The health world is constantly formulating new products to help the public — that’s us— get more involved with their well-being. Some of these products have revolutionized how we connect with our bodies, how we feel day-to-day, and how we live our lives. On the other hand, there have been countless health products that are either poor quality, chemical-filled, or simply completely outright scams.
Of course, one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting high-quality, safe products is knowledge! This is especially true when it comes to wildly popular tinctures and elixirs, which oftentimes fall under the same guidelines as supplements when it comes to safety regulations. They aren’t highly regulated.
Tinctures and elixirs aren’t a new creation, yet they are somewhat new to mainstream health. These concentrated mixtures of herbs, oils, and “others” are being added to our morning coffee and tea, protein shakes, or simply taken raw by the dropper. Their popularity stems from both their affordability, ease of ingesting, natural components, and the incredibly wide range of health benefits that they purport, depending on the specific mixture you purchase. With that said, how much do you know about these products?
How about the fact that many tinctures and elixirs are easily marketed as “healthy,” yet when you get down to the nitty-gritty, they can be filled with sugar, chemicals, and unhealthy oils. On top of that, due to the lax governmental regulations, you never really know what you’re getting unless you know what to look for.
Alright, now that I’ve shocked you into a craving for that knowledge, let’s take a look at tinctures and elixirs!
What are Tinctures?
Let’s start with tinctures! First off, what are they? Tinctures are “concentrated herbal extracts made by soaking the bark, berries, leaves (dried or fresh), or roots from one or more plants in alcohol or vinegar.” The soaking helps pull “out the active ingredients in the plant parts, concentrating them as a liquid.” Tinctures tap into the long-standing practice of traditional herbal medicine using well-known medicinal plants and extracting a potent form of their health benefits for a more effective result.
Some of the most recognized and trusted herbal tinctures include chamomile flower, — a treatment for “anxiety, healing wounds, and reducing inflammation” — garlic root, — an effective natural agent for reducing “total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol” — ginger root, — treatment for nausea and motion sickness — ginseng root, — “beneficial psychological and immune effects” — St. John’s wort flower, — for treatment of depression — and valerian root, — to help “improve sleep quality.” Of course, taking tinctures doesn’t come without risk.
Some of the negative side effects recorded from tincture consumption include regular allergic reactions, drop in blood sugar, gastrointestinal issues, sleeplessness, headaches, dizziness, possible estrogenic effects, and even death, as some herbs are toxic when not processed or handled appropriately.
What are Elixirs?
When it comes to elixirs, it’s a bit more complicated. The short definition is that elixirs are “clear, sweet-flavored liquid used for medical purposes, to be taken orally and intended to cure one’s illness.” Elixirs have at least one active ingredient that is added to a hydro-alcoholic solution.
Why are elixirs mixed with alcohol? Turns out that alcohol is an incredibly important ingredient that is used to solubilize (make something more soluble) the active ingredients, halt or slow crystallization of sugar, preserve, and provide better, more powerful taste and flavors. With that said, there are medicated and non-medicated elixirs.
Non-medicated elixirs are “used as solvents or vehicles for the preparation of medicated elixirs: aromatic elixirs (USP), isoalcoholic elixirs (NF), or compound benzaldehyde elixirs (NF).” Generally, non-medicated elixirs take the active ingredient and dissolve it “in a solution that contains 15 to 50 [percent] by volume of ethyl alcohol.”
Medicated elixirs, on the other hand, are a bit more intricate. Depending on the goal for treatment, a medical elixir can be mixed with any type of pharmaceutical medication, including antihistaminic elixirs, — such as “chlorampheniramine maleate elixirs (USP), diphenhydramine HCl elixirs” — sedative and hypnotic elixirs, — such as “pediatric chloral hydrate elixirs” — or expectorant elixirs, — such as “terpin hydrate.” These are just a few of the traditional medicinal elixirs used in the pharmaceutical world. Of course, just like tinctures, it’s important to understand the downsides.
