Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dangerous Herbal Readily Available Through Web Despite FDA Import Ban

Date:
October 20, 2003
Source:
University Of California Berkeley
Summary:
A Chinese herbal product known to cause kidney failure and cancer in people and banned for importation two years ago by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is readily available through the Internet, pointing out the need for FDA policies regulating the sale of dangerous herbals through the Web, according to University of California, Berkeley researcher Lois Swirsky Gold.

A Chinese herbal product known to cause kidney failure and cancer in people and banned for importation two years ago by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is readily available through the Internet, pointing out the need for FDA policies regulating the sale of dangerous herbals through the Web, according to University of California, Berkeley researcher Lois Swirsky Gold.

Related Articles


In a letter in today's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Gold, who directs the Carcinogenic Potency Project at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, reports that herbal products containing aristolochic acid can be easily purchased through the Internet, despite 105 documented cases of rapid kidney failure due to use in a Belgian clinic in 1993 of a diet supplement containing the herbal extract. Half of the 39 women who had their kidneys removed after taking the supplement were found to have cancer of the urinary tract, the letter notes. Kidney failure associated with aristolochic acid has been seen in eight other countries and urothelial cancer in two other countries, Gold said.

Many names are used for such products, including fang ji (Aristolochia fangchi) and wild ginger (Asarum canadense). The herbal products, which include those marketed as "Cramp Relief," "Cold Away," "Mother Earth's Cough Syrup," "Old Indian Herbal Syrup" and "PMS-Ease," are recommended on the Web for gastrointestinal symptoms, weight loss, cough, immune stimulation and menstrual cramps, among others. A list of products is at http://potency.berkeley.edu.

"Aristolochia and aristolochic acid are known human and rat carcinogens," Gold said in an interview. "What is also disturbing is that the recommended dose for at least one product on the Internet is the same as the dose that gave cancer to rats. These products should not be available."

Gold sent a letter to the FDA in March of this year to alert them to the easy availability of these herbal supplements, after finding on the Web 19 products known to contain aristolochic acid and 95 products suspected to contain the chemical. In Chinese herbal medicine, she said, herbs are often substituted for one another, so purchasers can never be certain what the product contains.

"The availability of aristolochic acid-containing products on the Web two years after an FDA alert was issued reveals a serious flaw in the safety protection afforded the public," she wrote with co-author Thomas H. Slone in the NEJM letter. "The failure to protect the public from the imminent hazard of aristolochic acid indicates that there is an urgent need to remove these products from the Web and to develop a policy that addresses Web sales of hazardous herbal products."

They noted in the letter that "... aristolochic acid is among the most potent two percent of the carcinogens in our Carcinogenic Potency Database." The database, which analyzes long-term cancer studies performed in animals, shows that aristolochic acid causes cancer in rats and mice. Aristolochic acid also damages rabbit kidneys in the same way that aristolochic acid-containing supplements damage human kidneys.

The situation in Belgium resulted from the substitution of Aristolochia for another herb in a diet supplement obtained from China.

"Women in the diet clinic developed kidney damage within a few years, and many of them suffered kidney failure and had transplants," Gold said. "Urothelial carcinoma was found in half the women who had their kidneys removed."

In the March 2, 2003, letter to the FDA, Gold and Slone noted that herbal medications containing Aristolochia species were banned in Germany 20 years ago, and they currently also are banned in Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In Australia, products known to contain aristolochic acid were canceled, "and all manufacturers are required to ensure that herbs which are likely to be used interchangeably with Aristolochia are free from AA (aristolochic acid)," she wrote.

Thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act of 1994, Gold said, herbal products do not require FDA approval before marketing, so the safety and efficacy of most are unknown. Another herbal supplement, ephedra, was implicated in the death of baseball pitcher Steve Bechler earlier this year. The death spurred the FDA to consider requiring strong warnings on supplements that contain ephedra, and possible regulation of the supplement.

This week, California became the third state to ban ephedra, prohibiting the sale or distribution of any dietary supplement product containing ephedrine group alkaloids.

"There is a common misconception that natural is good, and that, if it has been part of cultures for many centuries, it must be fine," Gold said. Based on her work with carcinogens, however, she finds that natural chemicals are just as likely to cause cancer as man-made chemicals.

"The fact is, in our database, half the naturally occurring chemicals turn out to be carcinogens just the way half the synthetic chemicals do when they are tested," she said. "Also, many natural agents that have been present throughout vertebrate evolutionary history, such as aflatoxin or the common elements beryllium and arsenic, cause cancer in people."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of California Berkeley. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of California Berkeley. "Dangerous Herbal Readily Available Through Web Despite FDA Import Ban." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031020055155.htm>.
University Of California Berkeley. (2003, October 20). Dangerous Herbal Readily Available Through Web Despite FDA Import Ban. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031020055155.htm
University Of California Berkeley. "Dangerous Herbal Readily Available Through Web Despite FDA Import Ban." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031020055155.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) Researchers in the United States are preparing to discover whether a drug commonly used in human organ transplants can extend the lifespan and health quality of pet dogs. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Today's Prostheses Are More Capable Than Ever

Today's Prostheses Are More Capable Than Ever

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) Advances in prosthetics are making replacement body parts stronger and more lifelike than they’ve ever been. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Daily Serving Of Yogurt Could Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

Daily Serving Of Yogurt Could Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) Need another reason to eat yogurt every day? Researchers now say it could reduce a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins