Chapter, Inc.
The New Frontier Foundation Fund of the
Greater Cedar Rapids Community
Foundation
Ningbo Greenhealth Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.
Novel Ingredients
NOW Foods
Nu Skin Enterprises/Pharmanex
Nutraceutical Corp
Nutritional Laboratories International
Pacific Nutritional Inc.
Paragon Laboratories
Perrigo Company
Pharmavite, LLC
Pure Encapsulations
Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems
RFI Ingredients, LLC
Sabinsa Corporation
Schwabe North America
Standard Process, Inc.
Thorne Research, Inc.
Traditional Medicinals, Inc.
Triarco Industries, Inc.
Valensa International
V.D.F. FutureCeuticals
Verdure Sciences
Vitamin Shoppe
Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Whole Foods Market
ZMC-USA
Trade Associations
Consumer Healthcare Products Association
Council for Responsible Nutrition
Natural Products Association
United Natural Products AllianceEndorsements by Nonprofit/Professional Associations
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental MedicineColleges/Universities
Bastyr University
National College of Natural Medicine
Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine
University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic MedicineThird-Party Analytical Laboratories
Alkemists Laboratories
Bent Creek Institute
British Columbia Institute of Technology
ChromaDex
Covance Laboratories
Eurofins
Flora Research Labs
NSF International
Spectrix Labs
Tampa Bay AnalyticalMedia
Engredea
Natural Foods Merchandiser
Natural Products INSIDER
Nutritional Outlook
Nutrition Business Journal
Nutrition Industry Executive
Vitamin Retailer

Law Firms
Amin Talati, LLC
Greenberg Traurig, LLP (James Prochnow)
Law Office of Holly Bayne, P.C.

*By acknowledging the generous support of these companies and organizations, ABC, AHP, and NCNPR are not endorsing any ingredients or products that may be produced or marketed by them.

About the American Botanical Council

Founded in 1988, the American Botanical Council is a leading international nonprofit organization addressing research and educational issues regarding herbs, teas, medicinal plants, essential oils, and other beneficial plant-derived materials. ABC’s members include academic researchers and educators; libraries; health professionals and medical institutions; government agencies; members of the herb, dietary supplement, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries; journalists; consumers; and others in over 81 countries. The organization occupies a historic 2.5-acre site in Austin, Texas, where it publishes the peer-reviewed quarterly journal HerbalGram, the monthly e-publication HerbalEGram, the weekly e-newsletter “Herbal News & Events,” HerbClips (summaries of scientific and clinical publications), reference books, and other educational materials. ABC also hosts HerbMedPro, a powerful herbal database, covering scientific and clinical publications on more than 240 herbs. ABC also co-produces the “Herbal Insights” segment for Healing Quest, a television series on PBS.

ABC is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. Information: Contact ABC at P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345, Phone: 512-926-4900. Website: www.herbalgram.org. Contact: Public Relations.

About the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP)

AHP is a 501(c)(3) California-based nonprofit research organization. AHP’s primary goal is to develop standards of identity, purity, quality, and testing for botanical ingredients and to provide industry with the resources needed to assure the authenticity and quality of botanical raw materials. Additionally, with most all monographs, AHP develops a Therapeutic Compendium that provides a critical review of the authoritative traditional and scientific data on herbal medicines to ensure a high level of accuracy, clinical applicability, and safety of herbal ingredients. AHP also provides industry with authenticated AHP-Verified Botanical Reference Materials for GMP compliance with identity requirements.

About the National Center for Natural Products Research

The National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi, is a unique university-affiliated research center devoted to the study of natural products and the realization of their benefits in human health, agriculture, and other applications. The NCNPR is recognized as a Center of Excellence for botanical supplements by the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The Pumpkin—A Smashing Success

By Steven Foster, ©2012

Which came first the Pilgrim or the Pumpkin? The pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) had already become the most widespread cultivated plant in North America by the time the Pilgrim’s European ancestors had barely crawled out of caves. Archeological remains of pumpkin seeds dated to more than 9,000 years old have been found in the Oaxaca in Mexico along with 7,000 year-old pumpkin seeds from sites in Illinois. At the point of European discovery, pumpkins and their relatives were cultivated from southern Canada to Argentina. It appears that what we know today as the pumpkin may have evolved from domestication of Cucurbita texana, now found in northeast Texas, but suspected of being of much wider distribution in ancient times. Molecular evidence gives rise to this hypothesis.

