Inside an ISO Lab: N.H.P. Laboratories
Leading the Way in Natural Health
The initials for Canada’s industry-leading analytical laboratory for natural health products come by its name honesty. Since its inception in 2005, N.H.P. Laboratories has grown organically, from one chemist to a team of 22 globally recruited scientists with one vision: To extract the best nature has to offer from a scientific perspective. Peter Wilkes, founder and owner of New Roots Herbal, was frustrated with the lack of quality-testing facilities in North America catering to the wellness industry. His solution followed a Field of Dreams storyline: “Build it, and they will come.” N.H.P. Laboratories is equipped with a roster of analytical equipment unsurpassed in our industry and rivalling those in leading universities and pharmaceutical laboratories. Strategic positioning near Montreal’s wealth of universities and colleges furthermore ensures recruitment of the brightest minds our country has to offer.
“Third-party tested” has become an industry “buzzword” for consumers looking for quality and safety for supplements. It sounds unbiased and official, but what does it actually mean? Put simply, an external organization has determined that a product complies with a specific standard related to safety or quality. Rarely are we told what it is actually tested for, nor to which standard. Comprehensive testing would include verification for identity (specific genus or species), purity (safety from pesticides / heavy metals / residual solvents), potency (percentage of active ingredients), as well as effective delivery (capsule integrity). In Canada, supplement manufacturers are ultimately responsible for their products and claims made, regardless of where it is tested. Companies with in-house testing facilities often hold themselves to higher standards, investing extensively in specialized equipment and an adherence to more comprehensive, stricter testing methods.
ISO Status is More Than a Symbol
ISO 17025 accreditation is the single most important standard for calibration and testing for laboratories worldwide. This ensures laboratory standards for calibration and testing are adhered to meticulously, and with the precision necessary to replicate testing protocol globally. Applying for accreditation is a complex and lengthy process, requiring extensive time and resources. Once accredited, strict annual audits are performed by the ISO-accreditation body to ensure continued compliance. N.H.P. Laboratories accreditation has been successfully renewed every year since 2014.
We Test… and Test Again
Consumers deserve the full therapeutic potential natural health products have to offer, without worrying about safety. That’s why, every year, we validate over 800 different raw materials. Regardless of whether it comes from a known supplier or a new one, we test every batch. Any ingredient that does not pass strict inspection standards is flagged. In fact, every year, we expose numerous ingredients, including medicinal mushroom powders, trying to pass as extracts. We don’t stop there. Finished products and formulas are tested to ensure they comply with the label they are sold under, so consumers receive exactly what they purchased.
How ISO Testing Benefits the Consumer
As simple as it seems, the first thing we check is identity. For example, there are approximately nine species of echinacea, but only three of them are used as medicinal herbs, with benefits that include relieving symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Near-infrared spectroscope technology identifies specific species, with detection of unique electromagnetic radiation emitted from their molecular bonds. As the consumer, you benefit from knowing you have chosen the exact species that provides the therapeutic benefits you need.
A common concern for consumers is the purity of fish oils (omega-3 supplements) sourced from deep sea–dwelling fish such as sardines and other cold-water fish. To detect the presence of contaminants, N.H.P. Laboratories employs an inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS). This process introduces an electrical current to ionize a sample
This “excited” state differentiates trace metal contaminants such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium (found in batteries), which can then be detected down to parts per trillion—other laboratories measure and test parts per million.
The harsh reality for the use of herbicides and other pesticides on a global scale is a concern for the purity of all living organisms. Our comprehensive panel of herbicide and pesticide testing is executed with gas chromatograph / mass spectrometer (GC/MS). This allows us to detect contaminant residue at the microscopic level.
Microbiological contaminants are also no match for N.H.P. Laboratories. Our microbiological department employs the VITEK-2 Compact automated microorganism identification system, which delivers a state-of-the-art technology platform for the detection of pathogenic bacteria including Enterobacteriaceae, E. coli, Salmonella, Pseudomonas aureus, and Staphylococcus aeruginosa.
We Say No to GMOs. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing has become a household word for detection of specific flu viruses. It works by rapid amplification of DNA found in raw materials to expose possible genetically modified segments that are subsequently identified and quantified. This Nobel prize–winning technology allows us to validate non-GMO status, which is among the core values for all samples tested here at N.H.P. Laboratories. We test for everything—you could say this obsession is in our DNA!
Botanical extracts with a validated amount of a critical marker compound (active compound) have emerged as the driving force for countless supplements. N.H.P. Laboratories has dedicated technology to confirm their potency. Astragalus, for example, contains therapeutic compounds called astragalosides. Their exact concentration can be determined with ultra-performance liquid chromatograph / mass spectrometer (UPLC/MS-Triple Quad). It physically separates desired compounds by evaluating their unique polarity (electrical charge), which allows the mass spectrometer to quantify them. These exact concentrations can then be expressed as a percentage for a label claim. This workhorse is also used for identification and quantification of amino acids.
The effectiveness of natural health products also relies upon targeted delivery within the body. N.H.P. Laboratories performs disintegration testing using equipment and protocol accepted by U.S. Pharmacopoeia for tablets and capsules. A good example is the testing of GPS™ enteric-coated probiotic capsules in simulated gastric conditions. This timed exposure to acidity matching that of stomach acid ensures the integrity of enteric coating to withstand stomach acid. As a consumer, you benefit from a product which guarantees safe delivery of live, active probiotics within the intestines.
Are You a Fan of CSI?
The work performed by our scientific team is unsurpassed in our industry and equivalent to that of leading biomedical research laboratories and criminal forensic teams worldwide. Think of us as your personal crime-scene investigators, ensuring your herbs are exactly what they claim to be, that your supplements are as strong as the label states, and that your probiotics can perform as you expect them. We may not be as recognizable as the stars of your favourite CSI television series, but our team has a passion and dedication to your health which for us is second nature!
Serge Philibert Kuate, PhD
Serge directs quality management and ISO accreditation for N.H.P. Laboratories Inc. A native of Cameroon, his body of work at international research institutions includes insect ecology, microbiology, mycology, and enzymology.