An unusual confluence of events during the editorial cycle for this issue resulted in several articles that pertain to tobacco, a plant that seldom receives coverage in these pages as it typically is not considered a medicinal plant, although it does enjoy a respected reputation in Native American ethnobotany.
Concern about the Ebola virus has prompted much media coverage, but there is a lack of reporting on an experimental Ebola treatment drug made using a species of low-nicotine tobacco. Our own Tyler Smith reports on the beneficial potential of this plant-produced treatment as well as purported herbal “cures” for the virus.
In January 2014, the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes ran a report about former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell and allegations of impropriety with respect to a donor, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Williams’ company, Star Scientific, produced a “dietary supplement” called Anatabloc®, made from a minor tobacco alkaloid called anatabine and marketed for its anti-inflammatory properties. Though media coverage of McDonnell and his wife has been widespread, there has been scant reporting on Anatabloc itself. Accordingly, we present Tyler Smith’s article focusing on the interesting legal and regulatory aspects of the issue, particularly since the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act — celebrating its 20th anniversary as we go to press — specifically excludes tobacco (and constituents thereof) as an ingredient in dietary supplements. And, since we suspect that most people in the herb and dietary supplement community are not familiar with anatabine, we have posted online a technical review of alkaloids in general, with a focus on anatabine chemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology by Jay Pierotti, a tobacco chemistry expert. (Jay’s article is available on the ABC website at http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue104/HG104-feat-AnatabineScience.html.)
One of the biggest areas of concern among health professionals and public health officials regarding herb safety is hepatotoxicity and whether or not a particular herb or herbal formulation is associated with an increased risk of liver dysfunction. Herbs including chaparral, comfrey, and, more recently, kava, have come under scrutiny as we have reported over the years. However, there are challenges and anomalies in reporting on herbs and potential hepatotoxicity, as ABC’s Chief Science Officer Stefan Gafner and I elucidate in an extensive article on this subject.
In discussing herb safety, the question often arises as to how much safety-related information should appear on the labels of commercial herbal products sold as dietary supplements. Expanding on an article he wrote in HerbalGram #56, attorney Paul Rubin and colleagues — experts in food and drug law — have contributed a guidance article for industry members about crafting safety-related information on herb product labels. This article is a must-read for people in the business of producing herb products.
About three years ago, due to concern over the possible excessive levels of some industrial solvents in herbal extracts, we embarked on a project to produce a reference book on solvents used in the manufacture of botanical extracts, which will be published soon by ABC. We present an article on methanol — a potentially toxic alcohol used as a solvent — by Deepak Mundkinajeddu and Amit Agarwal of Natural Remedies Pvt. Ltd. in India, a manufacturer of botanical extracts. In their article, they demonstrate that people consume more naturally occurring methanol in common foods than the amount allowed by international authorities for use as solvents for supplements and pharmaceuticals.
Additionally, we profile our good friend Heather Oliff, who has been writing HerbClips for ABC for more than 15 years — producing over 1,100 thus far! Heather is a valuable part of ABC’s prolific scientific publications team, and we truly appreciate her contributions to the botanical medicine community. (If you are not reading HerbClips every two weeks, or accessing them through ABC’s online database, then you’re missing out on a unique educational resource. HerbClip is available to all ABC members at the Academic Level and higher.)
Finally, a tip of the ABC hat to two herb organizations that are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year: The American Herbalists Guild is observing its 25th anniversary, and, in the UK, the National Institute of Medical Herbalists is celebrating 150 years since its founding in 1864. Both organizations are committed to helping foster increased education and professionalism among people who advise on the judicious and responsible use of herbal preparations in selfcare and healthcare.