However, it's not just this practical aspect that explains why Bioforce AG is increasingly producing and marketing solid forms of herbal medicine. With expectant mothers and certain illnesses in mind, the authorities want to switch the focus from drops to solid forms. Among other things, they are mindful of alcoholics, who are not allowed to take alcohol in hidden form, as well as people who are allergic to alcohol, patients with liver or thyroid problems, and epileptics. For children too, active substances should, where possible, be available without any alcohol content.
Alcohol: a helpful medium in phytotherapy
Alcohol is especially important in phytotherapy in particular and is indispensable during certain stages of production. It allows gentle extraction of water-soluble and fat-soluble active substances from plants, while, at the same time, providing an ideal medium for killing bacteria. In addition, it allows direct absorption of the medicine via the mucous membranes.
Aside from these three key benefits, it should also be noted that, where the specifications contained in pack leaflets are adhered to, the alcohol concentration in medical tinctures does not have any negative effects on healthy adults.
Processing the tincture
The production processes for drops and tablets are the same up to and including the extraction of the tincture, after which the ‘liquid’ remedy takes a different path from the ‘solid’ product.
For the production of tablets, the tincture is first pumped from the storage containers into concentration machines, reducing its volume to between one-tenth and one-twentieth of the original. Consider the example of Echinacea tincture: 400 kilogrammes gives approximately 30 kilogrammes of concentrate, which can then be processed, with the required excipients, to produce a final batch of 250 kilogrammes of tablets.
During the concentration process, extremely gentle methods ensure that as many of the constituents as possible are not damaged whilst the liquid part is removed. Whereas in the pastthe mass was heated for several hours using the evaporation technologies of the time, (which naturally also had damaging consequences for the contents), the process now takes just seconds in the new machines: immediately after arriving in the evaporation room, the tincture is reduced in a vacuum at around 40°C and runs off as a viscous substance.
The content of the concentrate must now be checked and may only undergo further processing after being released by the laboratory. It is then placed in the mixer with the aforementioned auxiliaries, which are used to achieve the required overall quantity for the tablets, and processed to a homogeneous mass. After this, the mass is dried at low temperatures in an oven or in a fluidised bed dryer.
At each individual stage, staff keep a detailed record of the batch from which the concentrate originated, the dryer in which it was treated, etc. The next steps involve determining the content of the dry mass and the quantitative recovery of the constituents from the tincture, and also determining the residual humidity, which is important if the tablets are to be broken.
After control checks have been performed on the mass, it is placed in the tablet press and made into the correct shape of tablets. The machine produces tablets in accordance with a precise weight specification, which only permits a tolerance of just a few milligrams.
Fresh plant quality in tablets, too
In the past, it was in many cases not possible to retrieve all constituents of a fresh plant tincture in a capsule or a tablet because each processing stage resulted in a loss of the often sensitive constituents. However, thanks to modern, gentle processes, it has for some years now been possible to obtain fresh plant quality in capsules or tablets.
Aside from continuous weight controls, repeated checks are also made on breaking resistance, abrasion and dissolution times. These are necessary in order to avoid the tablets breaking up or crumbling during their shelf life. Meticulous record-keeping of all measurable values and of the individual items of equipment ensures that errors are excluded as far as possible. Entries have to be made by two people independently of each other, demonstrating the importance attached to accuracy. In addition, ‘balance sheets’ allow conclusions to be made concerning processing of the respective correct quantities.
The final production stages are referred to as packaging. This involves filling into bottles, labelling, packing, the inclusion of pack leaflets, etc.
The entire packaging process is linked to a weighing system. If the tablets' weight and consistency correspond to the specifications, they are released for packaging. They are counted electronically on the filling machine and filled into sterile jars.
During the filling process some jars undergo further precise checks at certain intervals.
A check of the barcode ensures that the correct labels and packing materials are used in each case.
As Bioforce AG manufactures 76 products, which are available in thirty countries, the ‘Production Planning’ department must plan exactly how many packages should be provided with the relevant pack leaflets in the individual languages.
• Angelika Eder/Ingrid Zehnder-Rawer