ARCHIVED - NRC Measurement Standards to Provide Critical Tools for the Quality Control of Natural Health Products

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October 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

Phuong Mai Le, a natural products chemist, is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at NRC-INMS. She is isolating compounds from ginseng to be used as standards and is pictured here setting up the mass spectrometer to test the purity of her latest fractions.
Phuong Mai Le, a natural products chemist, is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at NRC-INMS. She is isolating compounds from ginseng to be used as standards and is pictured here setting up the mass spectrometer to test the purity of her latest fractions.

The production and consumption of natural health products (NHPs) is booming on a global scale. Vitamins and mineral supplements, herbs, herbal extracts and essential fatty acids are just some examples of these products. Routinely employed in traditional, Chinese, and North American Aboriginal medicine, and widely available to the public at large, it is estimated that 50% of the population in Canada and the United States use NHPs - a market worth billions of dollars annually.

 
 
Metrology
 
 

Metrology is the science of measurement. In everday terms, this means when you ask for 300 grams of salami at the deli, the scale used will be calibrated according to a known standard to ensure that customers get exactly what they pay for. Under the National Research Council Act and the Weights and Measures Act NRC has a mandate for measurement standards.

 
 

In Canada, NHPs were not subject to regulation until January 2004 when Health Canada's newly established Natural Health Product Regulations came into force. Canada's new regulations cover many aspects of the production and marketing of NHPs, including Good Manufacturing Practices to ensure product safety and quality. As Canada's national metrology institute (see sidebar for definition of metrology), the NRC Institute for National Measurement Standards (NRC-INMS) will help to provide quality controls and product test standards for natural health products in Canada. In the past year it has initiated a program to identify and produce internationally recognized standards for NHPs.

The NHP Certified Reference Materials (CRMs) produced by the program will serve as test standards for those laboratories needing to measure the levels of components of interest and screen samples for the presence of toxic metals and pesticides. Manufacturers will be able to use these materials to develop their analytical methods, calibrate their equipment, compare data, and trace results to internationally recognised NHP standards. Ultimately, the reference materials will assist manufacturers and regulatory agencies assure the provision of high quality, safe and effective NHPs to Canadians and facilitate trade and commerce in these products both within Canada and internationally.

American ginseng <br />  (Panax quinquefolius L.) <br />  Thomas G. Barnes @ USDA-NRCS<br />  PLANTS Database / Barnes,<br/> T.G. & S.W. Francis. 2004.<br />   Wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky. <br />  University Press of Kentucky.
American ginseng
(Panax quinquefolius L.)
Thomas G. Barnes @ USDA-NRCS
PLANTS Database / Barnes,
T.G. & S.W. Francis. 2004.
Wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky.
University Press of Kentucky.

The first reference materials under development by NRC-INMS are for American ginseng. Canada is the world's largest producer of American ginseng with centres of production in British Columbia and Ontario. The crop is estimated to be worth over one hundred million dollars a year to the Canadian economy.

NRC-INMS is collaborating with Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian industry, academia, and the international research community to establish NHP reference materials and has commissioned state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation to enable capability in this sector. NRC-INMS is also collaborating internationally, serving on a special dietary supplement task group led by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists International and has support from the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. Importantly, to increase the number of and availability of CRMs to the NHP community, NRC's efforts will complement rather than duplicate CRMs under development by other national metrology institutes such as the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.


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