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  • Jordan Gunn

The Problem of Active Constituent Monitoring in the Quality Control of Dietary Supplements


The line between food and dietary supplements is sometimes difficult to place. After all, some plant products such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc. are considered to be both. But in general, we can say that dietary supplements are

  1. Natural products (usually plant-based)

  2. Bioactive to some degree

  3. Have complex and varying chemistries

This causes a problem in that the bioactivity of dietary supplements is itself a function of the chemistry, which varies from sample to sample. To ensure bioactivity, you, therefore, need to assure its chemical makeup.


Currently, the focus of quality control regimes in dietary supplements looks similar to the quality control of foods. That is to say, the focus is on a set of routine parameters that include,

But using, more or less, the same routine parameters used in the analysis of food misses the ball. It produces a safe, edible product yes. It can catch some gross errors and issues sure. But none of these analyses will directly show the potency of dietary supplements.


What we need to assess potency is the concentration of active compounds. This is normally done with one of the following methods:

  1. Thin-layer chromatography (TLC)

  2. High-performance chromatography (HPLC)

  3. Gas chromatography (GC)

  4. Mass spectroscopy (MS)

The first method, TLC, is cheap/simple/quick, but is not quantitative and therefore of limited value. The other methods, HPLC/GC/MS are quantitative but not cheap, not simple, and not quick.

The reality is that the attributes of these methods are so undesirable that they aren’t routinely used. A rigorous and direct assessment of potency is therefore rarely conducted.

The state of affairs is so sad that not only are complaints of varying potencies plaguing dietary supplements, there has been a rash of dietary supplements containing the wrong herbs entirely, with some reports suggesting that as many as 51% of dietary supplements are mislabeled. It almost goes without saying that if half of the dietary supplements can’t be relied upon to have a correct identity that an even higher percentage of dietary supplements can’t be relied upon to be of high quality.


What this sector needs is a robust analytical method to assess quality that is cheap, simple, quick, AND quantitative. Queue AI-assisted hyperspectral imaging.


AI-assisted hyperspectral imaging is an imaging-based technology that gives information about the chemical composition and 2-D spatial distribution across samples. In other words, it tells you

  1. what is in a food sample (e.g. caffeine)

  2. how much of it is in the food sample (e.g. 10 mg)

  3. and where it is located (eg. Centralized within the coffee cherry)

Importantly, AI-assisted hyperspectral imaging can be used with a variety of detectors that can be tailored to analyze nearly any active ingredient within dietary supplements,

  • Caffeine

  • Curcumin

  • Allicin

  • Capsaicin

  • Gingerol

  • Shogaol

  • Myristicin

  • Gallotannins

  • Theobromine

  • Theophylline

  • Epicatechin

  • Quercetin

Additionally, the artificial intelligence engine (the AI in AI-assisted hyperspectral imaging) takes data from runs and builds complex fingerprints for each ingredient that can later be used for pass/fail identity checks to prevent the mislabeling of dietary supplements.


Overall, we can say that indeed AI-hyperspectral imaging is cheap, simple, quick, quantitative, gives 2D distribution data, and can be used for identity checks.

Because of these attributes, AI-assisted hyperspectral imaging is an excellent approach to the quality control of dietary supplements that’s able to treat them not just as food, but as bioactive entities that need to be monitored within their quality control regimes to ensure their activity.