Panel discussion on...

Natural ingredients

Botanical food supplements.
Watchword: phytochemical analyses


Marco Biagi

General Secretary

S.I.Fit. (Italian Society of Phytotherapy), Italy

General Secretary - S.I.Fit.

(Italian Society of Phytotherapy), Italy

The quality of herbal products used as food supplements and as medicines as well is a very fascinating subject, dramatically demanding at the same time. Indeed, the variegate number of quality controls required for herbal products are like no one else in the context of products for human health: agronomic procedures, collection, first transformations, extraction processes, all of these stages need to be adequately controlled in order to ensure the safety, first of all, but also the effectiveness of a product. Our most trusted ally is the phytochemistry; in fact, thanks to modern analytical platforms, precise multiparametric quantifications and metabolomic profiles as well could be obtained. 

Currently, the phytochemistry is so advanced and accessible, therefore studied at very high levels, that a chemical qualification needs to be provided for all marketed botanicals, without exceptions: no chemical characterization = no quality, that’s it. Not only: the current goal of phytotherapy is to consider the whole phytocomplex in a better way both for the selection of the herbal material and to assess the quality of a preparation. In practical terms, a wider concept of chemical marker should be taken into account today, as yet considered for several pharma-grade herbal preparations: Hypericum perforatum L. (St. John’s Wort) aerial parts has a peculiar phytocomplex which includes hyperforins, hypericins and flavonoids and only the quantification of all these secondary metabolites can provide the overall quality of the manufacturing process.

Another example worthy to be cited is ginseng root (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer): if total ginsenosides represented the chemical marker of the species and its preparations once, today the chemical quality of ginseng is assessed by specifically monitoring the content of ginsenoside Rb1, ginsenoside Rg1, which represent the two most important ginsenosides subclasses, panaxadiols and panaxatriols respectively. 

Obviously, modern pharmacological research and phytochemistry help each other to reach a higher level in the knowledge of botanicals phytocomplexes.

The phytochemistry needs to be fully integrated in the sector of food supplements, also to prevent adulterations; in recent years we have witnessed basic adulteration (saffron, red yeast rice, grapefruit seed…) made possible by the scant attention of some distributors to chemical analysis. It must be said that chromatography, gas or liquid, when used at full capacity is a versatile, affordable and reliable tool to analyse herbal products. But sometimes the problem of adulteration of herbal products reaches levels hard to imagine: chicken wastes to adulterate saw palmetto, rutin enriched flowers to adulterate ginkgo, peanuts peels for cranberry… A hard work to do to avoid that bad stuff entered in the market. The modern omic-based techniques and also NMR and isotopic analyses are extraordinarily valuable and capable of outlining large datasets and identify discrepancies. These chemico-physical analyses have a major plus: they are useful to analyse both raw herbal materials and finished products. 

Finally, chemical analyses can detangle normative issues. In the case of the already described H. perforatum, according to the Italian Normative, the ratio between hyperforins and hypericins differentiates preparations usable as food supplements or in medicine. Another practical example: in 2022 the European Commission and consequently many national health authorities have taken into account the status of novel food or non-novel for many herbal extracts, which directly can affect the marketability of a product as food supplement.The market history of turmeric extract enriched in curcuminoids (curcumin and its demetoxy derivatives) dates back to before 1997 (entry onto force of the first novel food regulation), but food supplements enriched in the sole purified curcumin have been only recently marketed and they may be properly considered as novel foods. Thus, chemical analysis able to distinguish extracts with the whole curcuminoids complex and those with only curcumin can clearly define if a turmeric preparation could be considered a food supplement or not.


Vincenzo Zaccaria

R&D Manager - Bionap

Giovanna Nicotra

Scientific and Marketing Director - EPO

Andrea Zangara 

Head of Scientific Communications & Marketing - Euromed

Benoit Daems

CEO - Fermedix

Lucia Ferron 

R&D Coordinator - FLANAT Research Italia

Eleanor Johnson

Data Analyst - FMCG Gurus

Julien Cases 

CSO - Flytexia

Cindy Romain 

Scientific Manager - Flytexia

Antonella Riva

Product Innovation and Development Manager - INDENA

Giovanna Petrangolini 

Senior Research Manager - INDENA

Domenico Avenoso 

Junior Product Scientist - INDENA

Chris Kilham

Medicine Hunter - KSM-66 Ashwagandha

Alessandro Giuseppe Tricomi 

Food Supplement Manufacturing - Natural Ingredients Solution

Raffaella Pignatiello 

Quality Control - Natural Ingredients Solution

Federica Zanzottera 

Market Manager, Nutraceutical – ROELMI HPC

Marco Biagi 

General Secretary – S.I.Fit. (Italian Society of Phytotherapy)

Cristina Airoldi 

Associate Professor in Organic Chemistry - University of Milano-Bicocca

Alessandro Palmioli 

Associate Professor in Organic Chemistry - University of Milano-Bicocca