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New York Attorney General’s Investigation on Devil’s Claw Ignores Expert Evaluations and Provides No Benefit to the Public
(Austin,Texas,September9,2015)ThenonprofitAmericanBotanicalCouncil(ABC)saysthattheNewYorkAttorneyGeneral’s(NYAG’s)investigationontheherbdevil’sclawhasreachedanincorrectconclusionbasedonitstoo-narrowinterpretationofbotanicalclassifications.

TodaytheNYAGsentcease-and-desistlettersto13companiesthatselldevil’sclawherbaldietarysupplementsinformingthemthattheirproductscontainingdevil’sclawmaterialweretestedattheNewYorkBotanicalGardenusingDNAtechnology.Theresultsshowedthatthedevil’sclawwasadifferentbotanicalspeciesthanwhatwaslabeled,andwhattheNYAGtermeda“lessdesirable”speciesoftheherb.

Inbotanicalclassificationandnomenclature,devil’sclawisusuallyknownscientificallybyitsLatinname,Harpagophytumprocumbens,whereHarpagophytumisthegenusoftheplantandprocumbensreferstothespeciesoftheplant.TheDNA-barcodingtestscommissionedbytheNYAGshowedthatsomeherbalsupplementsactuallycontainHarpagophytumzeyheri,aslightlydifferentformofdevil’sclaw,i.e.,adifferent,butverycloselyrelatedspecies.Ineffect,theyareliketwosiblings.

“Bothspeciesofdevil’sclawhaveasimilarchemicalprofile,”saidThomasBrendler,amedicinalplantexpertandeditoroftheAfricanHerbalPharmacopeia,acompilationoftechnicalinformationofvariousAfricanmedicinalplants,includingtheirbotany,growingconditions,rangeofhabitat,chemistry,andtraditionalandmodernmedicinalactivitiesanduses.

“Whilebothspeciesdiffermarginallyinshapeandchemicalcomposition,bothareconsideredequallyeffective,”headded.

Accordingtovariousgovernment-recognizedmedicineevaluationbodiesandpharmacopeias,thetwospeciesofdevil’sclawareconsideredinterchangeableforthepurposeoftheirusefortheirmedicinalactions.TheseorganizationsincludetheEuropeanMedicinesAgency,theEuropeanPharmacopoeia,andtheunofficialESCOP(EuropeanScientificCooperativeforPhytotherapy),apan-Europeanconsortiumofmedicinalplantexperts.Alsolistingbothspeciesasinterchangeableistheproposedmonograph“Harpagophytumspeciesroot”intheUnitedStatesPharmacopeia’sHerbalMedicinesCompendium.

Brendleraddedthatmany,possiblymost,devil’sclawextractsintheworldmarketarebasedonmixturesofthetwospecies,asaredevil’sclawherbalteasanddriedpowderedrootmaterialsusedinsupplementsandotherproducts.Bothspeciesofdevil’sclawhavebeeninthemarketintheUnitedStatessincethe1980s,henoted.

“WesincerelyappreciateAttorneyGeneralSchneiderman’sinterestinthequalityofherbalmaterialssoldindietarysupplementsandhisapparentdesiretohelpconsumersmaintainaccesstohigh-quality,safe,andeffectiveherbalproducts,”saidMarkBlumenthal,founderandexecutivedirectorofABC.

“WehereatABChaveasimilarmission,asevidencedbyourlong-timeeffortsintheABC-AHP-NCNPRBotanicalAdulterantsPrograminwhichwehavebeenworkingoneducatingindustryandallrelevantstakeholdersaboutqualityissuesintheglobalherbalmarket,”hecontinued.“However,splittingthedevil’sclawgenusintheverynarrowwaythattheyhavedoneinthisinvestigationisakintosplittinghairs—ithasnorealmeaningorvaluetoanyone,particularlytheherbconsumer.”

“Thismaybeahair-splittingbotanicaldistinction,”notedBlumenthal,“butitcertainlyisnotalegalorregulatoryone,especiallysinceauthoritativesourcesrecognizebothspeciesasbeing‘devil’sclaw.’”

Blumenthaladdedthat,accordingtodataABCusedforitsannualherbmarketreport,devil’sclawisarelativelylow-sellingherbintheUnitedStates.In2014,devil’sclawranked162ndinsalesintheUSmainstreamretailmarketand150thinthenaturalandhealthfoodschannel.Totalestimatedsalesofdevil’sclawdietarysupplementsintheUnitedStatesrangefromapproximately$250,000toupto$500,000.

AboutDevil’sClaw

Devil’sclaw,thevernacularnameforthetwospeciesHarpagophytumprocumbensandH.zeyheri,occursinthedesertregionsofsouthernAfrica(Namibia,Botswana,andSouthAfrica).Itsbitterroothashistoricallybeenusedtotreatawiderangeofailmentsand,prominently,asananti-inflammatoryanddigestive.Majorclinicalusesinmodernphytotherapy(herbalmedicine)focusonitsanti-inflammatoryeffectsinthetreatmentofjointdiseasesandbackpain.ThesuggestedmechanismofactionisthroughCOX-2inhibition.Some20humanclinicaltrialsconductedoverthelast30yearshaveconfirmeditssafetyandefficacyinthetreatmentandalleviationofdegenerativejointdisease,osteoarthritis,andlowerbackpain.