Natural Variations

Natural Variations
Have you been to a busy shopping centre lately? It consists of a sea of people that come in all shapes and sizes. Some are bug, some small, some muscular, some short and some are tall. And that isn’t even comparing the different hair colours, the eye colours or skin colours. There are endless comparisons we can make. We call this ‘natural variation’ and the various genetic differences found in people are endless. This also applies to most of the natural world and there are numerous examples.

An extreme example of this are snowflakes. It has been said that no two snowflakes are the same, despite the billions that fall every year around the world. Again, this is just natural variations found throughout nature. After all, if all the snowflakes were the same, you would expect them to be mass manufactured out of Styrofoam in a factory somewhere!

There are also natural variations in natural supplements. It in fact would be strange if all-natural supplements looked identical batch after batch. I am sure the apples you buy each week from the supermarket slightly differ from batch to batch. It would be a bit weird if they looked perfectly ‘red’ and perfectly round. If all apples were identical, you would smell a rat and probably not buy them! Supplements made from natural ingredients vary in much the same way.

We may be used to seeing drugs looking identical. After all, they are made in a factory and the same artificial, synthetic, manufactured colour is applied throughout every batch. The distinctive colour is often used to identify drugs (i.e. the ‘little blue pills’ are Viagra etc.) We all know paracetamol is white and no other colour is acceptable, despite the fact that the white colour is a synthetic chemical. We can’t translate this over to nature. Nothing ‘natural’ is created in a lab.

Applying this sterile ‘pharmaceutical world’ to natural supplements, which are made from food and herbal extracts is nonsensical. We should be expecting some kind of natural variation in our natural supplements and we need to be suspicious of the ‘natural’ extracts that don’t at least vary slightly. Sure, we never want the distinctive orange of a herb like turmeric to ever be blue but natural plants are exposed to the environment which changes from batch to batch and season to season. This completely natural variation in the soil and / or environment is responsible for the slight differences we see in natural supplements.

Ok so I can expect the appearance to change but does the dark one work as well as the pale one?

‘Natural variation’ in natural supplements is not to be feared, but instead celebrated. At ATP Science, we are proud to celebrate nature and give her the pride of place in our healthy lives she deserves. But, we also want results and not excuses so we need to know the products will work all year round.

At ATP Science, all raw materials are tested and compared to our high standards and also compared to previous batches. There is no one test that is good enough. So, we do many tests.

Species identification – is it the right plant?

Concentration / extraction ratio – is it the right strength and made the way we wanted?

Active ingredient / constituent – testing for active ingredients. Are the actives present at the requested %?

Unique identifiers – we create comparison templates that take multiple points of identification like a fingerprint to compare from batch to batch to see if there is anything extra added (commonly things to create consistent colour or just filler).

Artefacts and adulteration – Any unusual findings that may indicate impurity and require further testing.

Visual inspection – we look at it and compare to paperwork. Looking for things like is it a powder? Yes. Is it yellow / cream colour? Umm, No? wait hang on, maybe. Then we call the supplier and they say oh sorry, do you want us to change the word on the paperwork for colour to say mustard? Or typical of x herb appearance? Basically, you can’t assess quality by colour. It is too easy to change the colour. In fact we can reject material based on all sorts of failures in quality control parameters other than colour. If we as manufacturers specified that colour must be exactly the same each batch they would insist on adding a colour to ensure consistency.

Our “Clean label and Clear capsule” campaign is all about nature knows best and there is no need for masking agents, colouring agents, chemical fillers and opaque capsules or excipient and colour loaded tablets to hide the natural variation in the plant powders.