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Study detects adulteration, suggests authentication for herbal medicine

Rapid Fire:

  • High extent of adulteration found in herbal medicine made from Ashoka
  • Stringent regulations to ensure quality of herbal products suggested
  • DNA barcoding & chemical finger printing techniques used to detect & quantify adulteration in raw herbal trade
  • Authentication & certification system for herbal medicine suggested along with DNA barcoding

A new study has suggested stringent regulations to ensure quality of herbal products by authenticating them at various levels of the production.

Saraca flowers and plant
Saraca flowers and plant

The study published in the International Journal of Legal Medicine found high rate of adulteration in samples of herbal medicines prepared from Ashoka (Saraca asoca) collected from the market. It has proposed the establishment of an Herbal Authentication System along with a national level Biological Reference Material (BRM) library of all plants in trade.

Researchers from India and Canada with support from the Department of Biotechnology matched the DNA barcode and NMR spectra of Ashoka with that of the samples of herbal medicine claimed to be made from Ashoka sourced from the market and found significant discrepancies.

Saraca Bark
Saraca Bark

DNA barcodes use certain regions of the DNA to assign species-specific signatures. It is often used in detecting and identifying adulteration. Similarly, NMR analysis could also be used to confirm the identity of a substance.

The study has suggested developing DNA barcodes of the major medicinal plants. All herbal material can then be authenticated and certified before use and transformation into products by herbal industries. Scientists from University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, Kuvempu University, Shivamogga, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, Punjab and University of Guelph, Toronto, Canada were involved in the study.

saraca bark powder
saraca bark powder

Saraca asoca commonly known as Ashoka is one of the most important medicinal plants used in a variety of indigenous medicine systems, including Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha in India. While earlier studies have documented that market samples of Ashoka are often adulterated with bark of Polyalthia or with bark of Trema orientalis, Shorea robusta and Mallotus nudiflorus, this was the first large scale attempt to document the extent of adulteration in herbal trade of Ashoka.

Herbal medicines are used in the crude forms (unlike the chemical drugs) and have to be taken for a prolonged period. No regulatory standards have been set up for this system and neither are there any regulatory agency to check the quality of traditional medicines; no studies have been carried out in India to assess the implication of adulterations. However, studies abroad have shown adverse consequences of adulteration of herbal medicine, the paper pointed out.

The authors suggested that increased demand for raw herbal drugs must be met eventually by domesticating and cultivating medicinal plants that are highly traded and in parallel a strong system for their authentication and certification be developed before use by the herbal industries.