For over twenty five years grape fruit seed extracts have been widely used as antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and as a healthy alternative to the pharmaceutical/chemicals on the market. So prevalent has the use been, that one sees sprays, wipes, towelettes, washes, drops and even oral capsules! The manufacturers of these extracts have aggressively promoted their use for all manner of uses as safe and natural.
Earlier this year, a startling study by the American Botanical Council, a non-profit US organization was released. All grapefruits seed extracts they tested were contaminated with synthetic and widely used chemicals and there were no exceptions! Furthermore, the natural grapefruit seed extract they manufactured in their own labs were devoid of any antibacterial activity. What does this mean? It means that ALL the grapefruit seed extract products on the market that have antibacterial properties only do so if they are contaminated with synthetic chemicals. The bottom line it is the synthetic contaminants themselves are responsible for the antibacterial effects and there is nothing natural in these extracts that has antibacterial activity.
These findings are not new. In fact two separate groups of Japanese researchers actually reported similar findings over twenty years ago! Unfortunately, their publications were in Japanese and were largely inaccessible to the Western media. Both groups of Japanese scientists reported that all the commercial grapefruit seed extract products they tested contained the synthetic methyl hydroxyl benzoate, tricolosan and benzathonium chloride. All three chemicals were widely used disinfectants, preservatives and biocides. Later, other researchers in Europe and the US published similar reports.
When the manufacturers of the grapefruit seed extract were challenged to explain the results, one manufacturer actually said that their proprietary extraction process using the grapefruit seeds, hot water, ammonium chloride and hydrochloric acid, produced novel antimicrobial products. This notion was quickly dismissed by some of the leading organic chemists as “nonsensical” since there was no known organic chemistry pathway that would generate these three chemicals. They had to be deliberately added!
Even more troubling is the fact that over the years the manufacturers have changed the chemicals to benzalkonium chloride so as not to be caught and/or due to newer detection instruments. The manufactures are trying to stay one step ahead of the analytical methods. The evidence is pretty damning! Other researchers having conducted an extensive literature search but have failed to find any historical record for use of grapefruit seed extracts for any medicinal uses including as natural disinfectants. Furthermore, there is no documentation in any herbal compendium, pharmacopeias, PubMed database or any authoritative herbal textbooks worldwide for such use.
All these synthetic chemicals have toxicity issues for topical and especially oral use, ranging from skin irritation, burning, damage of skin membrane to genetic or reproductive toxicity to nerve and liver damage in animals.
Adulteration: a key problem in the natural health Industry.
The grapefruit seed extract debacle is just one example highlighting the fairly prevalent practice of adulteration. In this case, manufacturers sold a natural product that had no antibacterial property. They added inexpensive but powerful chemicals and sold the product at expensive prices. This type of adulteration is an example of economically motivated adulteration. But there are many others types of adulteration. For example, the need to use a cheaper alternative to the more expensive herbs like saffron, or even common ingredients like black cohosh and peppermint. It can also be due to supply issues and/or restrictions in export of herbs in danger of extinction e.g. boswellia gum resin used to makes nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory. Most recently, the Monsoons in India resulted in a fairly low crop yield for turmeric root, the key ingredient used to make the popular curcumin products. Some manufacturers deliberately added synthetic curcumin and passed it off as natural curcumin.
Another reason for adulteration is public perception. Most North Americans view that the majority of the ingredients used in natural health products originate from the US (approximately 77%), while 10% of the ingredients come from China and 7% from Europe. Yet, the fact of the matter is that over 60% of the ingredients actually come from China and only 12% come from the US. This means that the majority of what North Americans believe comes from domestic sources actually comes from Asia!
There is a constant pressure for manufacturers to cut corners on purity, strength and identity and offer their consumers a low cost product. But such a strategy can come at a terrible cost. The significant side effects due to adulteration can be harmful as evidenced by the recent case of geranium oil adulterated with DMAA (1,3 dimethylamylamine), which was sold as a sports workout products. But DMAA is not a natural product and toxicity has been reported.
The old adage is true, you get what you pay for but it also highlights the continual need for consumers to be weary of what they are buying.