Back in April of 2012 we posted a blog highlighting the dangers of some Traditional Chinese Medicines (see blog archives –  4/16/12). A new article just published in The Scientist Magazine reiterates that a compound called Aristolochic acid, found in some Chinese herbal remedies causes more mutations than two of the best-known environmental carcinogens: tobacco smoke and UV light. Marc Ladanyl, an investigator in the human oncology and pathogenesis program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York says “A lot of people in the lay public assume that if something is herbal or natural that it is necessarily healthy. But this work very clearly shows that this natural plant product is extremely gentoxic and carcinogenic.”

Aristolochic acid has been banned in most countries since 2003. However, Thomas Rosenquist of Stony Brook University in New York says there are many countries in Asia that still use it as a part of their traditional herbal medicines. It is banned in China, but can still be easily obtained there. Aristolochia contamination of wheat crops was determined to be the cause of a high incidence of urothelial carcinomas of the upper urinary tract (UTUC) in rural areas on the banks of the Danube river in Europe. The incidence of UTUCs is highest in the world in Taiwan, where approximately one-third of the population have taken Aristolochia-containing medicines.

The continued use of the plant may be because “practitioners are slow to accept that they are actually hurting people that they are trying to help, said Rosenquist. “And there may be a 20- to 30- year lag time between exposure to the carcinogen and developing cancer, so making the connection might be difficult.”

According to Steve Rozen of the Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School, many people may simply not know the risk. “I’m eager to make sure this paper gets public press, because I think it’s important that people really understand the dangers.”     The Scientist Magazine     8/8/13


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