Not long ago, we announced a new sponsor for our nationally syndicated People’s Pharmacy public radio show, podcast and newsletter: Gaia Herbs. We are very careful about the sponsors we accept. After all, we want to make sure that they share our values regarding integrity, the importance of science and the essential role of quality.
Quality Is Crucial!
We have worried about quality for a long time, both regarding prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and especially regarding botanical medicines. If you have seen our 1999 book, The People’s Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies, you have some idea of our commitment to purity.
In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA). The legislation was intended to protect consumers from misbranded or adulterated products and to ensure that supplements are produced under conditions that meet good manufacturing practice.
That sounds terrific, but in practice the dietary supplement marketplace has flourished since 1994. As a result it is challenging for ordinary people to figure out which manufacturers take care to produce quality products and which might be cutting corners.
Today we received this question from Linda:
“I have trouble trusting sellers of herbs, knowing that many manufacturers of supplements do not accurately list all the ingredients. Thank you for any help you can offer.”
Linda’s concerns are well founded. The plants that go into making botanical products are harvested all over the world. The soil and growing conditions vary enormously from one place to another.
Pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, heavy metals and other contaminants can affect the quality of the products you find on the shelves of your local pharmacy or health food store. Because the FDA does virtually no testing of drugs or dietary supplements, you have no way of assessing quality.
Gaia Herbs Takes Soil Quality Very Seriously:
We have known about Gaia Herbs for decades. That is partly because they are in our own backyard…the mountains of North Carolina. The company has long had a reputation for quality. We were pleased to learn about their Meet Your Herbs platform providing transparency for their products, allowing consumers to learn where their products came from.
If we were going to accept Gaia Herbs as an underwriter, though, we wanted to see for ourselves what this company is all about. We were intrigued to visit the farm. Its rich bottom land is tucked up against the French Broad River, very close to its source.
The area enjoys a temperate rain forest microclimate, allowing Gaia Herbs to produce about 25 percent of the herbs that go into their products right there locally, on their regenerative organic certified farm (ROC, Silver Level).
We had an opportunity to see many different crops, including ginkgo and hawthorn trees as well as fields of plantain, echinacea, St. John’s wort (hypericum) and blue vervain.
Walking the land and listening to farm manager Kate Renner describe the importance of caring for the farm’s soil and water as well as its plants really underscored what makes Gaia Herbs different. Learning that they regularly test the streams that feed the fields was reassuring.
We were especially pleased to learn of the company’s commitment to providing a living wage for all employees, including the seasonal farm hands.
Gaia Herbs Takes Raw Material Quality Seriously:
With such attention to the environment, we were not surprised to learn that Gaia Herbs utilizes its in-house quality control laboratory to help it determine the best time to harvest its herbs, at their peak of potency. We were impressed with the large number of highly qualified people staffing the lab and its state-of-the-art equipment. They embody the company’s dedication to purity, potency and transparency.
The lab also tests materials that Chase Millhollen, the global sourcing manager, has acquired from growers elsewhere. Only materials that meet rigorous standards are accepted to be made into Gaia Herbs formulations. For maximum quality control, the lab tests raw materials before and finished capsules after manufacturing runs.
A Surprise Visit from the FDA:
Before we could step into the laboratory or the manufacturing facility, we had to don the white coats and hair nets that Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) requires. After years of criticizing the FDA for what we see as its lax enforcement of GMP in pharmaceutical manufacturing firms, we were thrilled to learn that FDA inspectors had arrived unannounced at Gaia Herbs just a few weeks ago. During their three-day visit, the inspectors did not find lapses in quality control.
We were pleased to speak with the person who oversees regulatory affairs, Moses McCord. Clearly, he had prepared the entire staff to follow best practices every day because they are best practices. Passing an FDA inspection with ease is a by-product of that attention to detail.
We were also interested to observe the techniques of extraction and concentration that result in phytocaps that are far more potent than simple dried herb powder. Rigorous quality control produces standardized products that have been thoughtfully formulated. Their Turmeric Supreme, for example, contains several ingredients beyond just curcuminoids. (It also contains rosemary leaf, black pepper, organic ginger root and a proprietary blend of turmeric root, lettuce, Jamaican dogwood bark, organic feverfew and organic devil’s claw. These are chosen to enhance absorption and bolster anti-inflammatory activity.)
Walking the beautiful fields, visiting the laboratory and observing the manufacturing up close gives us confidence that Gaia Herbs offers unique formulations with the highest quality ingredients. We are proud to be their partners.
Our Photo Album:
Gaia Herb’s photographer was kind enough to share some of his high-quality pictures from our visit. Having grown up on a dairy farm, Joe was thrilled to see a Farmall tractor of a familiar vintage as that of his youth. Kate was even more thrilled to tell us about their brand-new tractors that weigh less and are far more fuel-efficient.