Do ginseng product labels reflect accurate product purity and potency?




American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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Ginseng is one of the top herbal products sold in the United States with usage growing at a rapid pace.1 There are several types of ginsengs, with the two most commonly used being Asian or Panax ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquifolius). Another adaptogenic plant, Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), is also usually grouped with these two plants, but it is not botanically related.
There are literally hundreds of different ginseng products on the market and purchasing decisions may be difficult due to lack of information and education. It has been assumed that due to a lack of regulation, the products may differ in a variety of aspects. To determine if this is true, and if so to what degree, researchers set up a study to compare a variety of commercially prepared ginseng products presently available for purchase in the United States.
The methods of analysis used in this study included liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry and HPLC. These methods were used to measure the concentration of specific marker compounds in the ginseng herbal products selected to determine if variability exists between these products. Twenty-five commercial ginseng preparations (Panax or Eleutherococcus) were analyzed for 7 ginsenosides (Panax species) and 2 eleutherosides (Eleutherococcus species). Ginsenosides and eleutherosides are two chemicals identified as marker compounds. Herbal products are often standardized to meet specific requirements. Standardization represents the complete body of information and controls that serve to enhance the batch to batch consistency of a botanical product, including but not limited to the presence of a marker compound at a defined level or within a defined range.2 In most standardized products available commercially, the labels reflect a specific level of one of these compounds.
All products evaluated in this study contained the correct plant genus, but the labels did not accurately reflect the concentrations of marker compounds contained within the products. Ginsenosides concentrations varied 15-fold in capsules and 36-fold in liquids. Concentrations of eleutherosides varied by 43-fold in capsules and 200-fold in liquids. The authors concluded, "data suggest that US ginseng products are correctly labeled as to plant genus; however, variability in concentrations of marker compounds suggests that standardization may be necessary for quality assurance and that characterization of herbal products should be considered in the design and evaluation of studies on herbal products."3


1. U. S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. March 1999.
2. American Herbal Products Association. Use of Marker Compounds in Manufacturing and Labeling Botanically Derived Dietary Supplements. Silver Spring, MD: American Herbal Products Association; 2001.
3. Harkey MR, et al. Variability in commercial ginseng products: an analysis of 25 preparations. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. jun 2001;73(6):1101-1106.