Herbal remedies with deadly ingredient still available online

Herbal remedies with deadly ingredient still available online

Consumer Reports News: March 21, 2013 10:38 AM

Some common Chinese herbal remedies contain aristolochic acid, which has been linked to kidney disease and cancer. And despite efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to keep the ingredient out of herbal products sold in this country, you can still purchase products with the dangerous ingredient online, according to a new report.

The FDA first took steps to keep the ingredient out of the U.S. almost 12 years ago. And some countries have banned the ingredient altogether, as we reported in our earlier investigation of dangerous supplements.

"Despite these regulatory measures, there is still cause for concern," because products containing aristolochic acid remain available on the Internet, according to an article published this week in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Remedies containing aristolochic acid "have been, and continue to be, used for various indications, including eczema, acne, liver symptoms, arthritis, and chronic pain," the international team of researchers wrote. Thousands of cases of kidney problems have been linked to aristolochic acid in China, they said, noting that the "potential worldwide population exposure is enormous."

The investigators called for tighter regulation of herbal medicine outlets and practitioners, as well as a robust international system of surveillance to identify products containing aristolochic acid.

Bottom line: Check with your doctor before taking traditional herbs, and make sure you know what they are and where they come from. If your culture's health practices are important to you, consider seeking out a physician specializing in integrative medicine, which combines conventional medical care with holistic and traditional methods. For more, read our recent report 10 surprising dangers of vitamins and supplements.

The Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Management of Aristolochic Acid Nephropathy: A Narrative Review [Annals of Internal Medicine]

Doug Podolsky

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