American Botanical Council: New York Attorney General's Investigation on Devil's Claw Ignores Expert Evaluations and Provides No Benefit to the Public

Herbal science organization says that NY AG focus is too narrow and is "splitting hairs"

Sep 09, 2015, 22:01 ET from American Botanical Council

AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 9, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The nonprofit American Botanical Council (ABC) says that the New York Attorney General's (NY AG's) investigation on the herb devil's claw has reached an incorrect conclusion based on its too-narrow interpretation of botanical classifications.

Today the NY AG sent cease-and-desist letters to 13 companies that sell devil's claw herbal dietary supplements informing them that their products containing devil's claw material were tested at the New York Botanical Garden using DNA technology. The results showed that the devil's claw was a different botanical species than what was labeled, and what the NY AG termed a "less desirable" species of the herb.

In botanical classification and nomenclature, devil's claw is usually known scientifically by its Latin name, Harpagophytum procumbens, where Harpagophytum is the genus of the plant and procumbens refers to the species of the plant. The DNA-barcoding tests commissioned by the NY AG showed that some herbal supplements actually contain Harpagophytum zeyheri, a slightly different form of devil's claw, i.e., a different, but very closely related species. In effect, they are like two siblings.

"Both species of devil's claw have a similar chemical profile," said Thomas Brendler, a medicinal plant expert and editor of the African Herbal Pharmacopeia, a compilation of technical information of various African medicinal plants, including their botany, growing conditions, range of habitat, chemistry, and traditional and modern medicinal activities and uses.

"While both species differ marginally in shape and chemical composition, both are considered equally effective," he added.

According to various government-recognized medicine evaluation bodies and pharmacopeias, the two species of devil's claw are considered interchangeable for the purpose of their use for their medicinal actions. These organizations include the European Medicines Agency, the European Pharmacopoeia, and the unofficial ESCOP (European Scientific Cooperative for Phytotherapy), a pan-European consortium of medicinal plant experts. Also listing both species as interchangeable is the proposed monograph "Harpagophytum species root" in the United States Pharmacopeia's Herbal Medicines Compendium.

Brendler added that many, possibly most, devil's claw extracts in the world market are based on mixtures of the two species, as are devil's claw herbal teas and dried powdered root materials used in supplements and other products. Both species of devil's claw have been in the market in the United States since the 1980s, he noted.

"We sincerely appreciate Attorney General Schneiderman's interest in the quality of herbal materials sold in dietary supplements and his apparent desire to help consumers maintain access to high-quality, safe, and effective herbal products," said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC.

"We here at ABC have a similar mission, as evidenced by our long-time efforts in the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program in which we have been working on educating industry and all relevant stakeholders about quality issues in the global herbal market," he continued. "However, splitting the devil's claw genus in the very narrow way that they have done in this investigation is akin to splitting hairs — it has no real meaning or value to anyone, particularly the herb consumer."

"This may be a hair-splitting botanical distinction," noted Blumenthal, "but it certainly is not a legal or regulatory one, especially since authoritative sources recognize both species as being 'devil's claw.'"

Blumenthal added that, according to data ABC used for its annual herb market report, devil's claw is a relatively low-selling herb in the United States. In 2014, devil's claw ranked 162nd in sales in the US mainstream retail market and 150th in the natural and health foods channel. Total estimated sales of devil's claw dietary supplements in the United States range from approximately $250,000 to up to $500,000.

About Devil's Claw

Devil's claw, the vernacular name for the two species Harpagophytum procumbens and H. zeyheri, occurs in the desert regions of southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa). Its bitter root has historically been used to treat a wide range of ailments and, prominently, as an anti-inflammatory and digestive. Major clinical uses in modern phytotherapy (herbal medicine) focus on its anti-inflammatory effects in the treatment of joint diseases and back pain. The suggested mechanism of action is through COX-2 inhibition. Some 20 human clinical trials conducted over the last 30 years have confirmed its safety and efficacy in the treatment and alleviation of degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, and lower back pain.

About the American Botanical Council

Founded in 1988, the American Botanical Council is a leading international nonprofit organization addressing research and educational issues regarding herbs, teas, medicinal plants, essential oils, and other beneficial plant-derived materials. ABC's members include academic researchers and educators; libraries; health professionals and medical institutions; government agencies; members of the herb, dietary supplement, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries; journalists; consumers; and others in more than 81 countries. The organization occupies a historic 2.5-acre site in Austin, Texas, where it publishes the peer-reviewed quarterly journal HerbalGram, the monthly e-publication HerbalEGram, the weekly e-newsletter Herbal News & Events, HerbClips (summaries of scientific and clinical publications), the quarterly Botanical Adulterants Monitor, reference books, and other educational materials. ABC is also the managing partner of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program, an international consortium dedicated to education regarding quality control of herbs, botanical extracts, and essential oils. ABC also hosts HerbMedPro, a powerful herbal database, covering scientific and clinical publications on more than 250 herbs. ABC also co-produces the "Herbal Insights" segment for Healing Quest, a television series on PBS.

ABC is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. Information: Contact ABC at P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX, 78714-4345, Phone: 512-926-4900. Website: www.herbalgram.org/. Contact: Public Relations.

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SOURCE American Botanical Council



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