Bay area fans of Chinese herbal remedies may want to find out more about a new study showing that herbal remedies used in Taiwan were shown to cause urinary tract cancer and kidney failure. Herbal remedies containing Aristolochic acid are the health hazard, and up to one third of those used in Taiwan contain this compound. These remedies were also popular in Belgium as a weight loss medicine, where users became ill as well. Concerned residents may visit the San Francisco Botanical Medicine Clinic (www.sfbmc.org) or The Ecology Center (www.ecologycenter.org) in Berkeley, which provide in depth education about herbal medicine.
According to a study published just this week by SUNY pharmacologist Arthur Grollman, M.D., there's a real danger in such herbal remedies sold in Taiwan. The Asian community in the Bay Area and others who use these remedies will want to read the report from the SUNY Stony Brook press release:
Aristolochic acid (AA), a component of a plant used in herbal remedies since ancient times, leads to kidney failure and upper urinary tract cancer (UUC) in individuals exposed to the toxin. In a study of 151 UUC patients in Taiwan – where the incidence of UUC is the highest reported anywhere in the world and where Aristolochia herbal remedies have been widely use – Arthur Grollman, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Pharmacological Sciences, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and an international team of scientists, conclude that exposure to AA is a primary contributor to the incidence of UUC in Taiwan. This finding, reported in PNAS, holds broad implications for global public health, as individuals treated with herbal preparations available worldwide that contain Aristolochia are at significant risk of developing chronic kidney disease or UUC.
Aristolochic acid is recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a powerful nephrotoxin and human carcinogen associated with chronic kidney disease and UUC. The dual toxicities and target tissues were originally revealed when a group of healthy Belgian women developed renal failure and UUC after ingesting Aristolochia herbs to lose weight. Other cases of aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN) and UUC were subsequently reported worldwide.
Most recently, Dr. Grollman and colleagues proved AA to be the causative agent of endemic nephropathy in the Balkans, solving a 50-year-old medical mystery that pointed to the ingestion of Aristolochia clematitis, or birthwort, contained in wheat. The study results were reported recently in Kidney International.
Next, Dr. Grollman and colleagues looked toward other areas where Aristolochia might be consumed and in which there was a high incidence of kidney disease and UUC. Taiwan appeared to demonstrate exactly that connection.
“We believe our latest research highlights the importance of a long-overlooked disease that affects many individuals in Taiwan, and, by extension, in China and other countries worldwide, where Aristolochia herbal remedies traditionally have been used for medicinal purposes,” says Dr. Grollman.
An analysis of National Health Insurance data in Taiwan between 1997 and 2003 indicates the widespread use of AA in herbal medications. Based on a 200,000 person random sample of the entire insured population of Taiwan, the data reveals that approximately one-third of those prescribed medicines consumed herbs containing, or likely to contain, AA.
Whether you purchase herbal remedies in Chinatown, at a farmer's market, or at a health food store in the Bay Area, it pays to know what you're using. Contacts for neighborhood health food stores and other updates are available at the San Francisco Botanical Medicine Clinic (www.sfbmc.org), The Pacific School Of Herbal Medicine, or The Ecology Center (www.ecologycenter.org) in Berkeley.