There are three things you can do to make a “better” herbal product.
- Develop a product that is more beneficial than others that are currently available
- Improve ingredient quality
- Undertake scientific research to substantiate product benefits
Succeeding at #1 is the holy grail in health product development as demonstrated by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by companies in their effort to make a product that is either safer, more effective, faster acting, longer lasting, or all of the above.
If you don’t succeed with #1, improved benefits, then undertaking scientific research may not be justified because of all the time and investment required to demonstrate the mediocrity of your product. Yet, as irony would have it, you must spend the money to find out.
Products that provide a single commonly available herbal ingredient, like Astragalus, mainly compete on the basis of #2, ingredient quality. The quality of these single ingredient products generally differentiate themselves on the basis of two factors: 1) processing methods; and 2) the quality of the actual plant from which the finished product is produced. Product consistency should be one of the outcomes of proper consideration of these two factors. Scientific research is rarely undertaken by the companies that produce these products because single ingredient herbal products are generally considered to be a commodity. So if you undertake successful research on a commodity then all your competitors will claim your research applies equally to their product. That’s why most studies of this kind are undertaken by academia.
So, back to the Holy Grail… how then can you truly succeed at #1, improved benefits? The answer starts with superior formulation. When formulating, it is possible to intentionally target a specific health benefit. You can’t really do that with a single herb because for the most part, it does what it does, with minor exceptions.
Formulation has a number of benefits. One is based on the fact that many health concerns are multifaceted and polymorphic, meaning they can progress through stages characterized by changes in the nature and location of symptoms. Formulations of multiple ingredients can be designed to address more than one characteristic and stage thereby creating a more comprehensive benefit.
An important key to effective formulation is the relevance of the formulator’s physiologic targeting. As complex as the practice of health care can be, it can be summarized in two steps, health analysis and treatment…in that order. For the analysis to do its job, it needs to lead you to the best possible solution. Many analyses describe “what” the health problem is but fail to address “why” it exists. Dysfunctional physiologic activity such as constipation, headaches and PMS are examples of “what.” The “why” part of the equation, when accurately assessed and incorporated into the physiologic targeting considerations of herbal formulation, can make the difference between a formula with significant benefits and one with minimal benefits.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the quality of a finished herbal product. But, it all starts with the consistent quality of the plants. The effects of climate, soils, urbanization, industrialization, and farming practices all impact plant quality.
In 1995, Professor Ruotao Wang MD PhD and Plantiva co-founder Dr. Stephen Morrissey took the first step toward setting up a joint venture. The goal was two-fold: 1) to undertake research on the differences between medicinal herb plant quality growing in different regions; and 2) to research the effects of different extraction processing methods. Together they set up laboratories and research offices and began the intensive work of sourcing over 40 different plant materials from 5 to 10 different growing areas for each plant. They comparatively assessed the richness of the plants using marker compounds, measured heavy metal content, and tested the plants for agricultural chemical residues.
To make a long story short, they found substantial differences between plants growing in one region versus another. They have continued this program for 17 years now looking at new ingredients and assessing new “green” growing bases that have been established in recent years. Farming practices and the environment clearly affect plant quality.
Once you’ve identified a preferred wild-craft or farm source for the plant materials, then how the materials are prepared, processed, dried, packed, and stored can also impact the resulting health benefits imparted by the final product.
It was the intention of Plantiva’s founders to undertake scientific research on its unique formulations. When undertaking research on botanical ingredients it is particularly important to first establish strict standards for all aspects of sourcing and production in order to ensure that the materials evaluated in the studies are the same as the products provided to consumers in the future.
The scientific evidence provided by most companies for their products is what is referred to as “borrowed science.” That simply means that research was performed and sometimes published by someone somewhere in the world on a particular plant ingredient and the research outcomes are being “borrowed” by the company offering a product with that ingredient. Some companies even put “scientifically tested” on these products.
The volume of “borrowed” scientific data available to support claims on herbal ingredients is quite limited, which is why so many company’s products offer the same ingredients as their competitors. Plantiva’s R&D team knew that the only way to make a “better” product was to venture outside of the limitations imposed by using ingredients with borrowed science. We can tell you with certainty that this is not an easy business model! Yet, now, years later, we have completed numerous successful randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, studies – both outcome studies and crossover study designs, with statistically significant results.
Have we succeeded in offering a “better” product? Our studies and many customers suggest that we have, but we’ll let you be the judge.