‘Frightening extent’: BGG World develops Japan-patented identification method of saw palmetto to counter rampant adulteration

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

Ingredients extracted from saw palmetto berries are commonly used in supplements to improve prostate health and hair loss. ©Getty Images
Ingredients extracted from saw palmetto berries are commonly used in supplements to improve prostate health and hair loss. ©Getty Images

Related tags BGG Japan Saw palmetto Adulteration Prostate hair health Functional ingredients

High prices, “unscrupulous suppliers”, and inadequate identification methods have resulted in adulteration rates of saw palmetto extracts reaching 33% in Japan and as high as 75% in other Asian markets, says BGG World.

Commonly used in supplements to improve prostate health and hair loss, saw palmetto (Serenoa repens​) is a small palm plant native to south-eastern US.

Due to growing demand as well as climate challenges such as hurricanes, prices of saw palmetto extracts have risen sharply over the past few years. This has led to a proliferation of adulterated products that are being sold to unsuspecting consumers.

To tackle this problem, BGG World has developed a new method for the identification of authentic saw palmetto, which recently received a Japanese patent.

“The extent of adulteration around the world is frightening. The biggest market for saw palmetto is the US, with an annual consumption of roughly 200 tonnes, of which 40% are estimated to be adulterated. Japan is the second biggest market. Among the 60 tonnes consumed a year, 33% are adulterated.

“It gets even worse in other Asian countries outside of Japan — out of 40 tonnes consumed per year, 75% are adulterated! Unscrupulous suppliers are selling fake products that claim to contain saw palmetto extracts, but there’s absolutely zero Serenoa in them,” ​Bob Capelli, marketing consultant of BGG World, told NutraIngredients-Asia​. 

While no major safety issues concerning adulterated saw palmetto extracts have been reported to date, there is still harm inflicted on both consumers and the industry.

“Most people use saw palmetto for one of two end goals — prostate health and healthy hair. Those who buy adulterated products will certainly not get any desired benefits. Furthermore, the rampant level of adulteration makes our industry look really bad.

“Companies buying these ingredients and not thoroughly testing them so they can make extra margin are causing huge damage to the supplements industry and consumers. Fortunately, they can now easily and inexpensively use the BGG analytical method to ensure they’re doing the right thing,” ​said Capelli.  

According to Dr Takahiro Sekikawa, Chief Scientific Officer of BGG Japan and lead inventor of the patented method, conventional identification methods do not adequately detect fake saw palmetto extracts.

“There were many requests from Japanese customers for the development of a highly accurate identification method. BGG’s mission is to contribute to the global nutraceuticals sector. Our analytical method serves as a safeguard for authentic saw palmetto extracts and to reduce the escalation of adulterated supplements in the market,” ​Dr Sekikawa added.

A superior method

Berries of saw palmetto are harvested when ripe, and dried before going through an extraction process for the production of saw palmetto oil.

Current analytical methods focus on total fatty acids, β-sitosterol, and physical characteristics like viscosity and colour.

However, the fatty acid composition of Serenoa​ oils can be mimicked by adding fatty acids derived from plants and animals, such as palm, canola or coconut.

β-sitosterol levels can be adjusted using other plant-derived products, while viscosity and colour can be altered by adding emulsifiers and colouring agents respectively.

“Fake saw palmetto extracts are typically saw palmetto extract mixtures that have been diluted. If the fatty acid composition of the fake extract is similar to that of the real saw palmetto fruit-derived extract, it is difficult to distinguish between the two.

“As a result of our intensive research, we found that by analysing the highly polar components unique to saw palmetto, authentic and counterfeit extracts can be differentiated. The BGG method uses high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), which is much simpler, yet significantly more precise than existing ones,”​ said Dr Sekikawa.

BGG’s ProstPalm Saw Palmetto is an extract of Serenoa repens​ that has been studied in peer-reviewed clinical trials funded by the firm to validate its safety.

It is available around the world through BGG’s four divisions located in Switzerland, California, Tokyo, and Beijing.

“Whatever ingredient BGG chooses to produce, we always make sure to prioritise quality, research and innovation. This comes in various areas, including clinical research, analytical matters, patents, unique delivery forms, regulatory issues, and more,” ​Capelli concluded.

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