First off, elixirs may contain a few unwanted ingredients, including sugar or sugar substitutes, — such as “sugar polyols glycerol and sorbitol” — preservatives, — such as parabens, benzoates, sodium metabisulfite, or butylated hydroxytoluene — buffering agents, chelating agents, — such as “sodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA)” — and unnatural flavoring agents, enhancers, and coloring agents.
It’s also important to recognize that, much like tinctures, non-medicated elixirs are not highly regulated by the government, therefore, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the consumer to make sure they recognize a safe product.
When it comes to government regulations of the products we consume, you’ll want to consult the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With that said, if you try to search “government or FDA regulations of tinctures and elixirs,” well, you come up pretty flat. There’s not a whole lot of info out there about the governmental regulations of these products.
So, are tinctures and elixirs even regulated at all? The short answer is yes. Tinctures and elixirs that are publicly marketed and sold generally fall under the same guidelines as supplements. This means that these products can be formulated, created, packaged, marketed, and sold without any FDA approval, yet they must follow the same safety protocols and guidelines. Of course, companies are legally obligated to notify the FDA if there are any consumer complaints or side effects that arise after the product has hit the market.
If this sounds sketchy to you, you’re right on the mark. Alright, so how is the production of said products regulated?
Companies must follow the guidelines set out by the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) — “found in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 (21 CFR)” — which refer to a set of FDA-created and monitored “systems that assure proper design, monitoring, and control of manufacturing processes and facilities.” Companies that acquire the GMP certification stamp on their packaging have followed the guidelines that “assure the identity, strength, quality, and purity of drug [and herbal] products.”
cGMPs guidelines include “establishing strong quality management systems, obtaining appropriate quality raw materials, establishing robust operating procedures, detecting and investigating product quality deviations, and maintaining reliable testing laboratories.” The FDA believes that this “formal system of controls … helps to prevent instances of contamination, mix-ups, deviations, failures, and errors [and that] drug [and herbal] products meet their quality standards.” Okay, so this isn’t as sketchy as it first sounded.
With that said, companies are not required to follow cGMPs, which means, once again, it’s up to you, the consumer, to make sure you’re purchasing products with the appropriate cGMPs certifications.
Knowing the Signs of Safety: Picking out a Quality Product
When looking for high-quality, FDA-compliant, safe tinctures or elixirs, it’s all about the certifications. Luckily for the consumer, we have two tools at our disposal: our eyesight and the internet! First off, certifications are found stamped directly on the packaging of the product. If you’re at the store, simply take a good look at the box, bottle, or bag and look for the stamps that indicate safe practices. Other than that, simply hop on your computer or phone and research the company. Their website will share their manufacturing practices and certifications, as these are high selling points that are widely marketed. Here’s what you need to look for!
Current Good Manufacturing Practices Certification (cGMPs)
First and foremost, look for the cGMPs stamp indicating that the company has followed the FDA’s guidelines for Current Good Manufacturing Practices. As mentioned above, this is one of the highest regulations for herbal remedies such as tinctures and elixirs.
Along with the cGMPs stamp, it’s important to find products that are also the highest level of organic. This means you’ll want to find the certified USDA organic stamp — that little black and white circle stamp — somewhere on the packaging. There are a few different levels of organic in the United States, most of which don’t refer to a wholly organic product.
Certified USDA Organic
The certified USDA organic stamp in conjunction with a “100% organic” notification on the packaging, means that the product is, in fact, 100 percent organic. This is an incredibly difficult level of organic to achieve, and it’s the best!
Second up on the list is the certified USDA organic stamp in conjunction with an “organic” notification on the packaging, which means the product was made “using only organic methods and contains a minimum of 95 [percent] organic ingredients.” On top of that, the remaining 5 percent not accounted for has to be “non-GMO and included on the National List of non-organic ingredients permitted in certified organic agriculture and processing.”
Non-GMO Project Certification
Lastly, you’ll want to select a tincture or elixir that has the Non-GMO Project Certification stamp.
GMO refers to a genetically modified organism, which can be “a plant, animal, microorganism or other organisms whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology.” It’s an organism created from a combination of “plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes” that is not a naturally occurring event. The problem is that there’s not a whole lot of research or study on the long-term effects of GMOs on the human body, therefore, we don’t know if these Frankenstein-type organisms are harmful.
