Fingerprints used to ID fake herbal medicines

Medicine labelAcademics have developed a chromatographic fingerprinting method for spotting adulterants in herbal medicines and supplements.

Researchers proposed the process in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry as a riposte to counterfeit herbal medicines and supplements. Analysis shows some of these pills contain adulterants - such as pharmaceutical ingredients - but improved detection is needed.

The team used two methods of detection - diode-array and evaporative light scattering - in conjunction with mass spectrometry to generate chromatographic fingerprints. Analysis of the output shows whether a product contains adulterants, such as sildenafil in ‘natural’ aphrodisiacs.

Unlike methods that focus on identifying and quantifying the active ingredient, the fingerprint will also show secondary components. So, if a herbal medicine contains the correct amount of the right active ingredient, but also has a toxic residual solvent, the fingerprint will flag up the danger.

Chromatographic fingerprints are already used for quality control of plants. Now, the European researchers want to see the applications extended to protect consumers from dodgy herbal medicines.

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