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ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program Publishes Adulterants Bulletins on Boswellia Resin and Turmeric Extracts


The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) has released Botanical Adulterants Bulletins on turmeric (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae) rhizome and its extracts and boswellia (Boswellia serrata, Burseraceae) oleogum resin,* commonly referred to as frankincense. Both herbs are popular in the traditional medicine systems of India.

The goal of the Botanical Adulterants 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, herbal tea, conventional food, and other industries in which botanical ingredients are used to be informed about adulteration problems that are apparently widespread and/or imply safety concerns.



Turmeric Bulletin Focuses on Adulteration with Related Species, Artificial Colorants, and Synthetic Curcuminoids

Few herbal dietary supplement ingredients have seen such a steep sales increase over the past five years as turmeric. Turmeric has been the top-selling dietary supplement in US natural food stores since 2013, and it ranked fifth in sales in mainstream retail outlets in 2017. 

The earliest known reports of turmeric adulteration were published in the 1970s and 1980s and describe adulteration with other Curcuma species, starches, and dyes. More recently, the addition of undeclared synthetic curcumin or mixtures of synthetic curcuminoids to turmeric extracts has been reported. Curcumin is one of the naturally occuring curcuminoids found in turmeric root and rhizome. Synthetic curcuminoids can be produced for about one-third of the cost of natural curcuminoids, providing a financial incentive for fraudulent suppliers to dilute or replace turmeric extracts with synthetic materials.

The new bulletin, written by Ezra Bejar, PhD, an expert in botanical research, lists the known adulterants, details analytical approaches to detect adulterants, and provides information on the nomenclature, cultivation, harvest, and market importance of turmeric. It also discusses safety aspects of the known adulterants. Eighteen laboratory analytical experts from academia, government, and the herb industry provided input on the bulletin.

“The increased popularity of herbs like turmeric attracts producers and suppliers that are often more concerned about making a profit than they are about selling a high-quality botanical ingredient,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC and director of BAPP. “While there are companies that produce and market high-quality, authentic, reliable turmeric powder and extract supplements, there are also adulterated turmeric ingredients on the market. The BAPP turmeric bulletin is designed to assist purchasing departments and quality control laboratories in the herb, spice, and dietary supplement industries in assuring that responsible companies purchase only authentic turmeric ingredients.”

Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of ABC and technical director of BAPP, added: “The use of colorants to make the turmeric root visually more attractive is of particular concern. Many of the yellow or orange colorants, such as lead chromate or metanil yellow, may represent a health risk. Since daily dosages of several grams of turmeric powder are recommended for health benefits, use of adulterated turmeric products may lead to an intake of excessive amounts of these colorants.”



Boswellia Bulletin Describes Adulteration and Substitution with Resins from Related Species

Boswellia has been valued for its fragrance and medicinal properties for millennia. Retail sales of boswellia dietary supplements have skyrocketed in the United States, particularly in the mainstream channel, where sales increased from approximately $143,000 in 2013 to $14.6 million in 2017, corresponding to an average annual growth of roughly 210%.

Published data on boswellia adulteration have focused mainly on admixture or substitution with oleogum resins from other Boswellia species, in particular B. frereana, B. papyrifera, and B. sacra.

Boswellia serrata is preferred in Western countries due to the number of clinical studies supporting its anti-inflammatory benefits,” said Gafner. “In other areas of the world, substitution of Boswellia serrata with other Boswellia species may occur due to permissible interchangeable use. However, substitution or adulteration may also be due to shortages in the supply chain or the availability of material from other plants at lower cost.” In addition, adulteration can occur due to misidentification of B. serrata along the supply chain.

The new bulletin was written by Allison McCutcheon, PhD, an expert in herbal medicine research in Vancouver, British Columbia. It summarizes the published data on boswellia quality issues (in particular the challenges in distinguishing Boswellia serrata from its potential substitutes and adulterants), details analytical methods to detect adulteration, and provides information on the nomenclature, cultivation, harvest, and market importance of boswellia. Twenty-two experts in quality control of medicinal plants from academia and the herb industry provided input on the bulletin.

According to Blumenthal: “The growing popularity of boswellia resin in dietary supplements and medicinal herb products that are designed to alleviate inflammatory conditions, coupled with credible reports of either substitution or dilution with undeclared lower-cost ingredients, prompted us to investigate and report on boswellia. The bulletin confirms that boswellia is subject to intentional adulteration by some suppliers, meaning that responsible buyers of boswellia raw material and extract need to exercise additional diligence in their quality control programs.”

About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program

The ABC-American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP)-National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program is an international consortium of nonprofit professional organizations, analytical laboratories, research centers, industry trade associations, industry members, and other parties with interest in herbs and medicinal plants. The program advises industry members, researchers, health professionals, government agencies, the media, and the public about various challenges related to adulterated botanical ingredients sold in commerce. To date, more than 200 US and international parties have financially supported or otherwise endorsed the program.

The turmeric and boswellia bulletins are the 14th and 15th publications, respectively, in the series of Botanical Adulterants Bulletins. In total, BAPP has produced 42 peer-reviewed publications, including the Botanical Adulterants Bulletins, Laboratory Guidance Documents, and Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters. All of the program’s publications are freely available on the program’s website.

—ABC Staff

*An oleogum resin is a naturally occurring mixture of resin (a viscous mixture of terpenes), gum (a viscous exudate composed of polysaccharides), volatile oil, and small amounts of other substances.