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Finding the bad actor: Challenges in identifying toxic constituents in botanical dietary supplements

Roberts, Georgia K., Gardner, Dale, Foster, Paul M., Howard, Paul C., Lui, Edmund, Walker, Larry, van Breemen, Richard B., Auerbach, Scott S., Rider, Cynthia
Food and chemical toxicology 2019 v.124 pp. 431-438
dietary supplements, drugs, fractionation, human health, humans, ingredients, monitoring, poisonous plants, surveys, toxicity, toxicity testing
Botanical-derived dietary supplements have widespread use in the general population. The complex and variable nature of botanical ingredients and reports of adverse responses have led to concern for negative human health impacts following consumption of these products. Toxicity testing of the vast number of available products, formulations, and combinations is not feasible due to the time and resource intensive nature of comprehensive testing. Methods are needed to assess the safety of a large number of products via more efficient frameworks. Identification of toxicologically-active constituents is one approach being used, with many advantages toward product regulation. Bioassay-guided fractionation (BGF) is the leading approach used to identify biologically-active constituents. Most BGF studies with botanicals focus on identifying pharmacologically-active constituents for drug discovery or botanical efficacy research. Here, we explore BGF in a toxicological context, drawing from both efficacy and poisonous plant research. Limitations of BGF, including loss of mixture activity and bias toward abundant constituents, and recent advancements in the field (e.g., biochemometrics) are discussed from a toxicological perspective. Identification of active constituents will allow better monitoring of market products for known toxicologically-active constituents, as well as surveying human exposure, two important steps to ensuring the safety of botanical dietary supplements.