How do you know you’re taking quality herbal supplements?

Over breakfast and the newspaper last week my husband said, “Did you hear about the herbal supplements in New York? Testing found that supplements at Target, Walgreen’s, and GNC didn’t contain any active herbs. Some just had garlic powder in them!”

This is one of my pet peeves—crappy herbal supplements. Vitamins and herbs aren’t regulated in the US so there are a lot of poor quality products on the shelves, which is why it’s really important for consumers to be educated about where their herbs are coming from.

So how did I select Healing InSight’s herbs? And how do you know the herbs you get from us are the best on the market?

First of all, I’m neurotic about quality. As an engineer out of college, I was responsible for designing manufacturing processes for implantable pacemakers, some of the most highly regulated medical products on the market. As you can imagine, you don’t want a life-saving device to short out in grandpa when he’s depending on it to keep his heart beating. My job included setting up all the quality control testing in the manufacturing process, from start to finish. If something went awry, my processes had to catch it long before that pacemaker ever ended up on a hospital shelf.

While low quality herbs won’t necessarily kill you, a decade ago there were concerns that herbal formulas from China were contaminated with heavy metals or laced with pharmaceuticals. Substitutions were also a concern (think about the melamine issue in pet food a few years back). The quality control in China just wasn’t up to our standards and I wanted to be certain that the herbs I was prescribing were safe. And obviously with the latest news headlines, sometimes even American “herbs” don’t actually contain active herbs at all.

Luckily, when it came time to select herbal suppliers for Healing InSight, I knew exactly what to look for. I drew on my engineering experience to find the best herbs available from a company who was a stickler about quality.

Every company claims that they have quality products. Why wouldn’t they? They throw out terms like GMP, certified, inspected, assured, etc. They might even put a fancy seal of approval on their website. But truly great quality requires a closer look at the company’s manufacturing process. I evaluated herbal companies by looking at a few key steps:

  1. Does the company test/inspect all raw herbs when they arrive to verify they have the correct species and good quality raw herbs?
  2. Is their manufacturing done according to Good Manufacturing Practices, and in the case of Chinese herbal formulas, using traditional methods of decocting?
  3. Is testing conducted—and recorded—throughout the manufacturing process to verify steps are done correctly?
  4. Does the company take samples of every product lot and send them for testing AT AN INDEPENDENT LAB with high tech equipment to look for:
    • Heavy metals, including mercury and lead
    • Bacteria, mold, and yeast
    • Aristolochic acid (a dangerous component found in some herbs)
    • Pesticides
  5. Is the final product inspected before it’s packaged?
  6. Can you as a consumer get access to testing results for any bottle of herbs you buy?

Only one herbal supplier in the US met all these requirement—Kan Herbs. No other American or Chinese herbal suppliers did.

But just identifying the best quality company wasn’t enough. The herbs have to be potent and effective too. Unfortunately most Americans are taught to take vitamin supplements for months on end without feeling a noticeable difference, so they don’t know how to evaluate whether herbal supplements are effective.

Luckily there’s a simple test to determine whether herbs are potent. Picture this: if you’re taking herbs to boost your energy (like ginseng or the Chinese formula Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang), your energy should increase after a few days of taking those herbs. And if you take too much, you should have overdose effects, like feeling overstimulated or having difficulty sleeping. It’s a very easy way to test if herbs are therapeutic and not just snake oil.

I sampled several herbal formulas from Kan’s line and dang, the potency of the herbs were amazing! When I took a standard dose of Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang by Kan Herbs (a Qi tonifier/energy booster), my energy was noticeably better. A double dose made me feel amped up and restless, just the overdose effect that I expected. Simple, but like I said, an effective way to test herbs.

I found that when I took a standard dose of the cheap Chinese teapills that you buy at the co-op, I didn’t feel a boost of energy. In fact, I took a double dose of herbs and only felt a minimal effect. This was true of several Chinese and American brands I tried. Definitely not as potent as Kan Herbs.

So that sealed the deal for me—Kan Herbs had the highest quality, most potent herbs I could find. I’ve used them for eight years now and I’m continually impressed with how effective they are. So you can rest assured that when you take herbal supplements from Healing InSight you’re getting the best ones out there.

If you want to confirm that the herbs you take from us passed rigorous quality testing, just find the lot number on your bottle of herbs, go to the Kan Herb website (www.kanherb.com), and look up the Certificate of Analysis. See a sample herb Certificate of Analysis here. Want to get super geeky? Read through their site to learn the ins and outs of their testing processes (bonus points if you can locate “liquid chromatography“ and “Baird-Parker Agar selective testing medium”).