Pilgrims did not encounter pumpkins until they came to the Americas. However, Native American groups were happy to discover in the years shortly after the first invasions, gourd family members brought from the Old World to the Americas including muskmelon, watermelons and cucumbers, so of which probably arrived in the Americas via the slave trade.

The genus Cucurbita in the gourd family is comprised of about 13 species native to the Americas, five of which are cultivated and their remains found in archeological sites of peoples of ancient America. Their consumption since ancient times forms part of the staple diet of pre-Columbian America consisting of cucurbits, beans and maize. Pumpkins had edible seeds, a thick starchy, sweet rind, and excellent storage potential, lasting for months without decay, and easily dried in the sun or over a fire for long-term storage.

The big round pumpkin is typical of Cucurbita pepo, but the same species, in its evolution to diversity also gives use familiar cultivated varieties such as scallop squash; acorn squash; summer squash and crookneck; the unpalatable, inedible ornamental gourds, and the ever ubiquitous, no thank you, please, I don’t need more zucchini. The word squash comes from an Algonquin phrase askoot-asquash—“sometimes eaten when immature or raw.”

Descriptions of pumpkins began to appear in European herbals about 50 years after Columbus sailed home. Paintings of vegetable markets in the Netherlands and Flanders in the 1500s and 1600s show realistic images of eight different forms of pumpkins. In the 1636 edition of Gerarde’s Herball, the pumpkin was called “the Great Round Pompion.” By the early 1700s, pumpkin pies were a common food of England’s rural peasantry, undoubtedly an idea brought back by Pilgrims who had returned home to celebrate Halloween with family.

Osage Orange

A Forgotten Native Tree—The Osage Orange

By Steven Foster

The Osage Orange Maclura pomifera is one of the most curious small trees of the Ozarks. The fruit is the most unusual part—a large, green, grapefruit-like pome with outer texture that looks like like brain tissue. As one of the largest fruits of any woody plant in the United States, it is a shame it is worthless as food (or anything else).

Maclura commemorates William Maclure, an American geologist living from 1763 to 1840. Common names are many and include the familiar Osage Orange, Bois-d’Arc, bodec, hedge-orange, hedge-apple, horse-apple, and mockorange. With crowded zigzag branches armed with sharp stout spines an inch or more long, a thicket of this small tree was impenetrable. It is now widespread outside of what is thought to be its narrow native range from Arkansas to Texas because the Osage Orange is the true American hedge. Before wire fences were popular, it was extensively planted along fence rows. Hedges were planted in single or double rows. Seedlings were set about nine inches to a foot apart, resulting in a thick and formidable natural barrier.

The exceedingly hard, coarse-grained, heavy, bright orange wood is rarely used today. Perhaps the most unique feature of the wood is its excellent flexibility and elasticity coupled with its strength.  In an 1810 account of his explorations of the interior of the U.S., Bradbury found two Osage Orange trees growing in the garden of Pierre Chouteau, one of the first settlers in St. Louis. The trees were introduced to the settlement by Osage Indians, hence the common name of the tree. The Osage highly prized the wood for war clubs and especially bows. It was prized so highly that a bow made from the wood was worth a horse and blanket in trade. Though the plant grew outside of the Pawnee and Omaha-Ponca’s territories, both tribes prized the wood for bows, and obtained it from Indians in the southern part of Oklahoma. Today the tree simply suffers from little appreciation, thought of as a gangly undesirable weed tree. One person’s weed tree is another’s valuable natural resource. The Osage Orange can be either one.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper, October 18, 2012