Founder’s Desk

Adulteration with Synthetic Curcumin Risks Industry’s Future;
Industry and Regulatory Agencies Must Act

We’ve passed the point of giving a “heads up” as a courtesy to the industry and must issue a call to action. It’s been a quite some time since we first began raising our voice against adulteration of natural Curcumin, which we believe represents one of the biggest challenges that the natural products industry has ever faced. Invasion of synthetic Curcumin in the dietary supplement industry has become far more rampant than we thought earlier, risking consumer health and undermining the credibility and sustainability of the industry.

Natural Curcumin is a group of 3 bioactive components present in turmeric, viz. Curcumin, demethoxyCurcumin (DMC) and bisdemethoxyCurcumin (BDMC), collectively termed as ‘Curcuminoids’, which research indicates have synergistic action in promoting an array of health benefits. However, synthetic Curcumin is nothing but the copy of all three or any one or two of these bioactives, and usually made from petroleum-based chemicals. And we need not say that unlike natural Curcuminoids, this sham material certainly lacks any proof of long-term safety, let alone beneficial health effects.

It appears that the ever-increasing popularity of Curcumin has become a threat to its very sustainability. Booming sales suggest that, today, Curcumin has become the top-ranking herbal supplement in the U.S. market. Its future sales are predicted to continue to grow. However, as the industry has witnesed in the past when an herbal product becomes popular, continuous supply of authentic high-quality raw material becomes challenging—previously contracted harvests can suddenly disappear. This creates an unbalanced supply and demand state. Resultantly, certain industry outliers have grabbed this opportunity to infiltrate the market with synthetic versions disguised as naturally derived, or spiking natural Curcumin with synthetic Curcumin.

A number of fair players in the ingredient marketplace are feeling the impact of quacks resorting to unethical introduction of synthetic Curcumin masquerading as natural Curcumin because it is much cheaper to produce and doesn’t rely on harvested turmeric. This unethical and illegal practice does more than eat up the market share of the fair business players like Sabinsa who have invested in producing quality natural material. It poses a serious threat to industry growth in undermining innovation, intellectual property rights infringements, and undercutting years of dedicated research and efforts in bringing out a novel product for the benefit of customers. Synthetic adulteration will also inevitably come to the attention of consumers, sabotaging confidance and sales.

While the industry is being flooded with spurious and inferior Curcumin imitations, agencies and organizations like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC), American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), Natural Products Association (NPA) have not taken the aggressive action on this blazing issue that it demands given the level of harm it is doing. At the same time, industry trade groups are vigilant in responding to negative media coverage criticizing bad science or lack of science, or positioning dietary supplements either as dangerous, unregulated or exerting no benefits. The synthetic adulteration issue is doing a vast amount of harm to the industry, so we call on them to become far more proactive in the synthetic adulteration battle.

Hence, it is the duty and responsibility of all the like-minded, ethical firms, trade organizations and concerned regulatory agencies to work together in safeguarding the honor and viability of the industry by expunging those deceitful companies and practices that undermine quality and grind down standards in the entire industry. Moreover, it is equally important to respect and support the diligent and constant dedication of companies that honestly work towards providing high-quality, scientifically-validated natural products that help improve human health and wellbeing.

That is where the innovation that drives the industry forward happens, and it’s short sighted not to protect it.

What can you, the reader, do? If you are a formulator, specify ingredients that are guaranteed to be of natural origin. Brands can do the same, and reassure their customers that their product testing programs include confirming 100% natural Curcumin. Retailers can ask the manufacturers whose products they carry how they ensure Curcumin ingredients are truly from turmeric root. Consumers can make sure they are taking products with real Curcumin by asking brands how they confirm it. Had this approach been taken in the past when booming popularity of an herb led to rampant adulteration, the industry could have prevented significant erosion of the market for those herbs. Working together we can avoid that fate for Curcumin.

Adulteration with hidden synthetics is not only the opposite of transparency but also misleading to consumers and potentially causes them harm. Sabinsa is ever dedicated to, and in the forefront of, efforts to clamp down on deceptive practices by crooks trying to increase their profit margins by passing off cheaper and potentially harmful synthetic version of Curcumin as natural. By Sabinsa’s staunch advocacy of the Curcumin market’s longevity, we contribute something even more enduring than what our strong science endeavors and patent on Curcuminoids did for the past 20 years.