ePlantLIBRA- A plant food supplement database filling in the information gaps for better regulation and safety

A new database of information on food ingredients will help clarify the fuzzy boundary between food supplements and herbal medicines across Europe” is the headline of a recent post of the Europe Research Media Center. In this article, Institute of Food Research (UK) scientist Paul FINGLAS explains the value of the database being developed and how it will pool together the existing knowledge on the beneficial and adverse effects of bioactive compounds in supplements. The database is one of the EU fundedPlantLIBRA project’s main outcomes and it will define a consistent set of references for bioactive ingredients for all member states, where presently the categorisation between plant food supplements and traditional herbal medicinal products varies between countries. This is particularly important for imported plant food supplements that need harmonized regulation to improve quality and consumer safety.

In this sense, PlantLIBRA is taking an appropriately broad strategy in analysing all relevant aspects of the research needs for the science and regulation of botanicals, such as intake and consumption patterns, supplement composition and analysis, and the evaluation of benefits and risks. Hylobates is one of the project partners currently working on the risk-benefit assessment of plant food supplements for an improved science-based decision making approach.

PlantLIBRA Management Team

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Plant food supplements market show increased sales in the US

An improved risk- benefit assessment of plant food supplements, as investigated in the project  PlantLIBRA (this part of the work is led by Hylobates and Dr. Antonella Guzzon as work package leader), is motivated not only by the needs of better science and regulation in this sector, but also by the clear sales increases worldwide. In 2010, for example, the plant food supplement, or with US terminology herbal dietary supplement (DS),  market in the USA increased by an estimated 3.3 percent in all channels of retail trade, as reported in the HerbalGram Herb Market Report of the American Botanical Council.

The robust growth in the herb market seen in recent years reflects the increasing consumer interest in good nutrition and natural lifestyles. The report discusses this growth and the complexity of doing total sales analysis of this segment. For instance, the degree of increase depends widely on the source of the sales information and the data collection parameters (inclusion of combination herbal dietary supplements with primary ingredients, for example). Sales growth data analysis from the Mainstream Food, Drug, and Mass Market (FDM) channel (drugstores, grocery stores, mass market retailers, et al., but not including Wal-Mart) is lower as when buyers’ clubs and convenience stores, including Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Costco, et al. are also considered in the FDM channel.

The report includes the 20-top- selling herbal dietary supplements in the Food, Drug, and Mass Market (FDM) channel in the United States in 2010. According to the authors, the list shows the trend of consumer interest in many relatively well known herbs due to a growing body of scientific and clinical research conducted on them. These include, as noted in order of ranking: cranberry, saw palmetto, garlic, ginkgo, echinacea, milk thistle, black cohosh, Asian ginseng, green tea, etc.

This ranking (see table below) also shows several plants that are investigated within PlantLIBRA´s different research groups, and reflect as well some trends in the European plant food supplement market.

– Alejandro Rodarte  –


Hylo and PlantLIBRA partners present proposal of risk-benefit approach for plant in food supplements

Hylobates scientist Dr. Antonella Guzzon presented the proposal of risk-benefit approach for plant in food supplements during PlantLIBRA’s first Policy Advisory Board (PAB) meeting in Brussels from the 27th to the 28th of September.  In this event, project partners discussed with policy regulators on the approaches to facilitate science-based decision-making in this area. Dr. Guzzon presented the approach in progress which, based on existing approaches for risk- benefit assessment, proposes to develop a framework for assessing the strength, consistency and biological plausibility of the evidence of the benefits and risks plant food supplements. Within this framework, to each kind of evidence (in vivo evidence, tradition of use, animal and human evidence) related to a specific claimed effect for a certain plant food supplement a category (from convincing evidence to insufficient) would be as attributed.  This should enable the risk assessor to make a statement on the result of the risk-benefit assessment, i.e. whether risks or benefits are dominating, explained Dr. Guzzon. Additionally, the model considers prior beliefs on the existing scientific knowledge on the botanical and how new studies and data can change those prior beliefs. Finally, in order to make the process transparent, all these steps will clearly described, In this sense an open web source accessible to everybody and therefore exposed to open criticism, will be used to develop the model for risk-benefit assessment of plant food supplements.

  The PlantLIBRA Management Team

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