Are you bananas about natural health?

All the same?

Published on August, 28th 2019
Nigel Pollard, Chair of Natural Health Science Foundation

What kind of bananas do you like? Some people prefer black ones, others green and some people refuse to eat a bruised one. If you like bananas you are careful with what you buy. I am looking forward to buyers of natural health products being just as discerning!

Last week I learned, from Stephen Fry actually, that most bananas sold in Europe, North America, China and other developed countries are only one variety or cultivar called Cavendish1. Natural health products, like herbal medicines, are much more variable genetically than Cavendish bananas. More than this, herbal medicine plants can be harvested at different times, are manufactured differently and the resulting products can be on the shelf for days, weeks or months. When we buy bananas, we know how to look for what we want, but with natural health products we can’t see, smell or feel any obvious differences.

If you are bananas about natural health, then you should know how to select the best product for your health.
After working for over 30 years in the medicine industry I am excited about a new future for natural health products. Now people have more and more transparency about where the products come from and the science that supports the use of the product. The big thing is that the scientific evidence for natural health products is product specific. This is because natural health products vary so much, so just containing the plant doesn’t mean it is the same as every other product containing the same plant. It is not just how they are grown, harvested, transported and stored (like bananas) which leads to enormous differences that we can see on the shelves. For natural health products they have different genetic sources, they are processed and concentrated differently, and they are manufactured in different forms (tablets, syrups, capsules, creams etc.).


Where do you start when faced by a wall of products like this?

The great news is that now there is technology available to make natural health products to such high standards that they are essentially the same every manufacturing batch every year. Now that natural health products are made more consistently it makes sense to do more research on them to unlock their enormous benefits for everyone. Also, as people have more information on the products, they can select the specific products which are the most reliably made and have the best scientific evidence that they work. The not for profit Natural Health Science Foundation (NHSF) is building a transparent, independent and robust mechanism to identify such products so that health care professionals and the public can make an informed choice of specific products.

Just as people are careful about their purchase of bananas, they are becoming more informed about their selection of natural health products. Given the choice most people would prefer to select a product that has been independently assessed to show that it has been made consistently and has specific evidence that it works.
When choosing a natural health product ask for the science supporting that specific product – it’s even more important than choosing bananas!

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