Why Research and Clinical Studies Are Key to Systematic Changes in the Herbal Supplement Industry

Updated on August 20, 2021

By: Krishna Rajendran, CEO, Karallief®, Inc.

According to the 2019 CRN Consumer Survey on dietary supplements more Americans than ever  (77 percent) reported using some type of dietary supplements. While the most popular category was vitamins and minerals, nearly 40 percent of those surveyed used herbal and botanical supplements. While herbal supplements are still on the periphery of American healthcare, the World Health Organization found that 80 percent of the global population uses herbal supplements as a component of their primary healthcare. 

While supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way pharmaceuticals are, they still need to meet quality standards. For the herbal supplement industry to continue to grow and gain credibility in the healthcare community and with consumers, more research and clinical studies are needed to prove the safety and efficacy of products. A 2016 report from Mintel showed that more than a third of consumers want more clinical studies of supplements, yet very few ingredient suppliers actually conduct clinical trials of the products they sell. 

For herbal supplement manufacturers, a reason they often cite for not doing clinical trials is that their extracts have been used successfully for centuries. While that may be true, it really doesn’t answer the question of the safety and efficacy of a specific brand’s product. In order to establish credibility for herbal use in modern healthcare, traditional usage must be complemented by rigorous clinical studies. Right now, too many companies shy away from conducting clinical trials because it would cost more money and take more time to bring a product to market. However, I believe that science, not sales, needs to drive market strategy decisions. 

While many manufacturers ignore clinical trials entirely, others try and leverage research conducted by other companies selling similar herbals. One issue with this is that companies are less likely to invest in high quality R&D and safety testing, if another company can just easily copy and undercut them on price. This discourages innovation and high-quality testing which, in the long-run, is detrimental to formulators’ desire to give consumers high quality products. High quality formulators want to work with companies who have originally developed a product with original research. This is because only the scientists who are involved in developing the product (especially in the case of a synergistic combination herbal extracts) will understand the intricate details of how the product was created and finalized. A company trying to copy the original developer is only able to guess how the product was developed. They may be 70-80% correct, but they most likely will not have all the details. Thus, they end up developing a less accurate, inferior, and potentially less-safe product that hasn’t been tested properly. 

The herbal supplement industry is also full of single ingredient products, where this piggybacking on one company’s study is commonplace. While single ingredient supplements aren’t necessarily bad, they aren’t as effective because they don’t leverage the synergies that exist between herbal ingredients. A manufacturer like Karallief that has a robust team of Naturopathic doctors and herbal scientists that are able to develop highly innovative synergistic multi-ingredient extracts. 

For example, we recently commissioned a clinical study for Easy Climb, our joint health product. It was a four-month, randomized double blind, placebo-controlled study with different standard industry knee tests used to determine the efficacy of the specific formulation. It is this kind of scientific study that should be the gold standard in the herbal industry to push it forward and gain legitimacy and consumer confidence. 

The global pandemic has put an even greater focus on wellness and consumers taking an active role in their health. These educated customers will gravitate towards products with research that backs up their efficacy. As they start to choose these better products, it will force the companies who are left out to either perish or step up their game and invest in more scientific research and testing.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.