The word standardization has become a major selling point in the world of herbal marketing. When applied to herbal supplements it is a word I fear few consumers really understand. To the well trained herbalist "standardized" herbs are not a mark of a better product, but instead an indication of marketing hype and flawed production procedures.
Standardization in regards to herbs means that the manufacturer, tested samples of each batch of herbs they process and may have adjusted the batches, based on the relative amounts of a few chemical constituents of the herbs. This is supposed to ensure a product that contains a minimum of a particular ingredient. This type of quality control is a part of the drug industry, where one particular chemical needs to be present in a pill in a specific amount.
Herbs were always used differently than drugs. Herbal formulations were designed similar to cooking recipes. A really good cook (or herbalist) will adjust the ingredients to make the best meal. There is the assumption that each time a formula is made it will be just a little different because the herbs are natural and therefore vary from time to time. A particular season will affect how the herbs grow. The water content will vary affecting the weight. Some geographic regions grow more powerful herbs than others. All these things will affect the nature of a traditionally prepared herbal formulation, Just as those same things affect the making of a really good meal. Standardization is like fast food, it is consistent, but it is not better food because of that.
Because our mindset with medicine is to look to simple one and two chemical solutions to problems, many people have applied the same concepts to herbs. Doctors and other health professionals feel more comfortable with single herbs in a standardized form. This is because like pharmaceutical drugs that the standardized herbs are modeled after, the perception is that the variables are simplified. Traditional herbal medicine however views this to be inappropriate, as that herbs traditionally were mixed to enhance function or to control side effects. Taking herbs as singles or not mixed appropriately only creates bad medicine.
Consumers are starting to look to quality food in the choice of local produce and choosing fresh squeezed orange juice over the reconstituted types. In the same way that consumers are looking to better food, they should also be looking for better all natural, well prepared and properly prescribed herbal medicine. Standardization works as an appropriate marketing tool in the drug industry, it should be viewed with suspicion when it comes to natural medicines.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066