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The State of Research on Natural Ingredients

The Cabinet — 11.07.19
by Dr. Soyona Rafatjah, Nina Mullen, Hilary Quartner, and Lily Galef

Throughout the two-year process of developing our products and business, we noticed a shared desire among consumers and healthcare professionals for effective natural remedies, grounded in scientific research. Similar to many of you, we have become increasingly focused on the ingredients we use in products across all categories, and have proactively sought more transparency and substantiation of efficacy. In order to provide more information to our consumers, we have decided to share what we have learned about the state of research in the natural products industry.  

It will come as no surprise that natural products, including vitamins, minerals, and herbs, have been used to support health and healing since humans have been on this planet (Shah et al., 2019; Chugh et al., 2018).  Yet, the healing properties of natural ingredients were only first researched using modern scientific approaches (e.g., clinical research) in the last several decades (Dwyer et al. 2018). Since that time, we have amassed a strong body of knowledge of how and why natural ingredients work. In addition to the more formal scientific research, experiential knowledge--knowledge developed through use or practice rather than through professional training--significantly contributes to the understanding of healing techniques. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that at least three-quarters of the global population uses medicinal herbs (Bjorklund et al., 2018), and experiential knowledge can drive significant medical innovation--it has been estimated that about 50% of the drugs made available within the past several decades are derived or influenced by traditional use and knowledge on compounds found in natural sources (Chugh et al, 2018).

Despite this body of experiential knowledge, most scientists agree that more clinical research is needed on natural products (Dwyer et al. 2018), and the general consumer perspective is that they are not well-studied or understood.  The average consumer today, including us, expects a higher level of substantiation, conducted according to clinical scientific approaches. When you dig in, it appears there are two main reasons for the skepticism of this space:

  1. The clinical research that is done today is not broadly accessible
  2. A large portion of research still cites traditional use, using experiential knowledge approaches for substantiation


Research Is Not Accessible

After experiencing the research process ourselves while developing our formulations, we came to understand that the primary reason for skepticism around natural products is because there is poor visibility of and accessibility to the clinical research that already exists.  This stems from the lack of economic protection that natural product manufacturers can claim for their products, as natural products most often cannot be patented. As a result, investing in clinical research on a natural product does not come with a guaranteed payback on the studied material or formulation.  Instead, natural products companies must be willing to invest in science on principle, without a clear economic incentive. This is unlike the dynamics and structure of the pharmaceutical industry, which benefits from patent protection and therefore companies openly register studies and publicly publish results (Chugh et al., 2018).  

Even the companies that do invest in running trials on natural products may choose not to register trials in order to keep information and results as exclusive as possible. This lack of transparency slows the overall progress of scientific research in the industry and creates the external perception that there is a lack of study and understanding


The Research We Have Doesn’t Focus on Traditional Use 

The second reason that consumers believe that natural products are not well researched is due to the type of evidence that traditionally has been used to understand natural products’ efficacy.  Historically, holistic healthcare practitioners have depended on experiential knowledge, and only in the past few decades has the field transitioned to assessing natural products using clinical research methodologies (Kapoor, 2016).  However, there is utility in learning from the vast body of experiential knowledge that already exists. As one may expect, the institutions that train primary healthcare professionals do not include an in-depth education on traditional natural approaches in their general medical training (Patel et al., 2017). Our medical education system here in the US focuses primarily on clinical trials, rather than the historical knowledge on the use of natural products in humans, which mainly comes from traditional use (Dwyer et al., 2018; Chugh et al., 2018). At Hilma, we’re working to change this. We’ve invested in scientific research as a core value of our company, and hope to use the results of our clinical trials to contribute to the conversation around the research of natural products. Check out this article to read more on our commitment to science.

References
Shah SMA, Akram M, Riaz M, Munir N, Rasool G.  Cardioprotective Potential of  Plant-Derived Molecules: A Scientifi and medicinal Approach.  Dose-Response. 2019; April-June:1-14.
Chugh NA, Bali S, Koul A.  Integration of botanicals in contemporary medicine: road blocks, checkpoints and go-ahead signals.  Integr Med Res. 2018;7:109-125.
Dwyer JT, Coates PM, Smith MJ.  Dietary supplements: Regulatory challenges and research resources.  Nutrients. 2018; 10:41; doi: 10.3390/nu10010041.
Bjørklund G, Dadar M, Martins N, Chirumbolo S, Goh BH, Smetanina K, Lysluk R.  Brief Challenges on Medicinal Plants: An Eye-Opening Look at Ageing-Related Disorders.  Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2018;122:539-58.
Kapoor MC.  Types of Studies and Research Design.  Indian J Anaesth. 2016;60(9): 626-630.

Read our published white paper outlining our scientific commitment. 

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