What Are Phytopharmaceuticals?

This new class of drugs with ancient roots is garnering international attention as a viable solution to several of the modern pharmaceutical industry’s pain points: cost, accessibility, and sustainability. 

As long as humans have suffered from illnesses, we’ve explored our natural environment for the proper ingredients to ease or eliminate our symptoms. Even today, in 2021, the global relevance of natural, plant-based treatments has not waned. In fact, more and more people are beginning to demand natural remedies for their ailments due to the high financial and environmental burden presented by synthetic chemical drugs. Amidst this rising demand, it’s important to remember that not all plant-based medicines are created equal. There is an important difference between a traditional herbal remedy and a clinically tested plant-based drug. In the United States, the FDA calls these drugs “botanicals.” However, in many other parts of the world including Asia and Europe, these drugs are known as “phytopharmaceuticals.” 


A phytopharmaceutical product is a plant-based drug that contains one or more pure active ingredients derived from plants. These pure active ingredients must be safe and have a proven biological/pharmacological effect, otherwise, the product cannot be labeled as a pharmaceutical. Regulations vary from country to country, but this much remains consistent: to be classified as a phytopharmaceutical and not simply an “herbal supplement,” a plant-based treatment must contain active ingredients proven to address some disease or condition. 


Purity, safety, and effectiveness are three key elements to keep in mind when it comes to phytopharmaceuticals. If we at ZEA believe that a certain plant extract could be developed as a botanical drug, we would have to make sure that our end product was a purified and standardized bioactive (phytochemical) compound that was proven to help diagnose, treat, mitigate, or prevent a disease or disorder. Without meeting these criteria, the product would be a supplement and not a drug. That said, it is possible for a product to be both a supplement and a drug. The two are not always mutually exclusive. A product cannot be called a pharmaceutical if it does not have proven pharmacological properties. 


Put simply, a phytopharmaceutical is a plant-based medication that has been scientifically proven to help address a condition. Although these products are derived from plants rather than synthetic chemicals, the testing process that they go through is no less rigorous and the standards that they are held to are just as high. 


So, whenever you see the term phytopharmaceuticals mentioned on a website or a piece of scientific literature, remember the following definition: Phytopharmaceuticals are plant-derived medicines containing compounds that have proven pharmacological activities. 


We hope you found this informative, thank you for reading, 


ZEA Biosciences