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Written by Sarah Kirton | Updated On January 15, 2024

Roy Upton on Promoting the Responsible Use of Herbal Products and Herbal Medicines

Roy Upton on Promoting the Responsible Use of Herbal Products and Herbal Medicines

MysticMag chats with Roy Upton, a prominent figure at the helm of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia® (AHP), passionately contributing to the promotion of responsible herbal medicine use. With a focus on ensuring the highest standards of efficacy and safety, Upton and the AHP are dedicated to developing comprehensive standards of identity, purity, and analysis for botanicals. Recognizing the rich historical basis and modern research validating the traditional uses of herbal medicines, Roy Upton and the AHP aim to fill the information gap in the U.S. healthcare system. Their mission unfolds through the creation of authoritative publications, including monographs, textbooks, and educational materials, fostering a robust body of knowledge on herbal medicines.

Roy, AHP covers a wide range of herbal medicines, including Ayurvedic, Chinese, and Western herbs. How does AHP ensure a comprehensive and inclusive approach to developing monographs for these diverse botanicals, considering the differences in traditional uses and preparations?

There are two primary focuses of every AHP monograph. One is a comprehensive review of the traditional information both drawing from traditional literature and the expertise of modern traditional practitioners. The second is a review of the modern scientific literature, similarly, drawing from the literature as well as doing original research when necessary. In both cases, all the information gathered is reviewed by a multi-disciplinary group of experts representing both tradition and science and includes writers and reviewers from each, including representatives of the native country of the tradition or where the science was conducted. There are few cross-cultural, cross-discipline reviews of herbal medicine information being done anywhere in the world.

Triphala, a combination of three fruits, is a significant formula in Ayurveda with versatile applications. How does AHP approach the development of monographs for individual Triphala fruits and the combination itself, considering their historical significance and varied uses in Ayurvedic practices?

We began by developing draft monographs for each of the three botanicals. We then built the triphala monograph around those drafts. The key here is that most western pharmacopoeias do not develop monographs for herbal formulas, yet herbal formulations, especially classic formulas such as triphala, are at the heart of traditional herbal medicine practice in most all medical herbal traditions. 

AHP emphasizes the critical review of traditional and scientific data in its monographs. How does the organization strike a balance between ancient knowledge and modern research to provide comprehensive and accurate information for the responsible use of herbal medicines?

There is actually no real balance to keep; the traditional knowledge is the traditional knowledge and the scientific knowledge is the scientific knowledge. They are two distinct bodies of information that have equal importance and so we present both as comprehensively and as critically as possible. The key is to critically review both bodies of information. Just because something is in the historical literature does not make it true, as for centuries, even the most classic of writers simply parroted what earlier writers said but their writing reflects no actual use or experience that what they are saying is accurate. Some traditional similarly do not question authority, such as formal medical authorities, and so accept whatever was written as gospel and is heavily positively biased.

Scientific literature is similarly flawed as the overwhelming majority of research, conventional or herbal, is commercially motivated and so is similarly subject to positive bias. Conversely, much of the scientific literature reviewed, and in some cases, conducted, by western medical researchers is heavily negatively biased as they believe that herbal medicine represents nothing more than old wives’ tales or they study the safety or efficacy of the herb outside of its traditional context, concluding that it is either dangerous or does not work. We attempt to recognize each of these biases as we review the data and at the end of the day, subject it all to peer review by those experienced in both tradition and science.

AHP offers Botanical Reference Materials (BRMs) to support botanical testing. Can you elaborate on the significance of AHP-Verified BRMs, including the authentication methods employed and the quality assurance measures taken to ensure their reliability in testing?

BRMs are crucial for ensuring the quality control of herbal ingredients for product manufacturers. While the use of these differs, whether a practitioner or commercial manufacturer, everyone needs a baseline for assessing the botanical ingredients they use. By law, practitioners must follow the same Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) as a commercial supplier. We do not agree with this regulation but it is law. Luckily, the Food and Drug Administration has chosen to exercise their regulatory discretion and has yet, except in rare cases, to require practitioners to implement these.

A practitioner may use a BRM to establish a baseline based on morphological and sensory features such as form, size, color, aroma, flavor, tactile stimuli, etc. and then compare their incoming herbal materials against a formally identified BRM to make sure they are getting the right herb. A commercial lab may take the same BRM and assess it microscopically, chemically, or genetically to establish the same baseline for identity and quality. AHP-Verified BRMs may be authenticated botanically, macroscopically, microscopically, chemically, or genetically, depending on the needs of the ingredient. They are primarily used to determine identity, purity, and relative quality.

In the U.S., herbal medicines might not be as integrated into healthcare systems as in other nations. What challenges has AHP faced in addressing this gap, and how does the organization contribute to the establishment of authoritative information on the proper use and manufacture of herbal medicines?

The lack of integration of herbal medicines in the US disease care center is an understatement. I recently participated in a WHO forum on traditional medicine and much of the world is light years ahead of us and it is sad. The biggest challenge is always funding. There are very few funds for basic science in herbal medicine. AHP has set the bar much higher for other standard’s setting organizations internationally. Numerous organizations have emulated a number of characteristics that were unique to AHP monographs 20+ years ago. We also participate in the development of other national and international authoritative works such as the Botanical Safety Handbook, which is the most comprehensive text in the world on the safety of herbal ingredients including drug interactions.

Another is Herbs of Commerce, which is a text of formally adopted botanical and common names for accurate labeling of herbal ingredients. We also partner with the American Botanical Council and National Center for Natural Products Research in the Botanical Adulterations Prevention Program. This is the most comprehensive effort in the world for preventing botanical adulterations and all information is freely available to anyone anywhere. We maintain relationships and collaborations with medicinal plant experts in all disciplines both domestically and internationally and strive to bring herbal medicine to the forefront of the ailing disease care system and help turn it into a health care system one herb at a time.

If you would like to find out more about American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, please visit https://herbal-ahp.org/

We rank vendors based on rigorous testing and research, but also take into account your feedback and our commercial agreements with providers. This page contains affiliate links. Advertising Disclosure
MysticMag contains reviews that were written by our experts and follow the strict reviewing standards, including ethical standards, that we have adopted. Such standards require that each review will take into consideration independent, honest and professional examination of the reviewer. That being said, we may earn a commission when a user completes an action using our links, at no additional cost to them. On listicle pages, we rank vendors based on a system that prioritizes the reviewer’s examination of each service but also considers feedback received from our readers and our commercial agreements with providers.This site may not review all available service providers, and information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.
About the author
Sarah is a keen and passionate advocate of the spiritual and healing components within the mystical realm of the world we live in. She resides in Cape Town, South Africa, where she enjoys spending time in the outdoors, kite surfing, and playing guitar.