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New Botanical Adulterants Bulletin Focuses on Arnica Adulteration

In August, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program published its sixth Botanical Adulterants Bulletin on arnica (Arnica montana, Asteraceae).

Arnica extract is a popular ingredient in topical gels and ointments for the relief of bruises, sprains, and localized muscular pain, and is also widely used in cosmetic preparations. According to data from the market research firm SPINS, sales in all channels (excluding sales from Walmart, Whole Foods, club stores, and dollar stores) of topical arnica products, sold predominantly as homeopathic remedies, exceeded $20 million in 2015.

Research has shown that some raw botanical materials labeled as “Arnica montana” contain so-called false arnica (Heterotheca inuloides, Asteraceae), also known as Mexican arnica, or other yellow-flowering species from the family Asteraceae. The new Bulletin was co-authored by Wendy Applequist, PhD, associate curator at the William L. Brown Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of the American Botanical Council (ABC) and technical director of the Botanical Adulterants Program. The Bulletin provides information on the cultivation, harvest, and market status of arnica, and lists the known adulterants, potential therapeutic and/or safety issues with the adulterating species, and analytical approaches to detect adulterants. Thirteen expert peer reviewers provided input on the arnica Bulletin.

The goal of the 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, conventional food, and other industries in which botanical ingredients are used to be informed about relevant adulteration concerns. As with all publications of the Program, the Bulletins are freely accessible to ABC members and registered users on the Program’s website.

“Arnica is a widely used ingredient in topical products in the United States and internationally, including in the homeopathic medicine industry,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC and director of the Botanical Adulterants Program. “Our research suggests that it is possible that a considerable amount of the ‘arnica’ being used in some of these products may be adulterated with a totally different species. We hope that industry members will heed this Bulletin and double- and triple-check their incoming arnica raw materials to ensure that they are purchasing the authentic arnica plant.”

Gafner added: “The occurrence of arnica adulteration with Heterotheca inuloides has been known for over half a century, and is readily detected by macroscopic, microscopic, chemical, and/or DNA analyses. Nevertheless, reports as recent as 2012 show that arnica adulteration is still quite common in the marketplace. Some of this may be due to the use of the common name ‘arnica’ for a number of different plant species, particularly in Spanish-speaking communities. However, the comparatively high price for the authentic arnica raw material has also provided an incentive for economically motivated adulteration.”

Two Bulletins on goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, Ranunculaceae) root and rhizome and black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae) root and rhizome were published in June 2016, preceded in April by the first three Bulletins on bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus, Ericaceae) fruit extract, grape (Vitis vinifera, Vitaceae) seed extract, and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora, Lamiaceae) herb. Additional Bulletins are scheduled for release in the coming months, including one examining St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, Hypericaceae) herb.

The ABC-American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP)-National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) Botanical Adulterants Program is an international consortium of nonprofit professional organizations, analytical laboratories, industry trade associations, industry members, and other parties. 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 175 US and international parties have financially supported or otherwise endorsed the Program.