Are Standardized Herbs Better?
|Are Standardized Herbs Better?||Darrell Miller||06/17/05|
June 17, 2005 12:34 PM
Author: Darrell Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: Are Standardized Herbs Better?
Are Standardized Herbs Better?
Standardized is a term to mean that there is a guaranteed amount of a certain botanical constituent. For example St. John's Wort can be standardized to contain hypercin, Gingko can be standardized to contain flavones, Mahuang for ephedrine, and Milk Thistle for its silymarin content. Standardized does not necessarily mean stronger or better. Chemical solvents such as hexane benzene, acetone, and methyl chloride are typically used in standardized extracts. Residues of the chemicals are found in the finished product. Furthermore they may be hazardous to the environment.
The problem with obtaining an amount of a standard constituent is, a plant can contain hundreds of active constituents. By concentrating on one component, we may lose synergistic compounds, which may improve effectiveness and lessen adverse reactions. Often scientists do not fully understand which constituents are beneficial for the clinical results of an herb. For example scientists are unclear whether or not hypercerin, hyperiform, or the interaction of several constituents, that have antidepressant properties in St. John's Wort. Once it was thought that the immune effects of Echinacea were due to echinosides; now it is thought that polysaccharides and proteins may also be immune supporting. In the case of ginseng, ginsenosides are found in ginseng leaves and roots, however ginseng leaves do not have same properties as the roots. In the South Pacific, locals all use Kava Kava roots, however German pharmaceutical companies use the stems to make standardized Kava Kava. Another drawback of standardized herbs is the chemicals used to manufacture them.
Advocates of standardized herbs are usually academics with little clinical experience with herbs, or researchers whose work is funded by companies that manufacture standardized products. Traditional herbalists seldom used standardized products for a variety of reasons. One, standardized extracts tend to be more expensive. Two, there is little evidence that they are more effective than the whole herb. For example, I have never seen studies comparing Gingko tea to standardized Gingko extracts; Ginseng standardized extracts have not been shown superior to whole ginseng root. Finally, many herbalists reject the pharmaceutical model of healthcare, which involves costly production techniques and capital investment to make a standardized extract.
Standardized herbs play a role in the drug model of herbal medicine, however traditional herbalists will continue to recommend herbs in more natural state which may include water and alcohol extracts, teas and pills that have not been standardized. (Factors that influence products quality include weather, soil, the time of year the plant is harvested, the age of the plant, the part of the plant being used, and the DNA of the plant, storage and processing.) You can also blend various batches of herbs to achieve a consistent potency; this is commonly done in the wine making industry. Finally you can add an active compound (synthesized) to an herbal product and the DNA of the plant, storage and processing.) The purpose of this article is not to condemn standardized herbs. It may be a good idea to remember that this form of herbal preparation is just one of many forms.