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Standardised Extracts and Traditional Herbal Remedies Versus Pharmaceutical Drugs

Following the increase in popularity of herbal supplements over the last decade, such products have become a source of debate on topics ranging from the need for legislation, to the relative benefits compared to pharmaceutical drugs, and the way in which herbal compounds are prepared. Their popularity can be attributed to the perception that pharmaceutical drugs interfere with a natural process and have serious secondary effects. In 1998, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that prescription drugs are responsible for more than 100,000 deaths in American hospitals every year (1). Likewise, herbal remedies are considered safer by the general public because they are seen to enhance a natural process.

For example, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) supplements (from Griffonia simplicifolia seed extract) provide increased levels of the precursor to serotonin, apparently enabling the synthesis of new serotonin molecules. The therapeutic effects of 5-HTP have been compared to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac, but with fewer unwanted effects (2). It has also been argued that pharmaceutical companies study the action of naturally occurring substances that cannot be patented in order to develop their own patentable molecule that performs approximately the same function. Natural products are rarely evaluated in the large, well-controlled clinical trials that are required to receive the approval of the regulatory bodies, and therefore tend to have less evidence to support their efficacy.


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By Andrea Zangara, Jessica Goford and Tamsin Manktelow, at Cognitive Drug Research

Having graduated in Psychology from the University of Padua (Italy) - with a thesis on 'eco' and 'smart' drugs recently accepted for publication - Andrea Zangara has been a Research Associate at CDR since September 2000. He was previously a Research Assistant at University College London, researching and publishing the effects of a beta-adrenergic blocker and a benzodiazepine upon emotional memory. Andrea is currently registered at the University of Northumbria for a part-time PhD examining the cognitive effects of Huperzine A.

Jessica Goford graduated from the University of Leicester with a BSc Honours in Psychology. She then worked as an Assistant Psychologist, first with learning disabled people and later with older adults. She subsequently joined CDR as a Research Assistant in May 2001, and now manages a small team of researchers as a Lead Senior Research Associate.

Having graduated from the University of Reading with a BA Honours in Psychology, Tamsin Manktelow has worked as a Clinical Assistant with adolescents suffering from eating disorders, and as a Clinical Audit and Research Assistant. She joined CDR in June 2000 as a Research Assistant and currently oversees the academic arm of CDR as Scientific Development Manager. Tamsin is registered at the University of Northumbria for a part-time PhD studying the cognitive effects of eating disorders.
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Andrea Zangara
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Jessica Goford
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Tamsin Manktelow
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