International Perspectives on Substantiating the Efficacy of Herbal Dietary Supplements and Herbal Medicines Through Evidence on Traditional Use

Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2019 Jul;18(4):910-922. doi: 10.1111/1541-4337.12446. Epub 2019 May 5.


The efficacy of botanicals in medicines can be substantiated with evidence on traditional use, whereas in foodstuffs, this is often not possible. In Europe, for example, the evaluation and subsequent authorization of health claims on herbal dietary supplements (HDS) have been put on hold by the European Commission. This study aims to analyze the role of evidence on traditional use in international legal frameworks of foods and pharmaceuticals. Both legal sources as well as scientific studies offering insights into these regulatory frameworks were included into the analysis. The international approach toward evidence on traditional use for substantiating efficacy of botanicals varies highly. For herbal medicines, substantiating efficacy with evidence on traditional use is possible in all studied jurisdictions, except for Japan and the United States. HDS efficacy can only be substantiated with evidence on traditional use in India and New Zealand, although the enforcing authorities do not describe which data are required. Australia and Canada regulate botanicals in a separate "borderline" category from foods and pharmaceuticals. Both jurisdictions allow for substantiating efficacy with evidence on traditional use. This study's second objective was to assess the applicability of the international approaches in the European legal framework, in light of the ongoing political debate regarding the use of traditional evidence. Implementation of the analyzed international approaches would require major revisions of the current European legal framework. This review of international approaches might, however, aid in deciding upon future approaches for substantiating health claims with evidence on traditional use.

Keywords: EFSA; botanicals; food; nutrition and health claims regulation; pharmaceuticals; risk assessment; traditional use.

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