Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Wisdom Wednesday: Supplements: Pharmaceutical vs Whole Food
Recently a patient inquired about a supplement that I recommended for her. Is it pharmaceutical or natural? Although the question was valid, I realized immediately that her understanding of the terms was skewed. So let’s clear up some misconceptions.
A supplement that has all natural ingredients can be pharmaceutical quality. In fact, all the herbal supplements I recommend are pharmaceutical quality and all natural. As I have mentioned in numerous blogs, I purchase my herbs from Australia and by law, they are manufactured to pharmaceutical standards.
So what does that really mean? Medi-Herb sources the raw herbs from various growers throughout the world. Pre-shipment samples are tested in the lab for identification, validation (species, plant part), and efficacy (actives, phytochemical profile). Then chromatography is used to separate the phytochemicals in an herbal extract in individual components. High performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC), ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC), and gas chromatography (GC) are all used prior to mass spectrometry (MS). If the sample passes all these quality tests than an order for bulk purchase is placed. Once the bulk shipment arrives, samples are taken and the tests are repeated. When all aspects of quality control of the raw material are confirmed then manufacture begins. If not, the herb is sent back.
After manufacture through proprietary cold percolation, samples are again tested using all the same processes noted above. When all extract meets all criteria, it is bottled for sale. This creates an extract of the full spectrum of compounds of the herb without causing damage or degradation.
The result – an all-natural, pharmaceutical quality herbal extract.
I have a friend that makes her herbal preparations from wild crafted herbs she picks in the desert in Arizona. Sure it’s all natural depending on any filler or emollient she adds. But what about the environmental factors she can’t control like air and water pollution? How potent are the herbs? Did the soil provide the right nutrients for the plant to produce the phytochemicals in the correct proportions? Tribulus is a weed that grows all over the world, but only the plants that grow in the eastern mountains of Bulgaria contain the right ratios of steroidal sapronins to create the phytochemical benefits of Tribulus. The Tribulus that grows in India and is sold world-wide is virtually useless even if it is “all-natural”.
Whole food supplementation is a completely different concept. A supplement made using pea vine juice will contain hundreds of natural phytochemicals, including vitamin C. Many of these compounds have medicinal value and many more we know little or nothing about. However, pea vine juice is a superior form of nutrition for the body.
Standard Process grows whole foods on an organic farm in Racine, Wisconsin, harvests and processes these foods on site to produce a line of whole food supplements. Oats, barley, wheat, Spanish black radish and kale are just a few of the crops they grow. Their products are organic, all-natural, and very effective, but not pharmaceutical quality.
Finally, there are some pharmaceutical quality vitamins I use that are synthetic. Methyl cobalamin, adenocobalamin, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, and pyridoxal 5’-phosphateare are all good examples of synthetic vitamins. They are not found in our food, or anywhere in nature. Our body synthesizes these vitamins from the precursors you know as vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin B6. About a third of the population have genetic defects that inhibit or prevent synthesis of these vitamins from the food form. These patients must have the synthetic form.
The Bottom Line:
Supplements can be all-natural and pharmaceutical quality, or whole food, or even synthetic and pharmaceutical quality. All have their place in human nutrition. It’s having the knowledge to use them properly that is the key.