(AUSTIN, Texas, November 1, 2012) Some dietary supplements labeled as containing “Bilberry Extract” are adulterated with lower-cost, non-bilberry ingredients that are not stated on the products’ labels, says a new report in the nonprofit American Botanical Council’s fall 2012 issue of its peer-reviewed journal, HerbalGram.1
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) fruit and its products can be found in health products, foods, and cosmetics, and are marketed as dietary supplements in the United States and as phytomedicines in the European Union. In 2011, bilberry dietary supplements were the 15th best selling single-herb supplement in the mainstream market in the United States, which includes grocery stores, drug stores, and mass-market retail stores. Reported health benefits of bilberry are primarily in the vascular domain and include treatment of vascular insufficiency, capillary fragility, and retinopathy.
“Given global demand for this relatively high-cost, wild-harvested berry, bilberry supplies are reportedly rife with economic adulteration,” wrote HerbalGram article co-authors Steven Foster, an author and widely published botanical photographer, and Mark Blumenthal, ABC’s founder and executive director, and editor of HerbalGram.
According to the article, the world’s entire supply of commercial bilberry is wild-harvested, primarily in Scandinavian countries and in Eastern Europe. “[T]he relatively small region of growth for bilberries suggests that there is not much elasticity in the price of raw material,” the authors wrote. One industry expert quoted in the article explains that it takes 100 kg of hand-picked bilberry fruit to make 1 kg of extract, which can cost anywhere from $325 to $600 for the bilberry raw material alone, depending on seasonal supply and other factors. Therefore, considering other costs (e.g., refrigerated storage and transportation, extraction, etc.) the economics strongly suggest that some of the lower-cost bilberry extracts currently available in the global supply market are adulterated with other, cheaper, ingredients.
Some of the known adulterants include amaranth dye (also known as azo dye or Red Dye No. 2). [The dye is used to “trick” certain types of analytical methods, and is not to be confused with the food called amaranth (Amaranthus spp.).] Additionally, third-party laboratories have reported adulteration of commercial bilberry samples with charcoal, black soybean (Glycine max) hull and black rice (Oryza sativa var. indica) hulls. Other items include other lower-cost fruits containing anthocyanin pigments, the primary active compounds found in bilberry. Further, language confusion is a potential basis of adulteration; translation errors, including mistaking “blueberry” for “bilberry” or other similarly named species of the botanical genus Vaccinium, can result in the use of improper material in some countries.
Industry awareness of bilberry adulteration has led to the development of advanced chemical analyses – including versions of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and other appropriate analytical methods – that can determine the precise contents of bilberry products. The active ingredients responsible for many of bilberry’s beneficial properties are known as anthocyanosides (or anthocyanins). According to the authors, “the mixture … in bilberry produces a unique pattern set that distinguishes bilberry from all other anthocyanoside sources.”
The article is the fourth installment in the ongoing ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program, a collaboration of the American Botanical Council, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi. Previous articles produced by this program have detailed the history of adulteration of botanical ingredients (HerbalGram issue #92), the adulteration of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) with germander (Teucrium canadense) (issue #93), and the adulteration of commercial “grapefruit seed extract” (supposedly derived from Citrus x paradisi) with synthetic industrial disinfectants (issue #94).
The bilberry article was peer-reviewed for accuracy by numerous experts, including analytical chemists from independent third-party analytical laboratories.
- Foster S, Blumenthal M.The Adulteration of Commercial Bilberry Extracts.HerbalGram. 2012;(96):64-73.
About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program is a consortium of independent nonprofit organizations whose mission relates to education, scientific research, and quality of botanical dietary ingredients and related plant-derived materials. The consortium is endorsed and supported by over 85 natural product industry companies, independent analytical laboratories, law firms, trade associations, and accredited institutions of education in natural medicine, all of which are involved in the production, supply, manufacture, distribution, marketing, analysis, research, and/or education of herbal dietary ingredients and supplements.
Underwriters and Supporters of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program (as of November 1, 2012)*
AdvoCare International L.P.
Amway/Nutrilite Health Institute
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps
Ethical Naturals, Inc.
Enzymatic Therapy, Inc.
Eu Yan Sang International
Flavex Naturextrakte GmbH
Gencor Nutrients, Inc.
Herbalife International, Inc.
Indena USA, Inc.
Markan Global Enterprises, Inc.
Martin Bauer, Inc.
Metabolic Maintenance Products
Natural Factors Nutritional Products, Inc.
Nature's Sunshine Products
New Chapter, Inc.
The New Frontier Foundation Fund of the
Greater Cedar Rapids Community
Ningbo Greenhealth Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.
Nu Skin Enterprises/Pharmanex
Nutritional Laboratories International
Pacific Nutritional Inc.
Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems
RFI Ingredients, LLC
Schwabe North America
Standard Process, Inc.
Thorne Research, Inc.
Traditional Medicinals, Inc.
Triarco Industries, Inc.
Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Whole Foods Market
Consumer Healthcare Products Association
Council for Responsible Nutrition
Natural Products Association
United Natural Products Alliance
Endorsements by Nonprofit/Professional Associations
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
National College of Natural Medicine
Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine
University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine
Third-Party Analytical Laboratories
Bent Creek Institute
British Columbia Institute of Technology
Flora Research Labs
Tampa Bay Analytical
Natural Foods Merchandiser
Natural Products INSIDER
Nutrition Business Journal
Nutrition Industry Executive
Amin Talati, LLC
Greenberg Traurig, LLP (James Prochnow)
Law Office of Holly Bayne, P.C.
*By acknowledging the generous support of these companies and organizations, ABC, AHP, and NCNPR are not endorsing any ingredients or products that may be produced or marketed by them.
About the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP)
AHP is a 501(c)(3) California-based nonprofit research organization. AHP's primary goal is to develop standards of identity, purity, quality, and testing for botanical ingredients and to provide industry with the resources needed to assure the authenticity and quality of botanical raw materials. Additionally, with most all monographs, AHP develops a Therapeutic Compendium that provides a critical review of the authoritative traditional and scientific data on herbal medicines to ensure a high level of accuracy, clinical applicability, and safety of herbal ingredients. AHP also provides industry with authenticated AHP-Verified Botanical Reference Materials for GMP compliance with identity requirements.
About the National Center for Natural Products Research
The National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi, is a unique university-affiliated research center devoted to the study of natural products and the realization of their benefits in human health, agriculture, and other applications. The NCNPR is recognized as a Center of Excellence for botanical supplements by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.