EDITORIAL What do we need to know about your NHP? In the last few years there has been a large increase in the number of manuscript submissions that utilize a natural health product (NHP) as the source material in a research study. We have found varying details in the description of the NHP provided in the manuscripts. With contributions from an online forum amongst members of the Editorial Board, this editorial will outline what is reasonably acceptable to standardize the descriptions required from authors. Standardization of the starting material for experimentation plays a very important role in the outcome of a study. Many factors, from genotype to soil and climate conditions, harvesting to processing, are known to affect the chemical composition and (or) the biological activity of the starting material. This in turn can influence experimental results, which ultimately affects the final outcome on health. There are also economic consequences for poorly characterized samples. Growing the wrong cultivar or subspecies, or growing the right cultivar but processing it differently, can undermine any health benefits, not to mention wasting time and money. Specifying methods can help to reduce these problems. Standardization is also important because regulatory agencies such as Health Canada consider both the “level” and the “totality of evidence,” and small changes in methods may make your positive results inapplicable. Therefore, it would be reasonable for authors to submit the following information regarding the NHP used in their study: (i) Source: The supply source of the sample/specimen should be identified, especially if purchased from a commercial source. If the specimen is harvested from the wild, it should be stated along with additional information as listed below. (ii) Variety: Different varieties or cultivars of the same sample may have varying levels of phytochemicals. For example, the variations for phytochemical content in different cultivars of cereals grown at the same place in one year (Ward et al. 2008) are due to genetic differences. Therefore, it is essential that the genus, specific epithet, and strain, if any, should be clearly stated. (iii) Authentication and voucher specimens: Samples, especially wild-harvested ones, should be authenticated by a botanical expert affiliated with a research-based organization/ institution (as exemplified by Spoor et al. 2006). Once authenticated, a specimen of the sample should be stored in a herbarium and be available for future verification when necessary. (iv) GPS location or region or province/state of growth: Where the sample was harvested should be clearly stated. For Chinese herbal medicines, the interplay of many factors may result in a higher quality of medicinal material (Zhao et al. 2012). In addition, the presence of trace elements or the types of fertilization used in the cultivated land where the samples are harvested should be listed, as these can influence the nutritional content of the sample, which can be correlated to health conditions (Welch 2002; Huang et al. 2009). (v) Time or season of harvest: This should be specified, when appropriate, as it can influence the bioactivity of the sample. For example, the ORAC value of dogwood varies depending on the time of harvest (Isaak et al. 2013), and that in turn may influence its applications.

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(vi) Post-harvest storage and processing: This should be specified, as the conditions may affect the content of bioactive material. This has been reported for many types of samples, such as blackberries (Wu et al. 2010) and leeks (Bernaert et al. 2013). (vii) Detailed description of extract preparation is to be provided: Referencing a non-English manual or articles that have a very limited distribution is not just insufficient for the reviewer to properly review the manuscript, but also for readers or other scientists who may wish to utilize some of the technologies reported. If authors are reporting a new technology, they are advised to protect their intellectual property prior to submission of their manuscript. (viii) Purity of the chemical of interest: With the availability of numerous analytical technologies (such as gas chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography, mass spectroscopy, or a combination thereof), the chemical composition and (or) the purity of bioactive compound(s) responsible for the observed result should be reported. Many researchers have experiences with poorly characterized NHP samples resulting in irreproducible experimental data. The peer review system that researchers subscribe to should ensure that other scientists may effectively spend additional resources (time and money) to extend the understanding as to how these NHPs could work, in addition to confirming the findings. Yaw L. Siow Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine, St Boniface Hospital Research Centre; Department of Physiology, University of Manitoba.

References Bernaert, N., De Clercq, H., Van Bockstaele, E., De Loose, M., and Van Droogenbroeck, B. 2013. Antioxidant changes during postharvest processing and storage of leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum). Postharvest Biol. Technol. 86: 8–16. doi:10.1016/j.postharvbio.2013.06.010. Huang, B., Zhao, Y., Sun, W., Yang, R., Gong, Z., Zou, Z., et al. 2009. Relationships between distributions of longevous population and trace elements in the agricultural ecosystem of Rugao County, Jiangsu, China. Environ. Geochem. Health, 31(3): 379–390. doi:10.1007/s10653-008-9177-6. Isaak, C.K., Petkau, J.C., O, K., Ominski, K., Rodriguez-Lecompte, J.C., and Siow, Y.L. 2013. Seasonal variations in phenolic compounds and antioxidant capacity of Cornus stolonifera plant material: Applications in agriculture. Can. J. Plant Sci. 93(4): 725–734. doi:10.4141/cjps2012-310. Spoor, D.C., Martineau, L.C., Leduc, C., Benhaddou-Andaloussi, A., Meddah, B., Harris, C., et al. 2006. Selected plant species from the Cree pharmacopoeia of northern Quebec possess anti-diabetic potential. Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 84(8–9): 847–858. doi:10.1139/Y06-018. PMID:17111029. Ward, J.L., Poutanen, K., Gebruers, K., Piironen, V., Lampi, A.M., Nystrom, L., et al. 2008. The HEALTHGRAIN Cereal Diversity Screen: concept, results, and prospects. J. Agric. Food Chem. 56(21): 9699–9709. doi:10.1021/jf8009574. PMID:18921969. Welch, R.M. 2002. The impact of mineral nutrients in food crops on global human health. Plant Soil, 247(1): 83–90. doi:10.1023/A:1021140122921. Wu, R., Frei, B., Kennedy, J.A., and Zhao, Y. 2010. Effects of refrigerated storage and processing technologies on the bioactive compounds and antioxidant capacities of ‘Marion’ and ‘Evergreen’ blackberries. LWT Food Sci. Technol. 43(8): 1253–1264. doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2010.04.002. Zhao, Z., Guo, P., and Brand, E. 2012. The formation of daodi medicinal materials. J. Ethnopharmacol. 140(3): 476–481. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2012.01.048. PMID: 22342382.

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What do we need to know about your NHP?

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