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Chemical markers for the quality control of herbal medicines: an overview

DOI: 10.1186/1749-8546-3-7

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Abstract:

Herbal medicines, also known as botanical medicines or phytomedicines, refer to the medicinal products of plant roots, leaves, barks, seeds, berries or flowers that can be used to promote health and treat diseases. Medicinal use of plants has a long history worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), traditional herbal preparations account for 30–50% of the total medicinal consumption in China [1]. There have always been concerns about the inconsistent composition of herbal medicines and occasional cases of intoxication by adulterants and/or toxic components. Quality control of herbal medicines aims to ensure their consistency, safety and efficacy.Chemical fingerprinting has been demonstrated to be a powerful technique for the quality control of herbal medicines. A chemical fingerprint is a unique pattern that indicates the presence of multiple chemical markers within a sample.The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) defines chemical markers as chemically defined constituents or groups of constituents of a herbal medicinal product which are of interest for quality control purposes regardless whether they possess any therapeutic activity [2]. Ideally, chemical markers should be unique components that contribute to the therapeutic effects of a herbal medicine. As only a small number of chemical compounds were shown to have clear pharmacological actions, other chemical components are also used as markers. The quantity of a chemical marker can be an indicator of the quality of a herbal medicine.The overall quality of a herbal medicine may be affected by many factors, including seasonal changes, harvesting time, cultivation sites, post-harvesting processing, adulterants or substitutes of raw materials, and procedures in extraction and preparation. From harvesting to manufacturing, chemical markers play a crucial role in evaluating the quality of herbal medicines. Moreover, the study of chemical markers is applicable to many research areas, including authenti

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