On top of that, many of the high-risk GMO products also contain added, unnecessary, and unnatural ingredients, including “amino acids, alcohol, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sucrose, textured vegetable protein (TVP), xanthan gum, vitamins, vinegar, and yeast products.”
This is why it’s best to steer clear until there’s a bit more information!
Trusted Brands for Elixirs and Tinctures
You know what they are, you know how they’re regulated, and now you know how to pick out a high-quality and safe product from the shelf or online. Next up? Make sure to talk with a medical professional! While most tinctures and non-medical elixirs are benign, all our bodies are different and require specialized care. Even though a friend may be benefiting from a ginkgo tincture, you may have a severe allergic reaction. Therefore, check in with your doc before starting a new regimen!
Once this is all squared away, here are a few brands that you can trust to begin your tincture or elixir journey!
1. Herb Pharm
Herb Pharm Certified Organic Valerian Root Liquid Extract/Amazon.com
If you haven’t heard about Herb Pharm, here’s your chance to jump on board with one of the best herbal companies in the country!
While the idea of the company and the work behind the organic, non-GMO, and sustainable farm began beforehand, Herb Pharm “officially came to life in 1979 when the [founders, Ed Smith and Sara Katz,] moved to a wooded community of herb-enthusiasts in southern Oregon’s Josephine County.” It’s here that Ed and Sara began their practices of “wildcrafting in the hills around the town, relying on their books to help them identify herbs and teach them how to revive traditional methods of herbalism.”
Herb Pharm works hard and is proud to offer a wide variety of herbal products that are certified USDA organic, follow the Good Manufacturing Practices of the FDA, and are non-GMO. On top of that, their products are gluten-free and vegan, making them available to a wider variety of consumers.
Plus, Herb Pharm offers their products at affordable prices, such as this one-ounce Herb Pharm Certified Organic Ginger Liquid Extract for $11.99, this one-ounce Herb Pharm Certified Organic Black Haw Liquid Extract for $13.24, or this one-ounce Herb Pharm Certified Organic Valerian Root Liquid Extract for $13.05.
2. HealthForce SuperFoods
HealthForce SuperFoods Elixir of The Lake Powder/Amazon.com
This is one of the newer to hit the scenes health companies, yet they hit all the marks when looking for high-quality and safe ingredients!
This independently-owned, grassroots botanical company was “founded in 1990 by Jameth and Kim Sheridan, two young Naturopaths with a vision.” Not only are they certified USDA organic, the third party tested for GMOs, and follow Good Manufacturing Practices, but HealthForce SuperFoods takes it a step further and is certified vegan, kosher, and gluten-free. This company focuses on curating a “hard-core, plant-based product line [that] features supportive cleanse products, vegan proteins, vital superfood formulas, and high-quality single ingredient superfoods and herbal extracts.”
They offer a wide variety of plant-based products, such as this 50-gram bottle of HealthForce SuperFoods Elixir of The Lake Powder for $40.95.
Horbaach Scullcap Liquid Extract/Amazon.com
Horbaach may be a larger company — oftentimes harder to trust — yet they toe the line for all the right causes. This nutritional supplement company is not only cGMP compliant, but their laboratories have also been UL certified — Underwriter Laboratories Certified — and they’ve achieved alignment with the Standard Operating Procedures SOPs of the cGMP goals. Their products and facilities are certified USDA organic, USP standards for heavy metals compliant, Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act (DSHEA) compliant, and Nutritional Labeling & Education Act (NLEA) compliant.
On top of that, Horbaach has taken the non-GMO pledge, which puts into place strict protocols to “ensure that you can trust [their] label and that [their] Non-GMO products are exactly what they say they are.”
Horbaach offers a wide range of herbal products at consumer-friendly prices, such as this 2-fluid ounce Horbaach Scullcap Liquid Extract for $15.87, this 2-fluid-ounce Milk Thistle Extract for $9.99, or this 2-fluid ounce Ashwagandha Extract for $9.99.
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