Selection and characterization of botanical natural products for research studies: a NaPDI center recommended approach
Covering: up to the end of 2018
Dietary supplements, which include botanical (plant-based) natural products, constitute a multi-billion-dollar industry in the US. Regulation and quality control for this industry is an ongoing challenge. While there is general agreement that rigorous scientific studies are needed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of botanical natural products used by consumers, researchers conducting such studies face a unique set of challenges. Botanical natural products are inherently complex mixtures, with composition that differs depending on myriad factors including variability in genetics, cultivation conditions, and processing methods. Unfortunately, many studies of botanical natural products are carried out with poorly characterized study material, such that the results are irreproducible and difficult to interpret. This review provides recommended approaches for addressing the critical questions that researchers must address prior to in vitro or in vivo (including clinical) evaluation of botanical natural products. We describe selection and authentication of botanical material and identification of key biologically active compounds, and compare state-of-the-art methodologies such as untargeted metabolomics with more traditional targeted methods of characterization. The topics are chosen to be of maximal relevance to researchers, and are reviewed critically with commentary as to which approaches are most practical and useful and what common pitfalls should be avoided.