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Botanical Dietary Supplements From the Perspective of a Researcher

January 17, 2017
By Ibolya Rutkai and Tamara Escajadillo

Happy New Year, PharmTalk readers and ASPET members! We have chosen to commence 2017 with a particularly interesting interview conducted with Dr. Atieh Hajirahimkhan, a Post-doctoral Research Associate in Dr. Judy Bolton’s laboratory in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois. Dr. Hajirahimkhan is a co-author on a fascinating review article entitled “Botanicals and Their Bioactive Phytochemicals for Women's Health” published in Pharmacological Reviews, one of the many prestigious ASPET journals.

What is the “problem” being addressed by this review article? 

Despite the popularity of botanical dietary supplements, the information about what they are, how they work, if they actually work, and how safe they are, is really scarce. In this article, we have provided a comprehensive review of the chemistry, pharmacological efficacy, safety, and mechanisms of actions of a variety of botanicals, used by millions of women at different ages. Furthermore, we have addressed the importance of thorough authentication, rigorous chemical/biological evaluations, standardization, and clear labeling of botanical dietary supplements, which could drastically influence their outcomes.

What was your contribution to the article? 

My research interest and publications have been focused on the estrogenic activity and breast cancer preventive properties of botanicals from the past eight years, with particular interest in hops and different licorice species used in menopausal dietary supplements. My extensive research experience and unceasing drive to read and review the literature about the botanicals made it possible for me to contribute to our comprehensive review. Several sections of “Botanicals used by menopausal women” and the Humulus lupulus (hops) and Glycyrrhiza Species (licorice) parts of the section of “Botanicals for breast cancer prevention” were written by me. Furthermore, all of the chemical structures and interactions throughout the manuscript were by me, and I also participated in the editing process.

Could you please describe how the information you contributed to the article impacts our everyday life? 

Millions of menopausal women take these botanical supplements, although it is not clear whether they have the desired safety and efficacy. In many cases, they are not properly authenticated and standardized, or have the right information on their labels. For example, licorice dietary supplements often contain different combinations of the three medicinal species, yet this is oftentimes not indicated on the label. This is very important from a public health standpoint when we come to the knowledge that there are certain desired or undesired biological effects associated with certain species or particular extracts of a plant. Depending on which species of licorice you are taking or how differently you metabolize certain entities, you might end up experiencing a different outcome than anticipated.

What advice would you give to us, especially young ladies or our mothers and grandmothers, when buying botanical dietary supplements? 

I would recommend that women, regardless of age and hormonal status, consult with their physicians about the supplements they intend to take, no matter how popular these products are. Unlike synthetic medications, these remedies are not tightly regulated by the FDA. But being easily accessible in many supermarkets does not necessarily mean that they are efficacious and safe. Having said that, for some dietary supplements certain side effects or drug-botanical interactions are known, and physicians could help their patients to avoid the potential risks associated with them.

We thank Dr. Hajirahimkhan for her participation in this interview, which enlightened us about botanical dietary supplements. We wish you the best of luck in your career.

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